SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

USDA Announces Steps to Restore Roadless Protections on Tongass National Forest

Alaska Delegation Criticizes Biden Administration Rule to Restrict Economic Activity Across the Tongass

Posted & Edited By MARY KAUFFMAN


November 26, 2021
Friday PM

(SitNews) Washington, D. C.  - The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently announced it is taking steps to repeal the 2020 Alaska Roadless Rule and restore protections to more than nine million acres of inventoried roadless areas on the Tongass National Forest. The Alaska Roadless Rule, approved on Oct. 29, 2020, exempted the Tongass from the 2001 Roadless Rule, which prohibited road construction, reconstruction and timber harvest in inventoried roadless areas – with limited exceptions. The announcement was made on November 19, 2021. The proposed rule repealing the 2020 rule was published on November 22, 2021 for public comment.

USDA determined that the underlying goals and purposes of the 2001 Roadless Rule continue to be a critical part of conserving the resources of the Tongass, especially when it comes to the values that roadless areas represent for local communities, Alaska Natives and the economy of Southeast Alaska. The decision to repeal the 2020 Alaska Roadless Rule is based on the multiple ecologic, social, cultural and economic values supported by roadless areas on the Tongass. More than 95% of commenters opposed exempting the Tongass from the 2001 Roadless Rule during the public comment periods leading up to the 2020 Alaska Roadless Rule.

First Bank - Ketchikan, Alaska

Davies-Barry Insurance - Ketchikan, Alaska

Ketchikan Museums - Ketchikan, Alaska

“Restoring the Tongass’ roadless protections supports the advancement of economic, ecologic and cultural sustainability in Southeast Alaska in a manner that is guided by local voices,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “The proposed rule is considerate of Alaska’s Tribal Nations, community input, and builds on the region’s economic drivers of tourism and fishing.”

In a prepared statement U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) said, “This is a frustrating decision that will impact not just timber, but a wide range of industries in Southeast Alaska—tourism, recreation, mining, energy development, and transportation alike—so we will fight it.” 

Murkowski said, “It is needless, given the level of protections that already exist for the Tongass. It misses a genuine opportunity to work together to establish a sustainable regional economy. And it is exasperating, given that we just passed a historic infrastructure bill, that the Biden administration is intent on returning the Tongass to an overly restrictive environment where projects almost always take longer and cost more, if they can proceed at all. Everything from the deployment of broadband to the development of more affordable energy stands to suffer under a return to the failed Roadless Rule.”  

“Like many Alaskans, I am deeply frustrated by the Biden administration’s continued assault on our state. This latest announcement announcement by Secretary Vilsack shows a complete disregard for the interests of Alaska’s hard-working families,” said Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK) in a prepared statement.

Sullivan said, “Instead of serving as puppets for the extreme leftist environmental groups who have no interest in promoting economic opportunities in our state, the Biden administration should recognize that Alaskans in Southeast—like any Americans—have a right to connect their communities, sustain local economies, build renewable energy projects, and responsibly harvest resources, all of which is being crushed by a return to this overly-burdensome and out-of-touch regulation.”

Congressman Don Young said in a prepared statement,  “USDA Secretary Vilsack - who works in a federal agency office 3,000 miles away from our state — doubled down on this Administration's record of hostility toward Alaska. Earlier this year, I implored Secretary Vilsack to come to Southeast to visit our communities before making a decision on the Tongass. Clearly, he did not. Those in Southeast, including Alaska Natives, know how to balance environmental protection with development; they have been doing it for years. To lock up the Tongass, as Secretary Vilsack is doing, sends the message that this Administration does not trust Alaskans to take care of the very environment in which they live. All our communities are asking for are the same things many people in the Lower 48 take for granted: transportation, economic opportunity, outdoor recreation, and the ability to stay connected with one another. This is truly a sad day for Alaska.” 

Young said, “To the countless families whose economic opportunity and chances of a better life are being snuffed out by the Biden Administration, I want you to know that I will keep fighting for you. I will not stop working until my constituents in Southeast receive the trust and respect they deserve from the people in D.C. who continue to think they know what is best for them.”

Quoting a news release, Audubon applauded the administration’s commitment to undoing the Trump-era decision to remove the protections of the Roadless Area Conservation Rule from our largest roadless areas in the nation.

Audubon Alaska’s Executive Director, Natalie Dawson said, “This action, combined with the administration’s global commitments to ending old growth logging and the USDA’s investment in sustainable forest management in the region are moving the Tongass into a future where we value standing trees and healthy communities."

