Yesterday, January 25th, the U.S. Forest Service officially announced that it had finalized plans to repeal the Trump administration’s 2019 decision that exempted the Tongass and reinstate the Roadless Rule. We simply cannot overstate how wonderful this news is, and how monumental of a victory this represents. The Tongass National Forest is federal land owned by all Americans and its management matters beyond just Alaska.
A Repeal of the Roadless Rule Anywhere is a Threat Everywhere
The 2001 National Forest Roadless Area Conservation Rule, or simply the ‘Roadless Rule’, is one of our nation’s bedrock conservation protections. A popular and balanced policy, the Roadless Rule protects nearly 60 million acres of breathtaking, undeveloped national forests from road-building and other industrial activities such as logging, drilling, or mining.
Until the Trump Administration rolled back these protections in 2019, 9 million acres of Alaska’s Tongass National Forest were protected under this rule. In response to this extreme reversal of policy, conservation advocates around the country took action.
Here in Washington, WA Wild led the statewide effort to protect the Roadless Rule in recognition of the fact that as a federal policy, exemptions to the Roadless Rule anywhere are a threat to these national treasures everywhere. In 2021 when the Biden Administration opened a 60-day comment period to collect public input on a proposal to restore National Forest Roadless Area protections in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, WA Wild led the local effort in support. Our grassroots action alert generated over 530 comments in addition to a joint comment letter coordinated by WA Wild which garnered 223 signatures from local stakeholders, including over 100 local state, county, and municipal elected officials.
A Major Victory!
Yesterday, January 25th, the U.S. Forest Service officially announced that it had finalized the plan to repeal the Trump administration’s 2019 decision that exempted the Tongass and reinstate the Roadless Rule. The new rule will take effect once it is published in the Federal Register, which is expected to happen Friday, said agency spokesperson Larry Moore.
Importance of the Tongass National Forest
We simply cannot overstate how wonderful this news is, and how monumental of a victory this represents. The Tongass National Forest is federal land owned by all Americans and its management matters beyond just Alaska.
The Tongass is one of the United States’ most important carbon sinks and a critical tool in the fight against climate change. Scientists have estimated that the forest accounts for about eight percent of the carbon sequestered by all national forests. Protecting the Tongass from old-growth logging will not only preserve that capacity, but avoid releasing carbon currently stored in its trees.
The Tongass is the ancestral and contemporary homeland of the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian peoples, and they have been the driving force of the effort to protect the forest. Their way of life is inextricably linked with these lands and waters. They hunt, gather, fish, and harvest medicines in the Tongass that their ancestors have stewarded for more than 10,000 years. Restoring full protections is aligned with the position taken by Tribes in Southeast Alaska and will allow their traditional use of the land to continue.
Cultural and Economic Connections to WA
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, the same distance as Boise, ID. Washington is the closest state to Alaska and shares close business, economic and cultural connections. Seattle is the home port for numerous cruise ships heading north through Alaska’s Inside Passage to Glacier Bay National Park, immediately adjacent to threatened national forest roadless areas.
We also share a rich cultural connection to salmon inspired by our local Tribes and natural history similar to our Alaskan neighbors to the north. 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.
Biodiversity & Outdoor Recreation
Roadless area protections sustain southeast Alaska’s ancient forests that are rich in biodiversity. The Tongass is home to thousand-year old Sitka spruce, western hemlock, and western red cedar. Several wildlife species also call the Tongass home, such as brown bears, wolves, eagles, and black-tailed deer. World-class salmon habitat that supports commercial and recreational fisheries. And incredible outdoor recreation opportunities like mountaineering and sea kayaking abound.