Today, Washington Wild joined 113 Organizations on a letter to Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, to voice their strong opposition to any exemption or exceptions to the Roadless Area Conservation Rule (Roadless Rule) in Alaska or elsewhere in the U.S. Earlier this year, Alaska Senators attempted to exempt Alaska’s national forests from the Roadless Rule through a legislative rider attached to a funding bill. After their legislative attempts failed, Alaska’s Governor Bill Walker asked the Trump Administration to weaken roadless area protections on Alaska’s Tongass National Forest.
The Tongass National Forest is nationally renowned for its extraordinary temperate rainforests, stunning scenery, abundant salmon populations, and superlative wildlands. Alaska contains almost 15 million of the more than 58 million acres of our country’s Inventoried Roadless Areas, with more than 9 million acres in the Tongass National Forest alone. Indeed, the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Roadless Rule explicitly identifies the Tongass as specially deserving of protection because its size and relatively intact status give it a unique role representing system-wide roadless value. The Rule is also particularly important for the Tongass given the special vulnerability of the species and natural processes in an already naturally fragmented archipelago of a thousand islands. Moreover, despite this huge complement of roadless areas, the Tongass National Forest has 1.5 million non-roadless acres, more than any other national forest on the west coast.
While the Alaksa state petition solely references the Tongass National Forest, allowing roadbuilding in inventoried roadless area and allowing state exemptions sets a dangerous precedent for the future management of the Forest and in roadless areas. We are concerned that a next step will be a nationwide repeal of roadless protections as was attempted a decade ago. Here in Washington State we have about 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, protection for fish and wildlife, and amazing back country recreation experiences.
Since 2001 the Roadless Rule has established itself as a bedrock conservation protection for our national forests. Originally intended to safeguard more than 58 million acres, the Roadless Rule limits costly and environmentally damaging roadbuilding and logging, helps protect taxpayers, and preserves wild, relatively intact roadless landscapes across the National Forest System. While preserving these places, the Roadless Rule also provides noteworthy management flexibility for activities including hydropower development, connections between communities, mining access roads, mechanized recreation, wildfire response, and public safety.
Why are Roadless Areas Important?
- Sixty million Americans rely on clean and safe drinking water from National Forests. Roadless areas provide the purest source of that 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 popular over time as Americans participate in everything from hiking and camping, to hunting and fishing in Roadless areas. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, 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 more than 370,000 miles of national forest roads, which have an unfunded maintenance backlog of nearly $8 billion.