USDA plans to reinstate protections for in Tongass National Forest

The U.S. Department of Agriculture plans to repeal or replace the previous administration’s rule that exempts the Tongass National Forest in Alaska from roadless-area restrictions on logging and other development. The rule affects approximately 9.2 million acres of the almost 17-million-acre forest.

The plan was included as part of the current administration’s “Unified Agenda,” a thorough list of all forthcoming regulatory actions across the government, generally issued twice a year. This is the first such listing the Biden administration has prepared.

Last year, the Trump administration finalized a rule excluding the Tongass National Forest from the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, lifting restrictions on road construction and related development on 9.4 million acres of the forest.

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.

Finalized in 2001, the Roadless Area Conservation Rule establishes prohibitions on road construction, road reconstruction, and timber harvesting on 58.5 million acres of inventoried roadless areas on National Forest System lands. The rule has historically prevented logging in the roadless areas within Tongass. However, the rule has drawn controversy and has been the subject of multiple legal challenges.

The move to repeal the Tongass exception is not unexpected, as the Trump administration’s decision to exempt the Tongass from the roadless area conservation rule was one of the regulations Biden administration identified as requiring review. The USDA plans to issue another announcement, with additional details, in August. The Biden administration might choose to revert to the previous rule, leaving the roadless-area protections in place for the Tongass, or it could chose to draft a new rule entirely.

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: The USDA plans to repeal a rule finalized by the previous administration, which exempted the Tongass National Forest from the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule. Credit: Robin Mulvey