The National Wildlife Federation and the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council also applauded the Biden Administration for beginning the process to restrict development on more than 9 million acres of North America’s largest temperate rainforest. 

David Willms, senior director of Western wildlife and conservation at the National Wildlife Federation said, “There are so many reasons to protect this national treasure. The Tongass is home to diverse wildlife, sacred Indigenous sites, endless outdoor recreation opportunities, and thriving commercial fisheries. The old-growth forest also plays a vital role in storing carbon.”

Willms said, “Restoring Roadless Rule protections is the right thing to do for wildlife and people alike.”

Meredith Trainor, executive director of Southeast Alaska Conservation Council said, "The Biden administration’s announcement today [Nov. 19, 2021] marks a critical inflection point in the long history of the fight to protect the Tongass National Forest.”

Trainor said, “Beginning Tuesday [Nov. 23rd], we need both Alaskans and Americans across the country to show up once more to speak out on behalf of our forest, and to once again submit comments supporting the restoration of the national Roadless Rule to the Tongass, so we can spend the next three years of the Biden administration doing the legwork to make these decisions real and lasting."

Defenders of Wildlife Alaska policy advisor Pat Lavin in a prepared statement said, "Defenders applauds this welcome shift in priorities for the Forest Service on the Tongass, from destructive liquidation of irreplaceable old-growth forests to restoration and recreation investments developed with local input and participation. Protecting roadless and old-growth forests on the Tongass will conserve biodiversity, help address climate change and align Tongass management with the economic realities in Southeast Alaska. We look forward to working with the Biden administration to similarly protect older forests and wildlands across the nation."

SalmonState also commended the Biden Administration for its decision to reinstate protections for road-free areas of the America’s largest and wildest national forest. The Roadless Area Conservation rule, in place for two decades, was rolled back by the Trump Administration. Quoting a SalmonState news release, that move proved wildly unpopular within the region and across the nation. 

“Tonight’s [Nov. 19, 2021] decision is a giant step towards bringing balance and common sense back to Tongass management,” said SalmonState Communications Director Mary Catharine Martin.  “Reinstating roadless protections to the Tongass and initiating the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA)’s Southeast Alaska Sustainability Strategy back in July illustrates that the Forest Service is once again focused on the future, not the past.” 

“Southeast Alaskans have been speaking loudly and clearly on this topic and it’s incredibly heartening to see the Biden Administration not only listening to us, but working to ensure the Tongass stays the rich, productive, place it is,” said Martin. “1.8 million people came to visit the Tongass in 2019, and none of them came to see fields of stumps.”

A 60-day comment period began on Nov. 23, 2021 with the publication of a proposal to repeal the 2020 Alaska Roadless Rule. Comments can be submitted in the following ways:

  • Preferred: Submit electronically using the Federal eRulemaking Portal at
  • Document ID: FS-2021-0007-0006
  • Or Mail to: Alaska Roadless Rule, USDA Forest Service, P.O. Box 21628, Juneau, Alaska 99802–1628
  • Or Hand Delivery / Courier to: Alaska Roadless Rule, USDA Forest Service, 709 W. 9th Street, Juneau, Alaska 99802
  • Or Email:

Comments are encouraged on the proposed rule. Comments, including names and addresses, are placed in the official record and are available for public inspection and copying. The public may inspect comments received at

The Tongass is 16.7 million acres and stretches roughly 500 miles northwest from Ketchikan to Yakutat, Alaska. It includes approximately 80 percent of the land area in Southeast Alaska. The Southeast Alaska region has about 75,000 people living in more than 30 towns and villages located in and around the Forest, most of which are located on islands or along the narrow coastal strip. The Tongass supports thriving ecosystems that provide food security, as well as cultural, spiritual, and socio-economic values to the surrounding communities.

What is now known as the Tongass is the traditional homelands of the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian peoples, and is essential to the Alaska Native customary and traditional way of life. Their health, well-being, identity, and worldview are intertwined with the lands, waters, and wildlife of the Tongass, quoting a news release from the U.S. Forest Service.

The Tongass National Forest is the largest national forest in the country and represents the largest intact tract of coastal temperate rainforest on earth. The forest holds more biomass per acre than any other rainforest in the world and stores more carbon than any other national forest.

