Recently, The State of Alaska has petitioned the Department of Interior (DOI) to exempt Alaska’s Tongass National Forest from the Roadless Rule. Today, Washington Wild joined 93 other groups on a letter to the DOI opposing this petition and urging the DOI to maintain the Roadless Rule and its vital protections for our National Forest System and the Tongass.
Tongass National Forest is the largest national forest in the nation. Home to a number of rare and endangered species, it also offers visitors the chance to visit wild Alaska with breathtaking vistas. Further road construction and logging would promote habitat fragmentation, diminish wildlife populations and damage salmon spawning streams.
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, over the last year, the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest has already greenlighted or proposed two projects that allow new road building in IRAs, the Olivine Mine and Excelsior Mine Expansions. This puts backcountry recreation, healthy forests, clean water, and wildlife habitat at risk. In February, Washington Wild coordinated a letter from more than 150 conservation recreation and wildlife organizations and local businesses and elected officials from Washingotn State expressing their support for roadless forest protections.
Between 1999 and 2001, the National Forest Roadless Area Conservation Rule (Roadless Rule) was established as part of one of the largest rulemakings in the history of the federal government. 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.
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, besides protecting fish and wildlife, and providing amazing back country recreation experiences. Washington’s wild forests are also a significant resource to our local economy. They inspire homegrown companies like REI, Eddie Bauer and the many other local businesses that provide recreation gear. Active outdoor recreation supports more than 200,000 jobs in Washington and contributes more than $26 billion dollars to our state’s economy.
Washington Wild will continue to defend our roadless areas from mounting threats and mobilizing our members to protect these special places from further attacks. Together we can make a difference for our wild places.