A lawsuit against the Trump Administration for removing protections on the Tongass National Forest, seen here on Monday, Dec. 9, 2019, was filed in U.S. District Court on Dec. 23, 2020. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)

A lawsuit against the Trump Administration for removing protections on the Tongass National Forest, seen here on Monday, Dec. 9, 2019, was filed in U.S. District Court on Dec. 23, 2020. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)

Coalition files lawsuit against Trump Administration over Roadless Repeal

The lawsuit, formed with 21 plaintiffs, was filed in U.S. District court Wednesday.

Nearly two dozen Alaska Native tribal governments, environmental groups, and other advocacy organizations banded together to file a lawsuit against the Trump Administration exempting the Tongass National Forest of Clinton-era protections.

Spearheaded by Earthjustice and the Natural Resources Defense Council and filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska, the lawsuit seeks to halt sale of the land and reverse the ending of protections for more than half of the Tongass National Forest from road building and clear-cut logging, according to a news release from the 21 plaintiffs.

“There’s really been a loss of the habitats from road fragmentation and clear cuts. In terms of climate change, those forests have some of the most significant carbon stocks in the country,” said Sally Schlichting, a policy analyst for the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, one of the plaintiffs, in a phone interview. “There are really valuable watersheds in the roadless areas that help sustain a billion-dollar salmon industry.”

[Eagle shot off Back Loop Road]

Plaintiffs include Tribal governments such as Organized Village of Kake, Organized Village of Saxman, Hoonah Indian Association, Ketchikan Indian Community and Klawock Cooperative Association. Other organizations represented in the lawsuit include organizations like SEACC, Uncruise, the Sierra Club, the National Audubon Society, Greenpeace Inc., the National Wildlife Federation and others.

“Gutting the Roadless Rule imperils unique wildlife and salmon-producing waters, and threatens the livelihoods of commercial fishing families and small businesses in tourism and recreation,” said the news release. “The Tongass produces some 25% of West Coast salmon, and attracts millions of visitors from around the world.”

Fishing and tourism account for more than 26% of the economy of the Southeast, Schlichting said, while logging accounts for less than 1%. The rule repeal was made after a public comment period that failed to account forinput from or even to consult Alaska Natives about their subsistence use of the land, which the Roadless Rule exemption will directly affect, Schlichting said.

“President Trump’s shortsighted rollback of the Roadless Rule goes against the will of the people — 96% of all unique public comments supported keeping Roadless Rule protections on the Tongass — and jeopardizes the ancestral homelands of the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people,” the news release said. “Many Indigenous communities continue to rely on the Tongass for fishing, hunting, foraging and traditional ways of life. Removing forest protections will have staggering consequences for their culture and food.”

The lawsuit argues that the rollback violated a wide number of regulations, including the Administrative Procedure Act, Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act, Organic Administration Act, National Forest Management Act, National Environmental Policy Act and the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.

“It’s about calling out the Forest Service about how arbitrary about this rule they came up with,” Schlichting said. “You can’t be arbitrary and capricious in your rulemaking.”

Many of the plaintiffs voiced their support, highlighting thousands of years of coexistence with the land that was ignored in the decision to exempt the Tongass.

“We are deeply concerned about the protection of the Tongass National Forest, where our ancestors have lived for 10,000 years or more,” said Joel Jackson, Tribal President of the Organized Village of Kake, in the news release. “We still walk and travel across this traditional and customary use area, which is vast and surrounds all of our communities to the north, south, east and west. It’s important that we protect these lands and waters, as we are interconnected with them. Our way of life depends on it.”

Read the full complaint below:

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at (757) 621-1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.

More in News

COVID at a glance for Wednesday, April 14

The most recent state and local numbers.

It's a police car until you look closely and see the details don't quite match. (Juneau Empire File / Michael Penn)
Police calls for Wednesday, April 14, 2021

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

This photo shows an envelope containing a 2020 census letter mailed to a U.S. resident. On Wednesday, March 24, 2021, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by the state of Ohio that tried to get the U.S. Census Bureau to provide data used for drawing congressional and legislative districts ahead of its planned release. (AP Photo / Matt Rourke)
Alaska joins 15 other states in backing Alabama’s challenge to Census privacy tool

The case could go directly to the Supreme Court if appealed.

Has it always been a police car? (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire)
Police calls for Tuesday, April 13, 2021

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

This photo shows the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine sits on a table at a pop up vaccinations site the Albanian Islamic Cultural Center, in the Staten Island borough of New York. The U.S. is recommending a “pause” in administration of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to investigate reports of potentially dangerous blood clots. (AP Photo / Mary Altaffer)
CDC freeze on Johnson and Johnson vaccine sets clinics scrambling

The odds of being affected are vanishingly rare, but CDC says better safe than sorry.

After over 30 years at 3100 Channel Drive, the Juneau Empire offices are on the move. (Ben Hohenstatt /Juneau Empire File)
The Juneau Empire is on the move

Advertising and editorial staff are moving to Jordan Creek Center.

This photo shows the National Archives in the Sand Point neighborhood of Seattle that has about a million boxes of generally unique, original source documents and public records. In an announcement made Thursday, April 8, 2021, the Biden administration has halted the sale of the federal archives building in Seattle, following months of opposition from people across the Pacific Northwest and a lawsuit by the Washington Attorney General's Office. Among the records at the center are tribal, military, land, court, tax and census documents. (Alan Berner / The Seattle Times)
Biden halts sale of National Archives center in Seattle

Tribes and members of Congress pushed for the halt.

This photo shows Unangax̂ Gravesite at Funter Bay, the site where Aleut villagers forcibly relocated to the area during World War II are buried. A bill recently passed by the Alaska House of Representatives would make the area part of a neighboring state park. (Courtesy photo / Niko Sanguinetti, Juneau-Douglas City Museum) 
Bill to preserve Unangax̂ Gravesite passes House

Bill now heads to the state Senate.

The state announced this week that studded tires will be allowed for longer than usual. In Southeast Alaska, studded tires will be allowed until May 1 instead of April 15. (Dana Zigmund / Juneau Empire)
State extends studded tire deadline

Prolonged wintry weather triggers the change.

Most Read