Alaska Gov. Challenges Roadless Rule Over Tongass National Forest Impact

A map of the Tongass National Forest. Image: U.S. Forest Service.

Litigation filed in the U.S. District Court in Anchorage in early September seeks to have the 2020 Alaska Roadless Rule reinstated as soon as possible.

The complaint filed Friday, Sept. 8, maintains that the state is defending its right to protect the economic and socioeconomic development of Southeast Alaska, which includes Tongass National Forest.

The Tongass, at 17-million-acres, surrounds Alaska’s capital city  of Juneau. Each year, an abundance of wild salmon return from the ocean to streams in the Tongass to spawn and die, bringing with them nutrients from the productive North Pacific Ocean to a much less nutrient-rich land.

Currently the Roadless Rule, which prohibits new road construction and reconstruction in inventoried roadless areas on National Forest System lands, protects over 9.3 million acres of the coastal temperate rainforest.

The Trump administration had reversed the 2001 ruling, leaving it potentially open to logging.

“Alaskans deserve access to the resources that the Tongass provides—jobs, renewable energy resources, and tourism, not a government plan that treats human beings within a working forest like an invasive species,” Gov. Mike Dunleavy said.

The Tongass supports sustainable fisheries, indigenous cultures and traditional practices, and has an ecosystem that produces more wild salmon than all other national forests combined. The abundance of vegetation keeps Tongass freshwater streams at a moderate temperature for returning pink, chum, coho, Chinook and sockeye salmon that over 50 animal species, including humans, depend on.

According to a Tongass National Forest salmon fact sheet, 75% of Southeast Alaska commercial salmon catch is produced by Tongass rivers, lakes and streams, translating to 40 million salmon with a dockside value as of 2020 of over $68 million annually.