October 28, 2020 (Anchorage, AK) –Today’s announcement of final federal action exempting Southeast Alaska’s Tongass National Forest from a national “roadless rule” represents hard-won liberation from inflexible federal mandates and a victory for the people of the state, Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy said today.
“It is immensely gratifying to see the Trump Administration act on what I and four previous governors have so long argued: Alaska is a unique land whose potential for our state and nation can best be realized only when we’re free from the unthinking application of one-size-fits-all national rules, in violation of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act and the Tongass Timber Reform Act,” said Governor Dunleavy.
Imposed by then-President Clinton, the 2001 Roadless Rule prohibited road building and timber harvest, with limited exceptions, on Forest System lands managed for multiple use. Aimed at limiting logging impacts, the rule’s collateral damage included blocking other uses that could benefit from roads, including recreation, mineral development, tourism, subsistence and sport hunting, extension of utilities, search and rescue activities, and more.
After the state petitioned to exempt 9.2 million acres of the 17-million-acre Tongass from the rule in 2018, the Forest Service began an extensive environmental review process to guide creation of a new, state-specific roadless rule. As part of that process, the state established the Alaska Roadless Rule Citizen Advisory Committee to involve representatives of Southeast Alaska’s various interests, including Alaska Natives.
Last month, the Forest Service issued its final environmental impact statement, identifying a full exemption from the national roadless rule as its preferred alternative. Its issuance of a final Record of Decision (ROD) and the final Alaska Roadless Rule today formally establishes the rule as federal policy, effective immediately upon publication in the Federal Register.
Final implementation of the Alaska Roadless Rule eliminates regulatory uncertainty that had inhibited many previous potential activities in the Tongass, and opens the way for a variety of projects, which themselves will be subject to rigorous federal permitting processes under the National Environmental Protection Act.
“The U.S. Department of Agriculture has again acknowledged that the Tongass should be exempt from one-size-fits-all-national roadless policy,” said Governor Dunleavy. “This will help build community resilience and support economic recovery in a region that’s been hit hard by the devastating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on tourism and other industries relying on responsible use of our natural resources and beauty.”
Creation of a state-specific roadless rule means Alaska has joined with Colorado and Idaho as another western state with rules that recognize their special characteristics and federal law.
“I want to express my appreciation to the Forest Service, and to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, for their willingness to cooperate with the state and its people to craft a solution that protects the special values of the Tongass as a national forest, while accommodating the needs of Alaskans,” Governor Dunleavy said. “I also want to thank the members of our congressional delegation who have stood strong and united in support for this rule, and for the dedicated staff in state agencies whose diligence throughout this long process played a large role in making it a success.”
The ROD and final rule language will be posted on the Forest Service project website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=54511