Protecting the Roadless Rule: Alaska’s Tongass National Forest Under Pressure

Just getting started on the Roadless Rule? Learn the basics about what the Roadless Rule is here.

The Roadless Rule protects roughly 58.8 million acres of roadless areas on different National Forests across the country. Around 9 million acres of those protected lands reside in the Tongass National Forest, America’s largest forest, and in combination with the Great Bear Rainforest of British Columbia, the Tongass is the world’s largest intact temperate rainforest.

Photo: Sam Ortiz

Homeland of the Tlingit and Haida people, this unique landscape is described by the Audubon Society as being filled with “glacial fjords, streams, lush valleys, mountains, and some of the oldest, most valuable, trees in the world.”

It is home to “an abundance” of fish and wildlife including “including all five species of Pacific salmon, brown (grizzly) bears, wolves, Bald Eagles, Northern Goshawks,” and many more valuable species. Throughout the last century, economic growth in Alaska came about from the logging industry which is evident when considering how logging has altered the Tongass. 9% of productive old-growth forests have been clearcut, and about half of the “big-tree old growth” have been cut. 

Map of Tongass National Forest Roadless + Recreation Areas (Outdoor Alliance)

In collaboration with the powerful timber lobby, the current administration threatens to continue the devastation of the Tongass’ old-growth forests by allowing the Forest to undermine the Roadless Rule and exempt the Tongass from its protections in order to allow more freedoms to logging. Currently, the Tongass still allows large scale clear cut logging of old-growth forests in certain areas of the forest. According to the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC), in 2015, 6,000 acres of forest were logged in a timber sale. Not only is this practice outdated and harmful to the ecosystem, but the logging is also done at a loss to American taxpayers. The SEACC states that it is estimated that taxpayers subsidize the Tongass timber program “to the tune of $20 million per year” and is contributing to “less than 1%” of the local Alaskan economy. Recreation, on the other hand, generates $7.3 billion and sustains more than four times the number of jobs in Alaska than oil and gas production, mining, and logging combined, according to the Outdoor Industry Association.

Where are we now and how can I take action?

Currently, the proposal from the US Forest Service is undergoing the NEPA process. Thanks to that process, the Forest Service is required to hear comments from the public regarding what they think about the project. This comment period is open until December 17, 2019, and the Outdoor Alliance recommends asking the Forest Service to support the “no action alternative” in order to keep the Roadless Rule alive on the Tongass National Forest.

Use Outdoor Alliances’s letter writing tool–it only takes 30 seconds to make your voice heard.

Sign up for a virtual roadless rule public comment workshop with Last Stands on 12/15.

Resources: 

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NOTE: THIS IS A LIVING RESOURCE! As with all resources on Outdoor Advocacy Project, there is always room to continue the conversation, add a new perspective, bolster the resources, and share new findings. Got something you want to add, change, challenge or amplify? Let us know in the comments, or e-mail team@outdooradvocacy.com to write your own.

Amelia Howe
Amelia Howe

Amelia Howe is an environmental advocacy and policy professional based in Salt Lake City. She analyzes complex legislation, creating digestible summaries that inspire thoughtful engagement. Coffee and climbing fill her time when she isn’t nerding out over the latest policy news. 

What is the Roadless Rule?

The Roadless Rule has worked in favor of conservationists since 2001. According to the US Forest Service definition of the rule, it was intended to “provide lasting protection for inventoried roadless areas within the National Forest System.”

Image: Sam Ortiz

The rule protects roughly 58.5 million acres of roadless areas, ensuring that wild and undeveloped forests are safe from future development. There are many benefits to having large expanses of land that are undisturbed or unfragmented by human development. One benefit is that this undeveloped land can be utilized for various forms of human-powered recreation. In addition to the outdoor recreation perks, these lands protect many valuable ecosystem services like animal and plant biodiversity, clean air, fresh water, and even aid in climate stability through carbon capture and storage. 

Here’s a great infographic on the roadless rule and how it affects recreation via Outdoor Alliance– head to their website for an interactive map of Roadless areas in the US:


Where are we now and how can I take action?

Both Alaska and Utah are attempting to change or roll back roadless protections of National Forest Lands in their states. As soon as one state decides it is a good idea to create a state-specific Roadless Rule, it can be expected that many other states will follow suit. This is a slippery slope when it comes to conservation and protecting recreation spaces nationwide. Let’s look a bit further into what Utah and Alaska are proposing:

Utah: 

  • Utah is a fierce proponent of local control over public lands, so it was no surprise that the state petitioned the Forest Service to create a “Utah-specific Roadless Rule” in order to roll back protections on forests under the Roadless Rule.
  • Approximately 50% of Utah’s Forests are designated as “Roadless”
  • According to Outdoor Alliance: 9% of Inventoried Roadless Areas would be released from protections entirely, 79% would have protections from logging drastically reduced, and only 12% of existing areas would retain current protection, 0% would be given heightened protections.
  • The petition is vague, unspecific, and there is no site-specific analysis.
  • In response to a report published by Defenders of Wildlife, the organization’s Director of Federal Lands said it showed “how shortsighted it would be to accept the state’s proposal to sacrifice millions of acres of intact habitat and healthy watersheds for more logging and roadbuilding. Utah’s national forest roadless areas, like roadless areas across the National Forest System, are sanctuaries for fish and wildlife as well as magnets for human recreation.”

Sign the petition to protect Utah’s backcountry forests through Outdoor Alliance’s easy-to-use letter writing tool.

Alaska:

Tongass National Forest in Alaska. Photo: Sam Ortiz
  • Alaska is home to one of the largest coastal temperate rainforests, some of the world’s oldest trees, and a long history of logging
  • More than half of the Tongass’ 17 million acres of land are protected by the Roadless Rule
  • With the support of a powerful timber lobby, Alaska is hoping to release 9 million acres of the Tongass National Forest for logging through an exemption of the Roadless Rule

Defend the Roadless Rule and the Tongass National Forest through the Outdoor Alliance easy-to-use letter writing tool: Comment by December 17, 2019.


Resources:

NOTE: THIS IS A LIVING RESOURCE! As with all resources on Outdoor Advocacy Project, there is always room to continue the conversation, add a new perspective, bolster the resources, and share new findings. Got something you want to add, change, challenge or amplify? Let us know in the comments, or e-mail team@outdooradvocacy.com to write your own.

Amelia Howe
Amelia Howe

Amelia Howe is an environmental advocacy and policy professional based in Salt Lake City. She analyzes complex legislation, creating digestible summaries that inspire thoughtful engagement. Coffee and climbing fill her time when she isn’t nerding out over the latest policy news.