Today, 102 local elected officials, businesses, commercial fishermen, faith leaders, hunting and fishing interests and conservation and recreation organizations sent a letter to the U.S. Forest Service opposing the elimination of old-growth forest protections under the 2001 National Forest Roadless Area Rule. Washington Wild coordinated the letter which demonstrates broad local support for roadless areas.
“The Trump Administration is moving forward with an extreme proposal to eliminate hard-fought and long-lived roadless forest protections with minimal public input,” said Tom Uniack, Executive Director of Washington Wild. “This letter demonstrates that roadless areas, whether they be in Alaska or here in Washington State, are important ecologically, economically and socially.”
In October, the Trump Administration announced a controversial proposal to eliminate long standing protections for unlogged old-growth forests within Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. The ancient forests are part of the last remaining intact temperate rainforest on the planet and are champions of absorbing harmful greenhouse gasses out of the atmosphere.
In response to no public meetings scheduled by the Forest Service in the lower 48 states outside of Washington D.C., Washington Wild organized a community public meeting at the Seattle REI flagship store on November 23 which was attended by about 100 individuals. More than 30 elected officials, business owners and conservation organizations gave public testimony opposing the proposed repeal of roadless protections including Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Fremont Brewery owner Sara Nelson, a representative from Patagonia and local commercial fishermen.
“Hundreds of thousands of Washingtonians throughout the state rely on roadless areas for clean drinking water and irreplaceable opportunities for outdoor recreation,” said Senator Cantwell, who spoke at the Seattle public meeting in support of roadless area protections. “We need the Roadless Rule to permanently safeguard our remaining undeveloped forest lands as the foundation of our outdoor recreation economy, a home for wildlife, and a heritage for future generations.”
While Alaska is the current target, there can be little doubt that other western states, including Washington, will be next. Here in Washington State we have just over 2 million acres of Roadless Areas. They are a critical part of the quality of life we have come to expect. Roadless forests provide much of our clean and safe drinking water, protect fish and wildlife, and provide amazing back country recreation experiences and economic benefits.
“As second-generation salmon fishermen, raised from childhood in Southeast Alaska, these waters, among these trees is our home for four months of the year, as we troll our hooks through the deep, rich waters of the North Pacific,” said Tele Aadsen & Joel Brady-Power, co-owners of the F/V Nerka & Nerka Sea Frozen Salmon who testified at the Seattle meeting and signed the comment letter. “The rest of the year we make our home in Bellingham, self-marketing our catch to wild salmon-lovers in the Pacific Northwest and throughout the U.S. Like all Southeast Alaskans, our lives are inextricably bound to the Tongass.”
This broader letter follows a letter submitted on December 10 signed by 39 Washington-based craft breweries, pubs and maltsters opposing the elimination of roadless area protections because of the importance of clean water sourced from national forests to craft beer.
“You must have good quality water to make good quality beer,” said Pam Brulotte, President of the Washington Brewer’s Guild and co-founder of Icicle Brewing Co. in Leavenworth, Washington. “Being a small and independent craft brewer, we’re reliant on producing a quality consistent product so locally we try and do a lot to keep our river clean and pure.”
Washington State and Southeast Alaska are connected geographically, economically and socially. The Tongass National Forest closer than we think, roughly the same distance to the northern border of Washington State as is Boise ID. On Alaska Airlines alone, there are 24 daily nonstop flights between Seattle and the southeast Alaska communities of Sitka, Ketchikan and Juneau. Additionally, five major cruise lines, offer 80 cruises departing from Seattle to the inside passage, the Tongass National Forest, and Glacier Bay National Park each summer. A significant number of commercial fishing permits held in Southeast and offshore waters in Alaska are held by fisherman with home ports in Seattle’s Fisherman’s Terminal or Westport.
Local media attention on this issue has grown during the 60-day public comment period with several opinion pieces and letters-to-the-editor in local media outlets from diverse voices:
- 12/13/19 Seattle Times Letter-to-the-editor (Rick Hegdahl, VetVoice), “National forests: Places of healing”
- 12/11/19 Seattle Times Letter-to-the-editor (Thomas O’Keefe, American Whitewater), “Rainforest protection begins here in our region”
- 12/11/19 Seattle Times Letter-to-the-editor (individual), “The true value of our national forests”
- 12/8/19 Spokesman Review Letter-to-the-editor (individuals), “Continue roadless area protection”
- 12/8/19 Seattle Times OPED (Elsa M. Sebastian, a second-generation fisherman and Marina Anderson, Organized Village of Kasaan), “Save the rare wild beauty of the Tongass National Forest from renewed logging”
- 12/8/19 Everett Herald OPED (Tele Aadson and Joel Brady-Power, Nerka Sea Frozen Salmon), “Commentary: Northwest must speak for trees, salmon in Alaska”
- 12/1/19 Spokesman Review OPED (Paul Fish, Mountain Gear), “Keep backcountry roadless area protections throughout the West”
In 2001 Washington Wild led statewide efforts to establish the National Forest Roadless Area Conservation Rule. Nearly 350 conservation and recreation groups, elected officials, local businesses, and faith leaders formally supported the nearly two million acres of roadless forests in Washington State. The Forest Service held more than 600 public meetings nationwide, including 28 throughout Washington State. More than 1.6 million Americans submitted comments, including more than 80,000 comments from Washington State citizens during the draft rule comment period. More than 95% of comments submitted were in support of protecting roadless areas.
The Roadless Area Conservation Rule is a popular and balanced policy that protects nearly 60 million acres of undeveloped national forests from road-building and other industrial activity. It was developed over two years and issued by the Clinton Administration in early 2001.
Roadless areas are important because:
- Sixty million Americans rely on clean and safe drinking water from National Forests. Roadless areas provide the purest source of water due to their pristine and road-free condition. In the Northwest Forest Service Region, which includes Washington and Oregon, drinking water on National Forest land is worth approximately $941 million annually, which is more than any other region or state in the country except California.
- Outdoor recreation has become more and more popular over time as Americans participate in everything from hiking and camping, to hunting and fishing in Roadless areas. Each year the outdoor industry generates 26.2 billion in consumer spending and 200,000 direct jobs to the Washington State economy.
- A majority of the unspoiled habitat for hundreds of threatened, endangered, and declining species is found in Roadless areas. In Washington, 25 at-risk species, including bald eagles, steelhead and bull trout, and Chinook salmon are found in National Forests and could be harmed by the building of new roads and the ensuing destruction of Roadless areas.
- Roadless protections also make good economic sense by saving taxpayers’ dollars on the cost of adding subsidized logging roads to the existing network of nearly 375,000 miles of national forest roads, which have an unfunded maintenance backlog of nearly $8 billion.