Republican News

Republican News

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, today issued the following statement on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals en banc ruling reversing an earlier decision exempting the Tongass National Forest from the national inventoried roadless rule. The ruling means the roadless rule will continue to restrict access to 9.5 million acres of the Tongass – an area equal to the size of New Jersey.

“Today’s ruling is a disappointment and a severe setback for the economies of Southeast Alaska,” Murkowski said. “The Forest Service in 2003 had very firm economic grounds for exempting the Tongass from the rule. It’s sad that judges today – a dozen years later – ruled that the Forest Service did not adequately explain its reasons for granting that exemption.”

The economic experience of Southeast communities over the past 15 years has clearly shown that the Forest Service was right in exempting the Tongass. Timber harvests have fallen by more than 70 percent – far more than the Clinton administration forecasted when the rule was adopted in 2001 – and employment has fallen in the timber industry from around 2,100 in 2000 to an average this past winter of about 100, according to state of Alaska data.

“The years have shown there was nothing arbitrary about the decision of the Forest Service to exempt the Tongass. And the years have shown that forest ‘values’ would not have suffered if the limited timber harvesting proposed by the then existing forest plan had been allowed to continue,” Murkowski said. “The only capricious result has been the drop in the economy of timber-dependent communities in Southeast Alaska. The rule’s reinstatement will only make it harder for local efforts to develop renewable energy projects, needed electric transmission lines, mining operations, wood products, and other economic proposals to succeed.”

Murkowski, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, introduced legislation in March that would exempt the Tongass from the roadless rule to ensure that affected communities could economically develop renewable energy and other natural resources in the national forest.

“The roadless rule may make sense in the Lower 48, where there are existing roads and utility lines on national forest lands, but in Alaska where little, if any, infrastructure exists, it is truly counterproductive,” Murkowski said.  

Murkowski continues to press the U.S. Forest Service to provide flexibility in its application of the roadless rule in Alaska because of the lack of roads within the region when the Tongass was designated as a national forest. The Forest Service has yet to make changes to its roadless regulations in Alaska. Murkowski’s legislation would allow for roads to be built in the Tongass and Chugach national forests following full environmental reviews.