We are writing on behalf of our millions of constituents who we represent from across the country. We write in strong opposition to an Alaska exemption to the Roadless Area Conservation Rule (Roadless Rule), and ask you to choose the “no action” alternative for the Draft Environmental Impact Statement on the proposed Alaska Roadless Rule, Alternative #1.
An exemption to the Roadless Rule will drive limited Forest Service resources away from other regional priorities, and harm the long-term goal we all share of growing SE Alaska’s economy, which is increasingly dependent of the intact, unspoiled ecosystems that make the Tongass such a cherished and sought-after place.
The Roadless Rule has been overwhelmingly successful in Alaska, and across the country, for our economies, our wildlife, our climate and outdoor recreation. That is why since it was implemented in 2001, the Roadless Rule has retained overwhelming support it has from individuals of all political parties and communities of all types.
The Roadless Rule limits costly and environmentally damaging roadbuilding and logging to help protect taxpayers and preserve wild, high conservation value lands in the Tongass National Forest for future generations. It helps preserve these places while providing significant flexibility that allows for activities including mechanized recreation, connections between communities, hydropower development, mining access roads, fire prevention and public safety.
In addition to protecting high value conservation lands in Alaska, the Roadless areas are home to multiple Alaska Native groups and provide a myriad of other benefits in the Tongass National Forest including clean water, unmatched recreational and tourism opportunities, and wildlife habitat supporting hunting, commercial and recreational fishing, as well as habitat for many threatened, endanger, or sensitive species.
Alaska’s Roadless areas have been home to the Alaska Native groups Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian, since time immemorial. The implementation of the Roadless Rule stopped destructive logging of old-growth in the Tongass which, during the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s destroyed their sacred sites, damaged areas of traditional and customary use, and harmed their watersheds and rivers. They rely upon the Tongass’s lands and waters for culture, subsistence lifestyles, and livelihoods. While visitors from around the world travel to the Tongass for world-class recreation, hunting, and sport and commercial fishing, they have lived off these lands longer than the United States has existed, and they have spoken out vocally asking the rule not to be repealed.
Due to the many benefits regionally and nationally, as well as the protections and flexibilities of the Roadless Rule, in 2001 it received comments from roughly 1.6 million people with 95% voicing support for strong roadless area protections, most of which requested that the Tongass National Forest be included. In the decades since, the American people continue to support strong conservation protections for our public lands and roadless national forests.
The Roadless Rule is of national importance, and any move to provide exemptions or weaken these protections in Alaska would fundamentally erode the successes of the Roadless Rule. Of the more than 58 million acres of Inventoried Roadless Area, Alaska alone contains almost 15 million acres of roadless national forest land including more than 9 million acres in the Tongass National Forest. The Tongass contains some of the largest remaining tracts of temperate old-growth rainforest in the world-providing more than 8% of the carbon sequestration of the United States’ forests. The Roadless Rule helps protect much of the Tongass’ ecosystem, helping make it the country’s single most important national forest for carbon sequestration and carbon change mitigation. As parts of Alaska are warming at roughly twice the rate of the rest of the planet, maintaining an intact Tongass ecosystem can help provide climate change solutions for Alaska and international climate efforts.
Strong, continued protections for roadless areas in Alaska will also help save taxpayers millions of dollars by limiting costly new road building and allow the Forest Service to focus on maintaining the more than 371,000 miles network of national forest system roads. New budget data shows that the USFS has continued to lose millions of dollars on Tongass timber sales in recent years, even with the Roadless Rule in place . In total, the USFS has lost approximately $600 million over the last twenty years or $30 million per year on average. If the Roadless Rule is repealed for the Tongass, data shows that the wasting of taxpayer resources will only increase. By limiting costly expensive new road building into roadless area the Forest Service can make more funding available for maintaining and managing the existing forest road network which has an estimated maintenance backlog of $3.2 billion. In Southeast Alaska because of the harsh terrain and inaccessibility of many areas, roadbuilding is known to have outsized costs in this region.
You have indicated the DEIS’ preferred option is “fully responsive to the State of Alaska’s petition” for a full Roadless Rule exemption. Unfortunately, that position indicates that you have accepted the false arguments that have been used by various Alaska officials in court that have been fully refuted now by multiple rulings upholding the process and the content of the Roadless Rule. In Southeast Alaska, the Roadless Rule is working exceptionally well at protecting national forest land from roadbuilding and commercial logging while providing flexibility for numerous other activities. In Alaska, the Forest Service has reviewed, and approved, typically within two months, dozens of projects within roadless areas including 29 mining projects, 9 hydro or intertie projects, a geothermal lease, and even an aerial tram.
The reality of the Southeast Alaskan economy is that logging is no longer an industry that helps more than one corporation and their lobbyists. Attempts to restore the industry to what it was several decades ago will cost taxpayers millions, potentially billions, and will come at the expense of the thriving and growing tourism, fishing and recreation economies which provide sustainable jobs and revenue to the region.
As this process proceeds we would like to again state our strong opposition to any exemptions or exceptions to the Roadless Rule in Alaska or elsewhere. In consideration of the national importance of the Tongass to the Roadless Rule we would also respectively request additional opportunities for the public to weigh in with in-person meetings outside Alaska, at the very least in the Pacific Northwest and Washington, DC, as well as a comment periods longer than only 4530 days.
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