Update from AK Fish Factor/Laine Welch, Nov. 1, 2019: 

The federal government’s plan to raze more roads through the Tongass National Forest is facing strong headwinds from fishermen, Native groups and coastal communities throughout Southeast Alaska.

Over 220 Southeast Alaskan fishermen signed a letter to the Trump Administration last week opposing the abrupt push to exempt the Tongass National Forest from a roadless rule in place for over a decade. The exemption would release more than 9 million acres from protection and open nearly 200,000 acres to logging.

The U.S. Forest Service made the announcement on October 15 that it is seeking a full exemption from rules that ban more road building in the nation’s largest forest. Alaska would be the only state exempted from the current federal law.

The fishermen’s letter, spearheaded by the Sitka Conservation Society and Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, was sent to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue telling him that fishing is the backbone of local economies and it relies on intact watersheds and salmon spawning grounds in the Tongass, which produces 80% of the salmon caught in the Southeast region.

The push has quickly generated support from other fronts.

   Photo credit: Juneau Empire

 

The Skagway Borough Assembly passed a resolution last week in support of maintaining the roadless rule citing, among other things, the impact logging could have on tourism.

“I wonder what happens to that experience when cruise ships are passing by clear cut areas, or when cruise ships dock in a port and people take a flight through an area that has been clear cut or a place that you used to be able to fish like I’ve done in Baranoff that you can no longer do because the stream has been compromised,” said Mayor Andrew Cremata as reported by radio station KHNS.

Likewise, six tribal governments issued a joint statement condemning the roadless exemption. They include the Angoon Cooperative Association, Central Council of Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, Hoonah Indian Association, Hydaburg Cooperative Association, and the Villages of Kake and Kasaan.

Their statement accused the federal agencies of ignoring the concerns of the tribes and said they were “deeply disappointed” by the process, according to the Juneau Empire.

The roll back of the roadless rules has the strong support of Alaska’s congressional delegation and “every statewide elected official in Alaska supports an exemption from the regulation,” wrote Senator Lisa Murkowski in a September 25 opinion piece in the Washington Post called “Why I support Trump’s proposal to lift restrictions in the Tongass.”

“The one-size-fits-all roadless rule is an unnecessary layer of paralyzing regulation that should never have been applied to Alaska,” Murkowski said, adding that the rule has hurt the timber industry and also affects “mining, transportation, energy and more.”

“When combined with national monument and other natural-setting land-use designations, more than 13 million acres of the Tongass are already explicitly restricted from resource development or are required to be managed as roadless areas. That’s nearly 80 percent of the forest,” Murkowski wrote. “It is also critical to understand that all of the designations listed above, and all of the protections they afford, will apply to the Tongass regardless of what happens with the roadless rule,” she added.

That doesn’t convince Sitka fisherman Eric Jordan who was highly critical of the way in which the Forest Service began working on new rules shortly after Governor Dunleavy met with Donald Trump aboard Air Force One in July. (That meeting also resulted in the abrupt pullback of protections for the Bristol Bay watershed by the EPA.)

“Their record is one of irresponsible top down management without listening to their constituents,” Jordan said in a phone interview, adding that more people are actively meeting to make sure their voices are heard.

“ People are taking notice of the draconian policies of this state and Trump’s leadership and there’s going to be consequences at the polls and in the courts,” Jordan said. “There will not be logging activities that they are envisioning because we’re going to tie it up in courts and demonstrations forever.”

The Forest Service has so far received over 140,000 public comments on the proposed Tongass roadless rule with the majority being opposed to the change.

Comments are being accepted through December 17 or by email to akroadlessrule@fs.fed.us/ Comments also can be sent to USDA Forest Service, Attn: Alaska Roadless Rule, P.O. Box 21628, Juneau 99802.

Comments

comments