Proposal would allow logging in more than half of Alaska's Tongass National Forest

ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - The U.S. Department of Agriculture is proposing the reversal of a longstanding limit on tree cutting in the Tongass National Forest, which is the nation's largest national forest and covers most of Southeast Alaska.

The USDA describes the area as having "unique chances to view eagles, bears, spawning salmon, and the breath-taking vistas of 'wild' Alaska" on its website.

In a press release, the USDA says it is "seeking public comment on a draft environmental impact statement offering a range of alternatives to roadless management and a proposed Alaska Roadless Rule. If adopted, the proposed rule would exempt the Tongass National Forest from the 2001 Roadless Rule."

Under one alternative proposal, the department writes, it "would remove all 9.2 million acres of inventoried roadless acres and would convert 165,000 old-growth acres and 20,000 young-growth acres previously identified as unsuitable timber lands to suitable timber lands."

The Washington Post reports President Trump ordered the reversal on the grounds that it will boost the local economy and that the administration first floated the idea in August after Trump spoke to Gov. Mike Dunleavy.

Tuesday afternoon Sen. Lisa Murkowski released a statement supporting the decision.

“I’m very pleased the administration has listened to Alaskans and is proposing a full exemption from the Roadless Rule as its preferred alternative,” Murkowski said. “I thank President Trump, Secretary Perdue, and the team at the Forest Service for their hard work to reach this point—and for their continued efforts to restore reasonable access to the Tongass National Forest. This is important for a wide array of local stakeholders as we seek to create sustainable economies in Southeast Alaska.”

Sen. Dan Sullivan also released a statement: “I welcome the decision by Secretary Perdue and President Trump to include as the preferred alternative a full exemption for Alaska from the Clinton-Era Roadless Rule. As Alaskans know well, the Roadless Rule hinders our ability to responsibly harvest timber, develop minerals, connect communities, or build energy projects to lower costs—including renewable energy projects like hydropower, all of which severely impedes the economy of Southeast,” Sullivan said. “I am grateful that the Forest Service is committed to work with the State of Alaska and the people affected by its policies to create a more workable regulation that can provide for responsible economic activities to provide for Alaskans living in Southeast.”

As news spread about the proposal both support and condemnation grew, some saying logging would threaten salmon populations, food security and tourism.

“For the last 18 years, the Roadless Rule has protected the Tongass National Forest — America’s largest national forest and Southeast Alaskans’ backyard — from the shortsighted, money-losing logging roads and clearcuts that for decades were allowed to degrade, and in some cases destroy, some of the finest salmon and wildlife habitat anywhere in the world,” SalmonState Executive Director Tim Bristol wrote in a news release. “Politicians are listening to timber industry lobbyists and ignoring the testimony of hundreds of Alaskans in order to bring back this destructive era. Decisions regarding the future of America’s largest and magnificent national forest should continue through public, collaborative processes — not ten minutes of talk on Air Force One.”

The Tongass is the largest remaining temperate rainforest in the world protected by rules prohibiting logging.

It spans nearly 16.7 million acres. It covers nearly all of southeast Alaska and is home to 32 island communities.

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