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More than 70 Groups Call for Comment Extension on Effort to Weaken Alaska’s Tongass’ Roadless Areas

Washington Wild coordinated a joint comment letter signed by 78 elected officials, local businesses, recreation and conservation groups to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue regarding an effort to weaken roadless areas protections for Alaska’s Tongass National Forest.  The letter requested an extended comment period to allow adequate time for public comment and hold a public meeting in Seattle given the significant ties economically, geographically and culturally between Washington State and southeast Alaska.

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 has asked the Trump Administration to weaken roadless area protections on Alaska’s national forests through a rule making. The Department of Agriculture has announced a 45-day comment period on the new proposal which ends on October 15th, 2018. Make your voice heard here and help protect the Tongass!

Photo Courtesy of USDA

The Tongass National Forest is nationally renowned for its extraordinary temperate rainforests, stunning scenery, abundant salmon populations, and superlative wildlands. More than one million people from across the U.S. commented in favor of protecting all 9.3 million acres of Tongass National Forest inventoried roadless areas during the rulemaking process for the Roadless Area Conservation Rule (Roadless Rule) in 2000. Since then, public appreciation of the roadless area values of the Tongass has only grown, as evidenced by the impressive growth of the tourist industry in southeast Alaska.

We believe that additional time is needed to inform the public that the Forest Service is considering changes in the Roadless Rule that could drastically impact some of the nation’s greatest forests and wildlands. These could have significant long term economic impacts to Washington State. The Tongass National Forest and its roadless areas are a central draw and attraction to visitation from Washingtonians and other tourists from around the country and the world. The forest watersheds, wildlife habitat and scenery directly support the visitor experience to nearby national park areas.

The Tongass National Forest is federal land owned by all Americans and its management matters beyond just Alaska. Here in Washington State, more than most areas, we have a direct connection to southeast Alaska in many ways. The Tongass National Forest is approximately 500 miles from the northern border of Washington State. Washington is the closest state to Alaska and shares a close business, economic and cultural connections.

We share a rich cultural connection to salmon inspired by our local Tribes and natural history similar to our northern Alaska neighbors. The Tongass National Forest produces on average 28% of Alaska’s annual commercial salmon catch, and 25% of the entire west coast annual harvest. A significant number of commercial fishing permits held in Southeast and offshore waters in Alaska have their home port in Washington State in places like Seattle’s Fisherman’s Terminal or Westport on the Olympic coast.

Background on The Roadless Rule

From 1999 to 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, during the draft rule comment period. More than 95% of comments submitted were in support of protecting roadless areas.

The Roadless 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 waterfrom 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 recreationhas 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 speciesis 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.