Delegation Welcomes Next Step on Rulemaking to Help Southeast Alaska Build a More Sustainable Economy

September 25, 2020

U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, and Rep. Don Young, all R-Alaska, today issued the following statements after the U.S. Forest Service (Forest Service) published the final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for a Tongass-specific Roadless Rule. The final EIS includes six alternatives, with a full exemption selected as the preferred alternative.

“The Tongass is home to Alaskans who want what most Americans take for granted—the opportunity to live, work, and play in the communities in which they grew up,” Murkowski said. “A full exemption from the Roadless Rule is about access—access to recreation, renewable energy, and more. This puts us on track for a Record of Decision and final rule by the end of the year, in turn opening the door for individuals and communities throughout Southeast to build a more sustainable economy while still ensuring good stewardship of our lands and waters. I thank Secretary Perdue and the Forest Service team for their continued good work on this important rulemaking.”

“For nearly two decades, the Roadless Rule has stifled opportunities for Alaskans in Southeast to harvest timber, connect communities, develop minerals and build vital energy projects,” Sullivan said. “With this new Tongass-specific regulation, the Forest Service has struck a better balance between conservation and fostering opportunities for Alaskans to make a living. I thank Secretary Perdue, Chief Christiansen, and the Forest Service team for working with Alaskans and reaching this critical stage on the path to a more responsible and workable Roadless Rule.”

“For years, I have said that the one-size-fits-all Roadless Rule was a disaster for Alaska. This Congress, I have been working closely with the President and senior White House staff to secure a Roadless Rule exemption for the Tongass. Not only has the Roadless Rule put an unconscionable economic and social burden on Southeast Alaska, it also violates ANILCA and the ‘no more’ clause by locking up land from the people of Alaska. The release of the final EIS for Roadless Rule is incredible news for our state and our economy, particularly in Southeast. I want to thank the Administration for working with me, our Congressional Delegation, Governor Dunleavy, and, most importantly, for listening to Alaskans. An exemption will not only bring great economic benefit to Alaska, but will also help bolster the long-term health of the Tongass National Forest. This is a good day, and one that has been long in the making. I look forward to continuing to fight on behalf of our state’s right to manage our own resources,” Young said.

In 2018, the Forest Service announced it would develop a state-specific Roadless Rule focused on the Tongass National Forest. The Alaska-specific rule will amend the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule, which established sweeping prohibitions on road construction, road reconstruction, and timber harvest on inventoried roadless areas on National Forest System lands. The new rulemaking came in response to a petition from the State of Alaska requesting a full exemption from the 2001 Roadless Rule for the Tongass.

The Tongass spans nearly 16.7 million acres, covering almost all of southeast Alaska, and is home to 32 islanded communities. For decades, successive layers of federal regulation, including the 2001 Roadless Rule, have continually restricted access needed for timber, mining, tourism, recreation, and the development of renewable resources such as hydropower. The result has been a weaker regional economy that is largely seasonal in nature, with local communities facing fewer employment opportunities and higher energy costs. 

The final EIS is a key milestone in the rulemaking process to restore balance in federal management on the Tongass. Inventoried Roadless Areas comprise about 9.5 million acres of the forest (an area three times the size of Connecticut). Combined with other federal protections, none of which will be affected by this rulemaking, nearly 80 percent of the Tongass is currently off-limits to most forms of development or required to be managed as roadless.   

The final EIS will be published in the Federal Register today. Additional information on the rule is available on the Forest Service’s website.