On January 19, 2018, the State of Alaska submitted a rulemaking petition to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Purdue pursuant to the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). In the petition, the State requested that USDA consider creation of a state-specific rule to exempt the Tongass from the 2001 Roadless Rule and conduct a forest plan revision for the Forest. In June 2018, Secretary Perdue accepted the State's petition and agreed to review the State's concerns on roadless area management. The Secretary directed the Forest Service to move forward with a state-specific roadless rule. The Secretary did not commit to the State's request for a forest plan revision. A proposed state-specific rule and draft environmental impact statement were issued in October 2019. An FEIS was released in September 2020 and the final rule exempting the Tongass was published on October 29, 2020 (85 FR 68688, part 294 of Title 36 of the Code of Federal Regulations subpart E). That rule will be referred to as the “2020 Alaska Roadless Rule.”

The FEIS for the 2020 Alaska Roadless Rule analyzed six alternatives for managing roadless areas on the Tongass. The following is a brief description of the action alternatives evaluated in the FEIS for the 2020 Alaska Roadless Rule (Chapter 2 of the FEIS contains a complete description of the alternatives):

The application of the 2001 Roadless Rule to the Tongass was analyzed as Alternative 1 (which at the time maintained the regulatory status quo, also known as the no action alternative).

Alternative 2 provided limited additional timber harvest opportunity while maximizing Inventoried Roadless Area designations.

Alternative 3 provided moderate additional timber harvest opportunities by making timber harvest, road construction, and road reconstruction permissible in areas where roadless characteristics have already been substantially altered and in areas immediately adjacent to existing roads and past harvest areas. Alternative 3 also established a Community Priority category to allow for small-scale timber harvest and associated road construction and reconstruction.

Alternative 4 provided substantial additional timber harvest opportunity while maintaining inventoried roadless designations for areas defined in the Tongass Forest Plan as Scenic Viewsheds, T77 Watersheds, and The Nature Conservancy/Audubon Conservation Priority Areas.

Alternative 5 provided maximum additional timber harvest opportunity by removing 2.32 million acres from Inventoried Roadless Area designation.

Alternative 6 fully exempted the Tongass from the 2001 Roadless Rule, removing 9.37 million acres from roadless area designation.

Taken together, the six alternatives represented the spectrum of potential management regimes identified to the Forest Service in public comments, public meetings, consultations with Tribal and Alaska Native corporations, and by cooperating agencies.

Approximately 411,000 comments were received during the development of the Alaska Roadless Rule. The “large majority of comments supported retaining the 2001 Roadless Rule and opposed the full exemption.” (85 FR 68697).

In addition, nine Southeast Alaska Tribal governments submitted a petition to the Secretary on July 21, 2020 requesting that the United States government commence a new rulemaking in collaboration with Tribal signatories to create a Traditional Homelands Conservation Rule to identify and protect traditional and customary uses of the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian peoples in the Tongass. This petition also requested that USDA create a new process for engaging in consultation with Tribes based on the principle of “mutual concurrence.” The petition states that it was submitted in response to the Tribes' experience in the 2020 Alaska Roadless Rulemaking process and their belief that their contributions were not being adequately considered. Since the initial submission of the Traditional Homelands petition, three additional tribes joined as signatories.

After reviewing the alternatives and considering the comments, the Secretary issued 36 CFR part 294, subpart E (85 FR 68688) on October 29, 2020 (Subpart E), selecting Alternative 6 and fully exempting the Tongass from application of Subpart B of 36 CFR part 294 (the 2001 Roadless Rule).

On December 23, 2020 a coalition of twenty-two plaintiffs, including five federally recognized tribes, two ecotourism companies, and other cultural and environmental organizations filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska challenging the 2020 Alaska Roadless Rule. decision. Organized Village of Kake v. Vilsack, No. 1:20-cv-00011.

Source of News:

US Forest Service

Office of U S Senator Lisa Murkowski

Office of U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan

Office of Congressman Don Young

Defenders of Wildlife Alaska
www.defenders org

Audubon Alaska

Southeast Alaska Conservation Council

National Wildlife Federation

Representations of fact and opinions in comments posted are solely those of the individual posters and do not represent the opinions of Sitnews.

Send a letter to the

Contact the Editor

SitNews ©2021
Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska

 Articles & photographs that appear in SitNews are considered protected by copyright and may not be reprinted without written permission from and payment of any required fees to the proper freelance writers and subscription services.

E-mail your news & photos to

Photographers choosing to submit photographs for publication to SitNews are in doing so granting their permission for publication and for archiving. SitNews does not sell photographs. All requests for purchasing a photograph will be emailed to the photographer.