Governor Murkowski Welcomes Good News
December 23, 2003
About 15.4 million acres of the 16.8 million-acre Tongass are currently roadless and undeveloped. The Tongass Land Management Plan allows consideration of active management, over the long term, on about 300,000 acres of inventoried roadless areas. Development of the forest plan involved an unprecedented level of scientific review and public involvement, culminating in a 1997 Record of Decision. The 2001 National Roadless Rule altered the balance struck in the forest plan, and was challenged by the State of Alaska as well as by 6 other states. As a result of a separate challenge brought by the State of Wyoming, the roadless rule has been enjoined nationwide.
People in 32 communities within the Tongass National Forest depend on the forest for subsistence and social and economic health. Most communities lack road and utility connections to other communities. The environmental impact statement for the national roadless rule acknowledged that Southeast Alaska would be particularly affected by its provisions, estimating that a total of 900 jobs could be lost due to the roadless rule. The state's legal challenge threatened to overturn other administrative land-use reservations already in effect under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980.
This announcement concludes a process begun on July 15, with release of the proposed exemption for public comment, following settlement of the State of Alaska's lawsuit challenging the application of the roadless rule in Alaska. Publication of the final rule in the Federal Register is expected near the end of the year.
On hearing the news, Alaska Governor Frank Murkowski applauded the US Forest Service today for issuing final regulations that exempt the Tongass National Forest from the Clinton-era Roadless Rule. This rule-making flowed from the federal government's settlement of the State of Alaska's litigation, which asserted that the Roadless Rule violated the "no more" clause of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980.
"When Congress passed ANILCA, it included the 'no more' clause to implement Congress's finding that ANILCA land allocations reflected the right balance between land that was locked up, and the land and resources that were to remain available for Alaska to build communities, an economy, and the jobs that support them," Governor Murkowski said.
"We welcome this good news, coming as it has at Christmas time, as a boost to the people and communities of Southeast," Murkowski said. "This was a vital step in our plan to rebuild the Southeast timber industry. The Tongass should again support a vibrant timber industry."
According to information provided
by the Office of the Governor, under various federal laws and
withdrawals, 96 percent of the Tongass National Forest will remain
roadless, wilderness area. The decision by the USFS to exempt
the Tongass, following its decision to settle the state's lawsuit
against application of the Roadless Rule to the Tongass, means
that an additional 300,000 acres of the forest will be available
for timber sales to support the Southeast timber industry. Currently,
approximately 650 timber-related jobs exist in Southeast, compared
to a high of nearly 5,000 ten years ago.
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