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Trump Administration Targets Remaining Old-Growth Rainforests in Alaska in Extreme Proposal

Posted on Oct 15, 2019 in Conservation News, Roadless, Sustainable Road System

Today, The Trump Administration announced they are moving forward with a controversial proposal to eliminate long standing protections for unlogged old-growth forests in Alaska’s Tongass National Forests. These roadless areas have provided protection for ancient forests, clean water, wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities for nearly two decades.

“The Trump Administration announced its extreme plan to roll back protections for ancient forests, clean water and wildlife habitat that have been in place for two decades,” said Tom Uniack, Executive Director of Washington Wild. “Alaska’s old-growth forests are ground zero for what is almost certainly just the first attack on old growth forests and roadless areas around the west.”

Photo by Howie Garber

The U.S. Forest Service published a draft environmental assessment that highlighted the most extreme of six options (full elimination of roadless areas protections) as the preferred alternative before asking for public comment on the plan. Despite the fact that the Tongass National Forest is federally owned and managed for all Americans, not a single public meeting was scheduled outside Alaska or Washington D.C.

“The fate of millions of trees in the world’s largest remaining temperate old-growth forest should not hinge on a backroom political deal between President Trump and the Governor of Alaska,” said Senator Cantwell in a press release on this issue. “We need to protect the Tongass so that future generations can continue to benefit from the clean air and water and the 10,000 sustainable jobs this ancient ecosystem provides.”

Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and more than 70 local stakeholders have repeatedly called on the Trump Administration to have a public meeting here in Seattle on this issue due to the special connection between Washington State and southeast Alaska. Those requests were ignored. The Tongass National Forest is the same distance from Washington State as 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.

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.

“The areas of our national forests without roads are often some of the best habitat for fish and wildlife,” said John McGlenn, President of Washington Wildlife Federation which represents hunters and anglers around the state. “These refuges are critical to ensuring that we are able to pass on this legacy to future generations.”

Washington’s roadless forests also provide popular recreational activities like hiking, climbing, paddling, hunting, fishing, camping, skiing, horseback riding and mountain biking that add to the unique quality of life we all enjoy here in the Washington State.  These incredible landscapes also inspire homegrown companies like REI, Filson and the many other local businesses that provide recreation gear and outdoor recreation opportunities.

“These wild places are the lifeblood of our local economy,” said Lance Reif, owner of Wildwater River Guides in Leavenworth, WA. “Roadless areas provide the reasons why so many of us choose to live work and play here in the Evergreen State.”

Over the last year, the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest has already greenlighted two projects that allow new road building in inventoried roadless areas, the Olivine Mine and Excelsior Mine Expansions. Continuing to allow roadbuilding in roadless areas and allowing statewide exemptions sets a dangerous precedent for the future management of the Forest and in Roadless Areas. This puts clean water, backcountry recreation, ancient forests and wildlife habitat at risk.

In 2018, more than 30 Washington breweries, all members of the Washington Brewshed® Alliance, joined more than 150 conservation, recreation, wildlife and hunting and fishing organizations as well as faith leaders, local businesses and elected officials from Washington State in support of retaining existing protections for roadless areas.

“Roadless areas protect the headwaters and the source of clean quality water for fish, wildlife, residents and better tasting beer,” said Jack Lamb, owner of Aslan Brewing in Bellingham and member of Washington Wild’s Brewshed® Alliance.

Background:

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 waterfrom 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 recreationhas 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 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’ dollarson 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.