Acting Regional Forester Dave Schmid, right, and Associate Deputy Chief of National Forest System Chris French talk Thursday, August 2, 2018, about an agreement about how the roadless rule will affect Alaska national forests. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Acting Regional Forester Dave Schmid, right, and Associate Deputy Chief of National Forest System Chris French talk Thursday, August 2, 2018, about an agreement about how the roadless rule will affect Alaska national forests. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Alaska roadless rule opens for public comment

New rulemaking process progressing swiftly; public meetings start in September

More timber may soon be harvested on the Tongass National Forest and the U.S. Forest Service wants to know what the public thinks about that.

A new rulemaking process for an Alaska specific version of the 2001 Roadless Rule — which prevents timber harvest and the building of roads on 7.4 million acres of roadless lands in Southeast Alaska — is now open for public comment.

A Thursday notice published in the Federal Register opens the first official venue for the public to voice its opinion on what opening up new land to timber harvest would mean for the region and the state.

“By working together, we can ensure that this rule helps provide more economic opportunity for Alaskans while sustaining the health, diversity and productivity of the Tongass National Forest,” Tongass Supervisor Earl Stewart said in a prepared statement.

About 45 percent of the 17-million-acre Tongass National Forest isn’t open to timber harvest or the construction or reconstruction of roads under the Roadless Rule. About 20 percent of that total is Congress-designated wilderness blocked from development even under a modified roadless rule.

A new Roadless Rule just for Alaska hasn’t yet been written, but it’s intended to open up some of this land to timber harvest at the behest of the State of Alaska and the USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue. Forest managers are shopping the idea in a series of seven public meetings in Alaska over in September. Written public comments will bolster that outreach effort and help forest managers shape the new regulations.

Juneau’s public meeting kicks off the schedule on Sept. 13 at 5:30 p.m., with a location to be determined.

Anyone interested in voicing their ideas of the future of timber harvests on the Tongass has until Oct. 15 to add their two cents in writing. (More information below).

The push to create a new rule has progressed swiftly.

In January, Gov. Bill Walker issued a petition for a new rule to the U.S. Department of Agriculture on behalf of the state. Walker argued in his State of the State speech that month that that Southeast Alaska’s timber industry was unnecessarily hamstrung by the federal law.”

“Federal restrictions to access in southeast via the 2001 roadless rule have harmed our ability to develop our resources,” Walker said.

Perdue accepted Walker’s petition in April and threw his weight behind the Alaska specific rule after touring Southeast with Sen. Lisa Murkowski in July. Perdue told the Empire in a conference call with reporters that the “the best way to resolve and dissolve the concerns of Southeast Alaska with regard to Tongass, and all the things it affords and the multiple uses there, is to use an exemption for a state-specific, Alaska state roadless rule.”

On Aug. 2, the Forest Service announced its intention to write the Alaska specific rule by entering into a new rulemaking process.

Comments can be submitted electronically at https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/ ?project=54511. Hardcopy comments can be mailed to: Alaska Roadless Rule, USDA Forest Service, Alaska Region, Ecosystem Planning and Budget Staff, P.O. Box 21628, Juneau, Alaska 99802–1628.

All comments, including names and addresses, are placed in the record and are available for public inspection and copying.

Environmental groups respond

In response to Thursday’s opening of public comment, conservationists expressed concern over opening up new public lands to timber harvest. At least one other advocacy group is welcoming the possible expansion of timber harvests in Southeast.

Conservationists criticized the new rule’s intention to revive a nearly extinct timber industry. Timber harvests peaked in the 1970s and declined in the 1980s and 90s, according to the Government Accountability Office. From 2010-2014, less than 50 million board feet were harvested annually in Southeast. That’s down from a peak of nearly 500 million board feet annually from 1970-1979.

From Oct. 2017 to June of this year, the USFS made only one timber sale of a value over $100,000 on the Tongass, according to USFS reports.

Fishing and tourism jobs have increased as a share of the region’s economy and new timber harvests may imperil those industries, wrote Andy Moderow, Alaska Director, Alaska Wilderness League.

