Juneau, AK

The U.S. Forest Service has released the record of decision for a regulation that will eliminate the national Roadless Area Conservation Rule on the Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska. The Roadless Rule has been in place since 2001 and protects about 9.2 million acres in the Tongass, including old-growth trees and habitat for salmon, Alexander Archipelago wolves and Sitka black-tailed deer, from logging and associated roadbuilding. According to the Forest Service, 96% of commenters on the proposal want to see the Roadless Rule remain in place. But despite this overwhelming support for protecting our national forest lands, the agency has decided to ignore the public and pave the way for more logging and roadbuilding in the Tongass.

Nicole Whittington-Evans, Alaska program director, Defenders of Wildlife, issued the following statement: 

“The U.S. Forest Service has taken an ax to one of the most popular and effective measures we have to conserve our national forest lands. Stripping roadless protections will destroy habitat for species like northern goshawks, brown and black bears, and the Alexander Archipelago wolf. With nearly 1 million visitors a year, clearcutting the forest will jeopardize wildlife and the real economic drivers of Southeast Alaska — fishing and tourism.”

Background:

About the Tongass National Forest:

  • In October 2019, the Forest Service formally proposed to exempt the Tongass National Forest from the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule, which is one of our country’s most important conservation measures. About 9.2 million acres of the 16.7 million acre Tongass National Forest fall under the protections of the 2001 rule. The roadless rule prohibits logging and associated road construction in Inventoried Roadless Areas within our national forests. The comment period on this proposal ended on December 17.
  • Those roadless areas harbor a variety of forest types including old-growth forests and intact watersheds, which provide vital habitat for Pacific salmon, Alexander Archipelago wolves, Sitka black-tailed deer, brown and black bears, bald eagles and much more.
  •  Due to habitat loss and excessive hunting and trapping mortality for wolves, Defenders has petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the Alexander Archipelago wolves in southeast Alaska as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
  • About half of the “large tree” old-growth, the largest and most ancient stands, has already been logged, and about half of what remains exists in Roadless areas.  
  • Logging isn’t the answer to buoy the region’s job and economic market. Currently, the timber industry is responsible for less than 1% of jobs in the region. The tourism and fishing industries are much more important to the local economy, both of which stand to lose if the Tongass is exempted from the roadless rule.

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 achievements.
  • The Roadless Rule prohibits logging and associated road construction within roadless areas with some exceptions. Contrary to arguments advanced by some, the Roadless Rule does not prevent other activities such as mining or renewable energy development.
  • Roadless areas protected under the Roadless Rule provide for unparalleled recreation opportunities, clean drinking water for millions of Americans, and crucial habitat for at-risk fish and wildlife populations.
  • Roughly 375,000 miles of roads exist within the National Forest System – enough to circle the Earth 15 times – along with a multi-billion-dollar road maintenance backlog.
  • In May 2019, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), a senior member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), a member of the House Natural Resources Committee, introduced legislation to protect millions of acres of pristine national forests. Also leading the effort is Senator Tom Udall (D-NM), ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies; Congresswoman Diana DeGette (D-CO), a member of the House Natural Resources Committee; and Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining.

Defenders of Wildlife is celebrating 75 years of protecting all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With a nationwide network of nearly 2.2 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 defenders.org/newsroom and follow us on Twitter @Defenders.

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