Today, a coalition of breweries across Washington state joined together to stand up for healthy watersheds after the Trump Administration announced they are moving forward with a controversial proposal to eliminate long-standing protections for old-growth forests in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. A letter signed by 39 brewing industry businesses was the latest evidence of opposition to the new proposal, aimed to weaken roadless area protections.
“Breweries, brewpubs, and maltsters understand the incredible value in protecting our national forests as sources for clean water. Water is the number one ingredient in beer, a growing economic force here in Washington” said Laura Buckmaster, Program Manager at Washington Wild, who coordinates the Washington Brewshed® Alliance. “Protecting the Roadless Rule and the Tongass National Forest ultimately means protecting clean and safe drinking water which turns into the downstream beer we enjoy.”
Local media attention on this issue in Washington news outlets has been growing, including recent opinion pieces in The Seattle Times, The Everett Herald, and The Spokesman-Review. While Alaska’s Tongass National Forest is the first target for repeals of these hard-fought forest protections, many in Washington fear that, if successful, it will not be the last.
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. A group of conservation and recreation organizations joined Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) to hold a community public meeting at the Seattle REI flagship store on November 23 to offer local stakeholders, including Fremont Brewing, an opportunity to weigh in on old-growth protections on our national forests. More than 100 people attended the meeting and more than 25 gave oral public comments.
“Mainstem Malt connects conservation-minded family farms to brewers and distillers seeking change. Our work focuses on farmland, but at the end of the day, we all benefit from the clean water, habitat, and biodiversity offered by the world’s last wild places” says Phil Neumann, Co-Founder & CEO of Mainstem Malt in Walla Walla. “Let’s leave the Roadless Rule intact and lean into sustainable agricultural opportunities for our rural communities.”
Many of those who signed on are members of the Washington Brewshed® Alliance, a program designed to help the brewing industry advocate for clean water initiatives. Over the past eight years, over 60 businesses across Washington state have joined the Alliance to help raise funds and awareness for the conservation of healthy watersheds.
“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. “Our entire industry depends on consistent water, sourced from protected water sources.”
The Washington craft brewing economy accounts for $9 billion annually and employs over 6,000 people. Washington also produces 75% of our nation’s hops, contributing greatly to the national beer economy of $328 billion. In many cases, the source of municipal water stems from headwaters located in national forest roadless areas, the same ones that would be affected if the Roadless Rule was eliminated.
“You must have good quality water to make good quality beer,” said Pam Brulotte, President of the Washington Brewer’s Guild and co-founder of Icicle Brewing Co. in Leavenworth, Washington. “Being a small and independent craft brewer, we’re reliant on producing a quality consistent product so locally we try and do a lot to keep our river clean and pure.”
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 small business owners who rely on clean water, value water security, and value great tasting beer at risk.
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 water from 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 recreation has 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 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 nearly 375,000 miles of national forest roads, which have an unfunded maintenance backlog of nearly $8 billion.