Alaska files to defend Tongass exemption from Roadless Rule

March 27, 2021 GMT

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — The state of Alaska and several other groups have filed to defend the Tongass National Forest’s exemption from a rule that limits development on federal land.

The filing fights back against a group of tribal, environmental, fishing and tourism organizations who sued the Trump administration’s decision last year to dismiss the Roadless Rule for the Tongass, Alaska’s Energy Desk reported on Thursday.

The Roadless Rule was adopted in 2001 and limits road construction and timber harvesting on National Forest System lands.

“The Tongass holds great economic opportunity for not only Southeast Alaska, but the State as a whole,” Gov. Mike Dunleavy said in a statement. “From resuming our timber industry to attracting tourism, this region has the potential to create good-paying jobs and it is my administration’s intent to defend our state’s rights and improve access to public lands.”

The tribal and conservation groups said in their lawsuit that the Trump administration’s decision to lift the rule on more than 9 million acres (about 36,400 square kilometers) of the Tongass is based on a flawed environmental analysis and ignores the input of Alaska Native tribes and the rest of the public.

President Joel Jackson from the Organized Village of Kake said he is concerned that development could hurt the region’s other industries.

“Our region, before COVID, was heavily reliant on tourism, and sport fishing, and commercial fishing and subsistence fishing — and it still is,” Jackson said. “Those areas provide way more jobs and more economic value to southeast Alaska.”

Jackson said development is also a threat to Alaska Natives and their lifestyle, because they harvest food and medicine from the local environment.

Ketchikan’s city and borough have defended the exemption. Mayor Bob Sivertsen said developments do not have to harm the environment.

“Well, there are mitigations for everything we do,” Sivertsen said. “We have the technology these days to do construction and other things that would lessen the impact on environmental issues, whether we’ve got to put in fish culverts, silt fences, the design and placement of the roads, all those types of things.”

Other groups defending the exemption include the city of Craig, the statewide and southeast chambers of commerce, electric utilities, shipping companies and resource development advocacy groups, the outlet reported.