For Immediate Release
Forest Service Rolls Back Protections for Roadless Areas in the Tongass National Forest
In a controversial move, the Trump administration announced today that it is assenting to the State of Alaska’s request to rescind existing conservation rules that prohibit road construction and logging in roadless areas in the Tongass National Forest in Alaska and will attempt to replace those protections with a weaker state-specific rule designed to appease the state's relatively small, yet vocal, timber industry.
In January, the State of Alaska petitioned Secretary Perdue to initiate a rulemaking process to exempt the Tongass from the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule (the Roadless Rule). Today's announcement responds to that petition.
Defenders of Wildlife President and CEO, Jamie Rappaport Clark, issued the following statement:
“The Trump administration's decision to appease the State of Alaska and walk away from protections for roadless areas and old-growth habitat in the Tongass National Forest is devastating news for Tongass wildlife that rely on intact forests and watersheds like wolves, deer and salmon. The Trump administration has demonstrated yet again that it will not rest until all of America’s treasured public lands and wild spaces are exploited, industrialized, and opened up for more logging, roadbuilding, drilling, and other commercial activities.”
Rather than expending scarce time and resources unraveling protections for treasured wildlands, the Forest Service should be investing in activities that restore watersheds, enhance forest resiliency to climate change and deliver valuable ecosystem services to the American people. Fishing, recreation and tourism are the sustainable economic drivers in southeast Alaska and despoiling the very forests and watersheds that sustain this economy makes no economic sense. Sacrificing rare old-growth habitat to keep the unprofitable timber industry afloat at taxpayer expense is poor public policy and does a disservice to Americans and our forest system.
The 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule
Protecting nearly 60 million acres of unroaded areas within the National Forest System, the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule is one of America’s most important conservation laws.
Roadless areas protected under the Rule provide for unparalleled recreation opportunities, clean drinking water for millions of Americans, and crucial habitat for at-risk fish and wildlife populations.
The Rule prohibits road construction and commercial logging within protected roadless areas with exceptions that honor existing laws and recognize socio-economic concerns.
There are roughly 375,000 miles of roads within the National Forest System – enough to circle the Earth 15 times – along with a multi-billion-dollar road maintenance backlog.
The Rule and the Tongass National Forest have faced legislative attacks during the 115th Congress, as some politicians have repeatedly tried to insert riders to undo or roll back the Rule into several pieces of unrelated, must-pass legislation.
The Tongass National Forest – America’s Rainforest
The Tongass National Forest encompasses almost 17 million acres of wild forest in southeast Alaska; roughly 9.5 million acres is classified as roadless under the Rule.
The Tongass National Forest contains the largest intact temperate rainforest on the continent.
These low-elevation temperate rainforests are renowned for their large old-growth trees—some more than 800 years old—which provide important fish and wildlife habitat.
However, these large old-growth trees only constitute about 4 percent of the forest and about half of that prime habitat has already been lost to destructive clearcutting.
The Forest is home to five species of salmon, brown and black bears, bald eagles, wolves, mountain goats and Sitka black-tailed deer. Migratory birds that come from all over the continent spend the summer nesting and breeding in the Tongass. Off the coast, there are orca and humpback whales, Stellar sea lions, seals and Northern sea otters.
Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With over 1.8 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit Newsroom.Defenders.org and follow us on Twitter @DefendersNews.