(Anchorage, AK) – Governor Mike Dunleavy today welcomed news the U.S. Forest Service has released a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) calling for a full exemption from the so-called “Roadless Rule” on the Tongass National Forest, saying the action brings Alaska one step closer to opening the door to improved transportation infrastructure and broad benefits to the people and economy of Southeast Alaska.
“After conducting a thorough, multi-year public process the Forest Service has once again acknowledged that this onerous rule has imposed an unfair burden on our state,” Governor Dunleavy said. “We thank Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and his team for conducting a thorough evaluation and proposing a reasonable accommodation for Alaska, and we look forward to release of the Final Alaska Roadless Rule.”
The 2001 Roadless Rule barred construction of new roads through Forest Service lands classified for multiple uses, including but not limited to logging. By blocking critical access and transportation corridors that also support recreation, subsistence, and resource development in Southeast Alaska, the rule dealt a near-fatal blow to the region’s logging industry, closing sawmills and ending the careers of hundreds of Alaskans.
The State of Alaska petitioned the Forest Service in 2018 to free 9.2 million acres of the 17-million-acre Tongass from the previous rule, saying it has unfairly blocked public access, including the roads essential to supporting a vital regional timber industry.
After a thorough public process, the Forest Service’s final Environmental Impact Statement identifies its Alternate Six – an unconditional, full exemption – as its preferred alternative. The Record of Decision (ROD) and final Alaska Roadless Rule are expected to be effective immediately after being published in late October.
Under the proposed rule, projects will still need to go through a formal Forest Service permitting process, but road access will once again be a realistic option to support multiple-use management objectives in the Tongass.
“The communities of Southeast Alaska and the State as a whole will benefit from this decision in many ways, including improved access to public lands, and improved economics not only for the many users of the Tongass National Forest, but also those using the state and private lands surrounding the Tongass,” said Corri A. Feige, Commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources.
The governor noted that the Forest Service’s rulemaking process gave a voice to all interested parties, including the state-convened Alaska Roadless Rule Citizen Advisory Committee representing the region’s various interests. The state also participated as a cooperating agency, as did several tribal organizations.