A final environmental impact statement released Friday, Sept. 25, indicates the Forest Service plans to remove Roadless Rule protections from Alaska's Tongass National Forest.

If finalized, the rule change would repeal conservation measures for more than 9 million acres of the forest, making protected lands available for expanded industrial clear-cut logging of old growth trees and construction of expensive and highly subsidized logging roads.

The Tongass produces more salmon than all other national forests combined. As the largest national forest in the country at nearly 27,000 square miles, it covers most of Southeast Alaska. The intact forest supports robust fishery and tourism sectors that account for more than 26 percent of jobs in the region.

A 10-year study showed that from 2007 to 2016, the Tongass and the adjacent Chugach (at half the size) together contributed 48 million salmon on average each year to commercial fisheries, with a dockside value of $88 million.

In October 2019, the service published its draft environmental impact statement, followed by a 60-day comment period. Public comment overwhelmingly supported retaining the roadless rule and protections for fish and wildlife.

“This reprehensible move disregards years of collaborative work in favor of money-losing taxpayer giveaways to an industry that was shutting down before the Roadless Rule went into place," said Tim Bristol, executive director of SalmonState.

Trout Unlimited reports that more than 80 project proposals have been granted exemptions in Alaska's roadless areas, including mining, energy and utility projects; transportation roads; and community infrastructure development.

The service is expected to release its Record of Decision as soon as Oct. 26.

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Jessica Hathaway is the former editor in chief of National Fisherman.

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