A Trump administration push to open millions of acres of Alaska’s Tongass National Forest to logging is winning praise from Alaska’s congressional delegation and Gov. Mike Dunleavy as an economic boost, and criticism from conservationists who say it would threaten salmon habitat.
The U.S. Forest Service this past week published its final environmental impact statement, recommending elimination of the Roadless Rule in the Tongass, in Southeast Alaska’s rain forest. The 2001 Roadless Rule, established during the Clinton administration, banned logging and road construction within most of the nation’s national forests. Dunleavy and the state’s congressional delegation praised the decision. “This puts us on track for a Record of Decision and final rule by the end of the year, in turn opening the door for individuals and communities throughout Southeast Alaska to build a more sustainable economy while still ensuring good stewardship of our lands and waters,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.
Conservation entities, including SalmonState, meanwhile condemned the Forest Service decision, citing the importance of the Tongass to fisheries in Southeast Alaska.
“The largest intact temperate rainforest left in the world, the millions of salmon, 650 million tons of carbon storage, and the people, businesses and jobs that depend on an intact Tongass National Forest are too important to throw away for a politically-motivated industry handout,” said Tim Bristol, who serves as executive director of SalmonState. “This reprehensible move disregards years of collaborative work in favor of money-losing taxpayer giveaways to an industry that was shutting down before the Roadless Rule went into place.”
Bristol said a new approach to management of the Tongass is needed with a focus on the future rather than the past. The Forest Service plan “is wildly unpopular and is likely to be overturned in the courts,” he said.
The plan also drew criticism from Austin Williams, Alaska director of law and policy for Trout Unlimited, who called the plan a short-sighted new rule that would a return to the days of reckless clear-cut logging that sacrifices the fish, wildlife and forests without regard for the costs to Southeast Alaska’s fishing and tourism economy, subsistence users, or the long-term health of the region. The salmon are also part of the critical habitat for eagles, bears and other wildlife, whose presence are a tourism attraction.