“The Walker administration is stuck in the past as it pushes to remove the Tongass from roadless protections. Are we really willing to risk a sustainable future for Southeast Alaska so that the heavily subsidized old-growth timber industry can export more raw timber and local jobs overseas?

“The State’s Petition is contrary to the best interest of Alaskans and harms the real drivers of Southeast Alaska’s economy today – recreation, tourism, guiding, and fishing,” wrote Southeast Alaska Conservation Council Attorney Buck Lindekugel.

Denny Dewitt, of development advocacy group First Things First Alaska, heralded the new rule’s progress, saying it’ll help bring much needed jobs to Southeast’s smaller communities.

“We’re delighted that they’re moving in this direction. We have worked with the federal government and particularly the State of Alaska in developing the Tongass and the Chugach in a fashion that’s more appropriate for our for allowing multiple uses,” Dewitt told the Empire by phone, “that will help provide economic growth for some of our smaller communities. We think it’s a good opening step forward and we’re looking forward to working with the Forest Service.”


• Contact reporter Kevin Gullufsen at 523-2228 and kgullufsen@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @KevinGullufsen.


More in News

(Juneau Empire file photo)
Aurora forecast for the week of April 15

These forecasts are courtesy of the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute… Continue reading

Juneau School District administrators and board members review the updated budget for the current fiscal year during a Board of Education meeting Tuesday night at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
The Juneau School District had a $9.5M projected deficit this year. It’s now a $633,185 surplus. How is that possible?

Resignation of 34 employees since January, health insurance savings among reasons, officials say.

Rep. Sara Hannan (right) offers an overview of this year’s legislative session to date as Rep. Andi Story and Sen. Jesse Kiehl listen during a town hall by Juneau’s delegation on Thursday evening at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Multitude of education issues, budget, PFD among top areas of focus at legislative town hall

Juneau’s three Democratic lawmakers reassert support of more school funding, ensuring LGBTQ+ rights.

Rosemary Ahtuangaruak, mayor of the Inupiaq village of Nuiqsut, at the area where a road to the Willow project will be built in the North Slope of Alaska, March 23, 2023. The Interior Department said it will not permit construction of a 211-mile road through the park, which a mining company wanted for access to copper deposits. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times)
Biden shields millions of acres of Alaskan wilderness from drilling and mining

The Biden administration expanded federal protections across millions of acres of Alaskan… Continue reading

Allison Gornik plays the lead role of Alice during a rehearsal Saturday of Juneau Dance Theatre’s production of “Alice in Wonderland,” which will be staged at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé for three days starting Friday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
An ‘Alice in Wonderland’ that requires quick thinking on and off your feet

Ballet that Juneau Dance Theatre calls its most elaborate production ever opens Friday at JDHS.

Caribou cross through Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve in their 2012 spring migration. A 211-mile industrial road that the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority wants to build would pass through Gates of the Arctic and other areas used by the Western Arctic Caribou Herd, one of the largest in North America. Supporters, including many Alaska political leaders, say the road would provide important economic benefits. Opponents say it would have unacceptable effects on the caribou. (Photo by Zak Richter/National Park Service)
Alaska’s U.S. senators say pending decisions on Ambler road and NPR-A are illegal

Expected decisions by Biden administration oppose mining road, support more North Slope protections.

Rep. Sarah Vance, R-Homer, speaks on the floor of the Alaska House of Representatives on Wednesday, March 13. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Alaska House members propose constitutional amendment to allow public money for private schools

After a court ruling that overturned a key part of Alaska’s education… Continue reading

Danielle Brubaker shops for homeschool materials at the IDEA Homeschool Curriculum Fair in Anchorage on Thursday. A court ruling struck down the part of Alaska law that allows correspondence school families to receive money for such purchases. (Claire Stremple/Alaska Beacon)
Lawmakers to wait on Alaska Supreme Court as families reel in wake of correspondence ruling

Cash allotments are ‘make or break’ for some families, others plan to limit spending.

Most Read