State challenges reinstatement of Roadless Rule on Tongass

Dunleavy: Alaskans deserve access to the resources that the Tongass provides

State officials filed litigation on Friday, Sept. 8, in U.S. District Court in Anchorage in an effort to have the 2020 Alaska Roadless Rule reinstated, contending such action is necessary to protect the economic and socioeconomic development of Southeast Alaska.

The final repeal of the Roadless Rule in January reinstated the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule on 9.3 million acres of the Tongass National Forest, effectively blocking roadbuilding, some road reconstruction and timber harvesting. Such protections, the state contends, are unnecessary, as there are numerous environmental safeguards already ensuring that economic survival is balanced with wise conservation practices and resource protection.

The repeal also forbids mineral extraction of minerals the state litigation described as critical mineral resources and minerals crucial for renewable energy resources. 

The 40-page complaint from the state, which seeks injunctive and declaratory relief, is the first document required for more litigation on the matter.

“Alaskans deserve access to the resources that the Tongass provides – jobs, renewable energy resources, and tourism, not a government plan that treats human beings within a working forest like an invasive species,” said Gov. Mike Dunleavy. “That’s why we’re challenging the decision with this complaint.”

The Tongass, the largest forest in the United States, covers nearly 17 million acres, including land surrounding the capital city of Juneau. The temperate coastal rainforest is home to over 72,000 people.


The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC) in January celebrated the official restoration of the Roadless Rule to the Tongass National Forest, noting the efforts of SEACC and residents of Southeast Alaska in support of the rule for the health and protection of the Tongass.

“Dunleavy has consistently been on the wrong side of history with expensive, unnecessary and ineffectual lawsuits,” said Aaron Brakel, Inside Passage waters program manager for SEACC. “There has been extensive public process around the Roadless Rule and Southeast Alaskans have overwhelmingly stood up in favor of keeping Roadless Rule protections in place on the Tongass, as they are in all our nation’s forests.”

“It is particularly important to point out that restoration of the Roadless Rule would not have been successful without the leadership of the tribes in our region and without the efforts of tribal leaders,” Brakel said. “SEACC is committed to taking any and all necessary steps to keep the national Roadless Rule protections in place on the Tongass.”

Brakel said SEACC was grateful to Alaskans and others across the country who have put time into standing up to ensure the Tongass remains protected by the Roadless Rule.

Robert Venables, executive director of the Southeast Conference, a regional economic development entity, told the Alaska Beacon in January when the Roadless Rule was restored, that there really had not been any operational charges in years in the Tongass.

“It’s a non-consequential event when the reality of forest management is concerned,” he said. 

The Southeast Conference did not provide additional comment on the new litigation by time of publishing.

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack said in January that the Tongass is key to conserving biodiversity and addressing the climate crisis, and that the USDA’s decision recognized the importance of fishing and tourism to the region’s economy as well as comments from area residents. The agency received some 112,000 public comment in advance of its decision with the majority in favor of restoring the Roadless Rule, which was initially put in place at the end of the Clinton administration in 2001.

State officials contend that the 2001 Roadless Rule is a national one-size-fits-all regulation that does not work for Alaskans who live and work in Southeast Alaska. Both the state and the state’s congressional delegation have consistently worked over six consecutive terms of governors to exempt the Tongass from the 2001 Roadless Rule, the state said in a statement issued by the Alaska Department of Law.

Reapplying the 2001 Roadless Rule to the Tongass violates unique Alaska and Tongass-specific statutory provisions of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) and the Tongass Timber Reform Act based on a flawed and biased decision-making, the state contends.