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Legislation Repealing Roadless Rule Introduced
Conservationists Say Bill Seeks to Gut Roadless-Rule Protections


July 14, 2011

(SitNews)  - United States Senator Mark Begich (D-AK) and Congressman Don Young (R-AK) introduced legislation yesterday to repeal the 2001 Roadless Rule in Alaska’s National Forests.  Senator Lisa Murkowski co-sponsored the Senate measure.  Alaska’s two national forests are the nation’s largest.  The Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska, at 17 million acres, covers an area the size of West Virginia and the Chugach National Forest, stretching from the eastern Kenai Peninsula to most of Prince William Sound is 5.4 million acres. 

As the latest step in a complex history of litigation, a March 2011 Federal District Court ruling set aside the Tongass Exemption and reinstated the application of the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule in the Tongass National Forest.  A 2003 administrative ruling had previously blocked the rule’s implementation in the Tongass.  The legislation introduced today would prevent use of the rule in planning and decision making for Alaska’s Chugach and Tongass National Forests. 

As implemented, the rule prohibits new roads in inventoried roadless areas and prohibits most timber harvest in these areas.  The March court decision reinstating the rule effectively places 300,000 acres of inventoried roadless area in which logging would have been allowed under the Tongass Land Management Plan off limits to development.

Referring to the Roadless Rule, “This cookie-cutter rule is a bad fit for Alaska,” U.S. Senator Begich said.  “With high unemployment and high energy costs in Southeast Alaska, the Forest Service needs greater flexibility to address these issues.  Repealing the rule will help keep the few existing mills alive and allow for the development of hydro projects throughout the region as well as two promising mining projects on Prince of Wales Island.  Instead of adding options, the roadless rule takes them away.”

Conservationist groups say the Roadless Rule currently protects 9.3 million acres in the Tongass and 5.6 million acres in the Chugach – areas that include vital watersheds, critical salmon habitat, and old-growth trees – from logging and other road-building activities.  This legislation is a departure from the March 2011 federal court decision that called the past exemption of the Tongass from the Roadless Rule “arbitrary and capricious.”

“This bill makes absolutely no sense for Americans.  It threatens vital habitat for salmon, bears, and other wildlife, which southeast Alaskans rely upon for their living,” said Carol Cairnes, President of the Tongass Conservation Society.  “These are our public lands and we should have a say in how they are managed. The American taxpayer will not only lose a national treasure, but will have to foot the bill for timber subsidies.  It’s ridiculous.”

Cindy Shogan, Executive Director of the Alaska Wilderness League, said, "The Roadless Rule is one of the most important public lands policies that protects vital watersheds, critical habitat for salmon and wildlife, and supports the top economic drivers of the region – tourism and commercial fishing industries. The Tongass and Chugach National Forests in Alaska represents our largest remaining temperate rainforest in the world.”

Shogan said,  “We call upon Congress to stop this attack on one of America’s greatest national treasures.”

Congressman Don Young said, "The Roadless Rule was ill-conceived and based on a one-size-fits-all theory." He said, "As we have seen time and time again, the one-size-fits-all approach rarely ever applies to Alaska.  The economic well-being and way of life for many Alaskans relies on responsible resource development and this legislation will ensure that this rule doesn't harm Alaska more than it already has.  Over the last few decades I have watched the timber industry go from thousands of jobs to nothing; we cannot allow the government to decimate this area more than they already have.  This legislation is an economic necessity so that Alaskans may start to responsibly develop our resources in these areas again." 

“The roadless rule never made sense for Alaska since 96 percent of the Tongass and 99 percent of the Chugach are already protected by ANILCA and forest management plans,” said U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski. “Exempting the Tongass from the roadless rule will help make certain that what little remains of the timber industry in Southeast can survive long enough for the Forest Service to implement its second-growth harvest policy. The exemption will also ensure that hydropower and other affordable energy projects in Southeast can move forward.”  

Quoting a news release the Alaska Wilderness League, commercial fishing and tourism are by far the largest private employers in the Tongass and Chugach.  Protecting these roadless areas in Alaska not only helps these industries, it also makes fiscal sense.

These forests are home to centuries-old trees, and provide critical habitat where wolves, grizzly bears, wild salmon, bald eagles, and other wildlife thrive argue conservationists.  The Tongass and Chugach are also powerful economic drivers for the region – they support sustainable long-term jobs such as the fishing and tourism industry, which are at odds with industrial-scale logging and road-building threats from the Roadless Rule.

According to taxpayer watchdog group, Taxpayers for Common Sense, “The Tongass timber program has been hemorrhaging money—and jobs—for years. Since 1982, the Tongass timber program has lost nearly one billion dollars. That equates to nearly $40 million on average every year.”

Much of this expense was due to the taxpayer paying for roads in remote roadless areas to the benefit of just a few timber companies.



Edited by Mary Kauffman, SitNews

Sources of News: 

Office of U.S. Sen. Mark Begich

Office of Rep. Don Young

Alaska Wilderness League

Tongass Conservation Society


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