Proposed rule exempts Tongass from logging restrictions

More than 9 million acres of roadless area in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest could become open to potential logging.

The U.S. Forest Service proposed exempting Alaska’s Tongass National Forest from the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule, which prohibits logging and related activities such as the construction of roads and logging within inventoried roadless areas. If finalized, the rule would open all 9.2 million acres of roadless area — including 165,000 acres of old-growth forest — in the nearly 17-million-acre Tongass to potential logging.

The Tongass National Forest is the largest national forest in the United States and one of the world’s last intact temperate rainforests. The forest provides habitats critical for some salmon and Sitka blacktail deer (Odocoileus hemionus sitkensis) populations, among other species. Since its inception in 2001, the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, which applies to all U.S. National Forest System lands, has prevented logging in the roadless areas within Tongass.

In January, 2018, Alaska petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture to develop a state-specific roadless rule, which the Forest Service began developing later that year. After soliciting scoping comments from stakeholders including state officials, Alaska tribes and native corporations, organizations and individuals, the agency developed a proposed rule as well as a draft environmental impact statement, prepared under the National Environmental Policy Act. The impact statement analyzes six possible alternatives, ranging from no action to the complete exemption of the Tongass from the roadless rule. The Forest Service identified Alternative 6, a full exemption from the roadless rule, as their preferred alternative in the recently proposed rule.

The Forest Service is planning a series of public meetings and hearings to discuss the proposal. It is also accepting public comments on the proposed rule and the accompanying draft environmental impact statement until Dec. 16. A final rule is expected in 2020.

In May, the Roadless Rule Conservation Act (S.1311/H.R.2491) was introduced into both the House and Senate in an effort to codify the regulatory protections provided by the roadless rule. Both bills were referred to the relevant committees, but neither has had a hearing or otherwise advanced.

The Wildlife Society has worked to prevent clear-cut logging of the old-growth forest areas within the Tongass in the past, in partnership with other scientific and professional societies.  The Alaska Chapter of The Wildlife Society has also spoken out in favor of protecting the unique natural resource values of the Tongass.

Header Image: A proposed rule would open 9.2 million acres of roadless areas in the Tongass National Forest to potential logging. ©U.S. Forest Service Alaska Region