As expected, the Trump administration has removed a 2001 Roadless Rule exemption for more than 9 million acres of Alaska's Tongass National Forest.
A notice posted in the Federal Register on Wednesday, Oct. 28, confirms the plans indicated in the final environmental impact statement, released in September, to open lands to the removal of old-growth trees and the construction of logging roads after nearly 20 years of protection.
"I'm disappointed," said Seth Stewart of Yakobi Fisheries in Pelican, Alaska. "Exempting the Tongass National Forest and opening 9.3 million acres to old growth logging is a shot in the gut to fishing and tourism businesses in Southeast Alaska that have been driving the economy in Southeast Alaska for decades."
The Tongass produces more salmon than all other national forests combined, according to Trout Unlimited, and the fishing and tourism industry supported by the intact forest account for more than 25 percent of local 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.
"Local tribes were disregarded, as were over 96 percent of public comments on the Environmental Impact Statement process," Stewart said. "To say this improves energy security or responsible mineral development opportunities, when those uses were already exempted doesn't hold water. From where I sit, in Pelican, Alaska, very much in the heart of the Tongass National Forest, this is clearly about unlocking federal dollars to build roads to clear cut old growth timber.
"We have seen what clearcuts do to salmon populations elsewhere, and it defies logic to think Alaskans are somehow exempt from the consequences of such short-sighted decisions. We have the opportunity to do better and our elected and appointed government officials are literally not seeing the forest for the trees by rushing to make Alaska just like everywhere else that once had wild places and thriving wild salmon populations. It sucks."