Legislation would codify 2001 Roadless Rule

In Alaska that would include protections for Tongass National Forest

Legislation introduced in Congress on May 2 by Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-WA, and Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-AZ, would offer permanent protection to millions of acres of national forest lands, including over seven million acres in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest.

The Roadless Area Conservation Act of 2019 would codify the 2001 Roadless Rule, which limits costly roadbuilding and destructive logging on roadless landscapes across the National Forest System, Cantwell said in a statement. It would protect hunting and fishing opportunities, provide critical habitat for some 1,600 threatened or endangered species, lessen wildland fire risk, and supply clean drinking water to millions of Americans in 39 states, Cantwell said.

“It’s time to permanently safeguard our remaining undeveloped forest lands as the foundation of our outdoor recreation economy, a home for wildlife, and a heritage for future generations,” she said.

“The Trump Administration’s reckless efforts to expedite the rollback of conservation protections on public lands – with limited public input – must be checked,” Gallego said.

Also, in support of the legislation are Senators Tom Udall, D-NM, and Ron Wyden, D-OR, and Rep. Diana DeGette, D-CO.

The roadless rule issue is controversial in Alaska, where there is no support for such legislation from the Dunleavy administration or the state’s congressional delegation.


In an op-ed for the Ketchikan Daily News on March 19, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said in part that “at the root of access restrictions to the Tongass is the sweeping federal Roadless Rule, which the Clinton administration imposed on its way out the door in 2001. In reality, this one-size-fits-all rule should never have been applied to Alaska.

“The Tongass now has more than 9.7 million acres of inventoried roadless areas,” she said. “Combined with wilderness designations, the federal government has placed some 93 percent of the forest off-limits to development.”

“The rule and its current application to the Tongass are simply unworkable,” she said.

While the courts have so far rebuffed efforts to weaken or eliminate the 2001 Roadless Rule, the Trump administration is currently considering petitions from Alaska and Utah that would allow those states to overturn roadless protections and proceed to log certain federal forests, which could adversely impact ecosystems within those states,

The Roadless Rule was developed by the U.S. Forest Service during the Clinton administration and finalized in 2001 after several years of deliberation public meetings nationwide and consideration of some 1.6 million public comments, 96 percent of which strongly favored protection of these roadless areas.

Another individual supporter is Elsa Sebastian, who grew up commercial fishing in Southeast Alaska and now crews on a Bristol Bay drift gillnetter. She told Cantwell that “as a fisherman I believe we need watershed scale protections for salmon habitat in the Tongass. In an era of environmental uncertainty and changes in our oceans all of the small salmon streams in the Tongass National Forest are important or maintaining diverse stocks of wild salmon.”

“We can’t afford to see any more productive forest opened up for logging,” she said. “The roadless rule is working for commercial fishermen and investing in our salmon business would feel a lot easier if we knew that roadless areas in the Tongass will be permanently protected from clear-cut logging.”

“We have lived off these lands in a sacred and caring way for generations, and we want to continue to live in our traditional ways for our children and our children’s children,” said Adrien Nichol Lee, of the Tlingit Tribe, and president of Alaska Native Sisterhood Camp 12 and keeper of cultural Tlingit education.

“Corporate logging cannot come before we the people,” she said. “We also know the Tongass is important to help stop climate change for everyone around the world.”