In this 2013 photo, tourists visiting the Mendenhall Glacier in the Tongass National Forest are reflected in a pool of water as they make their way to Nugget Falls in Juneau, Alaska. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File)

In this 2013 photo, tourists visiting the Mendenhall Glacier in the Tongass National Forest are reflected in a pool of water as they make their way to Nugget Falls in Juneau, Alaska. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File)

Feds to open logging, road-building in Tongass National Forest

Conservation groups vowed to fight the decision, calling it short-sighted and driven by politics.

By Becky Bohrer / Associated Press

JUNEAU, Alaska — The federal government announced plans Wednesday to lift restrictions on logging and building roads in a pristine rainforest in Alaska that provides habitat for wolves, bears and salmon. Conservation groups vowed to fight the decision.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said it has decided to exempt the Tongass National Forest, the country’s largest national forest, from the so-called roadless rule, protections that ban road construction and timber harvests with limited exceptions. It applies to nearly one-quarter of all U.S. Forest Service lands.

The rule, dating to 2001, has long been a focus of litigation.

Alaska in 2018, under then-Gov. Bill Walker, asked the federal government to consider the exemption, a decision supported by current Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy. Members of Alaska’s congressional delegation also have pushed for the exemption.

About 9.4 million of Tongass’ 16.7 million acres are considered roadless areas, according to the Forest Service, which falls under the USDA. That number differs slightly from the 9.2 million acres the agency cited in its draft environmental review last fall. The majority of Tongass is in a natural condition, and the forest is one of the largest, relatively intact temperate rainforests in the world, the agency said.

Many of the roadless areas are wildlife habitats, ecosystems and natural areas like old-growth temperate rainforests, ice fields and glaciers, and islands facing the open Pacific Ocean “that exist nowhere else in the National Forest system,” according to the Forest Service.

The USDA, in a notice released Wednesday, said it concluded that a policy change for Tongass “can be made without major adverse impacts to the recreation, tourism, and fishing industries, while providing benefits to the timber and mining industries, increasing opportunities for community infrastructure, and eliminating unnecessary regulations.”

In a separate statement, the USDA said the exemption itself doesn’t authorize any specific work and that proposed projects still must comply with the forest’s management plan and are subject to federal environmental review.

This 1990 aerial photo shows a section of the Tongass National Forest in Alaska that has patches of bare land where clear-cutting has occurred. (Hall Anderson/Ketchikan Daily News via AP, File)

This 1990 aerial photo shows a section of the Tongass National Forest in Alaska that has patches of bare land where clear-cutting has occurred. (Hall Anderson/Ketchikan Daily News via AP, File)

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, said on social media that a full exemption from the roadless rule is about access “to recreation, renewable energy and more while ensuring good stewardship of our lands and waters.”

Conservation groups criticized the decision as short-sighted and driven by politics.

“The decision to roll back the roadless rule on the Tongass was made in spite of, not in support of, southeast Alaskans and our communities,” said Meredith Trainor, executive director of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council. “In making this decision, the Trump administration and the sham rulemaking process they undertook in our region ignored economic realities, environmental imperatives, and worst of all, the will of the people who actually live here.”

Randi Spivak, public lands director at the Center for Biological Diversity, referred to the forest’s old-growth trees as giants.

“As sure as the sun rises in the east, with our allies, we will sue to keep these magnificent giants standing for centuries to come,” Spivak said.

An official notice of the change at Tongass is expected to be published in the Federal Register on Thursday.

Talk to us

More in Northwest

FILE - In this May 15, 2019 file photo, the Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River is seen from the air near Colfax, Wash. Environmental groups are vowing to continue their fight to remove four dams on the Snake River in Washington state they say are killing salmon that are a key food source for endangered killer whales. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Study looks at impact of ocean and dams on salmon runs

Fish recovery efforts should focus on the ocean, not on freshwater, says the BPA-funded scientist.

Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman talks to reporters in her office, Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020, at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. Wyman was talking about a series of election- and ballot-security bills her office is asking the Washington Legislature to consider during the current session. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Washington secretary of state certifies election results

Joe Biden will receive the state’s 12 electoral votes at the Electoral College on Dec. 14.

This series of screenshots taken from an iPhone with COVID-19 exposure notifications turned on for Washington state shows some of the information presented to iPhone users who are considering opting in to a new statewide coronavirus exposure notification program that was launched Monday, Nov. 30, 2020, in Washington state that uses smartphone technology in the ongoing effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19. People with Apple iPhones can now enable the 'exposure notifications' feature that is already in their phone's settings, and Android devices can download the app, called Washington Exposure Notifications. Use of the service is voluntary and users can opt out at any time. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Washington launches statewide COVID-19 notification app

Modeling predicted significant decreases in infections and deaths if at least 15% of people use the app.

Visitors view photos of people who were killed by police in Washington State and elsewhere, Tuesday, June 16, 2020, inside what has been named the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest zone in Seattle. Police have pulled back from a part of the city's Capitol Hill neighborhood near the department's East Precinct after recent clashes with people protesting the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Lawmakers, activists set ambitious agenda for police reform

The bills being drafted represent a broad overhaul of policing and police accountability in Washington.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference at Rideau Cottage during the COVID pandemic in Ottawa on Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press via AP)
Canada: US border measures to last until virus under control

About 400,000 people crossed the world’s longest international border each day before the pandemic.

FILE - In this Jan. 24, 2019 file photo Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, left, looks on as Suzi LeVine, right, the state's Employment Security Department Commissioner, talks to reporters at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. The state of Washington is calling in the National Guard to help process unemployment benefit claims as officials grapple with a backlog caused in part by a fraud ring that stole more than half a billion dollars in aid, officials said Thursday, June 11, 2020. LeVine said that Gov. Jay Inslee approved the deployment of troops who will start assisting her team next week as it tries to reduce the unemployment claim backlog.(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren,File)
Washington state auditor warns unemployment agency on audits

She’s accused of hindering a probe regarding the theft of hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars.

Prosecutors: Hate crimes on the rise in King County

Two years ago, there were 30 hate crimes in King County. So far in 2020, the number is up to 51.

FILE - In this 2013 file photo, cone collectors like Gabe Thorne, of Hamilton, head up into the high country around the west to climb to the very top of whitebark pine and collect cones from disease-free trees in Sula, Mont. U.S. officials say climate change, beetles and a deadly fungus are imperiling the long-term survival of the high-elevation tree found in the western U.S.. (AP Photo/Ravalli Republic via AP, File)
High mountain pine tree that feeds grizzlies is threatened

Whitebark pine trees grow in Washington, Idaho, Oregon, Wyoming, Montana, California and Nevada.

Kennewick teen one of 1st children in state to die from COVID

About 15% of cases in Washington are in young people up to age 19.

Most Read