President Joe Biden’s inauguration is providing a ray of hope for the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, a private environmental organization based in Juneau.
Meredith Trainor, SEACC’s executive director, said Biden’s first-day executive action to review the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s decision to lift the Roadless Rule in the Tongass National Forest is a good sign of possibly changing times.
She made the comments during a Blue Congress, Green Tongass webinar the group hosted on Thursday.
“It was very satisfying to see that executive order on the very first day of the administration, Trainor said on the call, which also featured Leah Donahey, a lobbyist for the Alaskan Wilderness League who is based in Washington, D.C.
Trainor explained that the Roadless Rule is a prohibition on roads on protected federal lands. The rule covered over nine million acres in the Tongass National Forest, she said.
“We just celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Roadless Rule,” Trainor said, noting that the debate of the last few years over the rule’s future had been challenging. “It felt like we were rolling a rock uphill,” Trainor said. “The Governor was against us, and Trump was not a supporter of the rule. It was a heck of a time. We all worked hard to bring pressure.”
In late October, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a decision to exempt the Tongass National Forest from the Clinton-era rule. The move was praised by opponents, including Gov. Mike Dunleavy and Alaska’s congressional delegation.
Opponents of the rule say it puts too many burdens on development in the forest, making even small developments and infrastructure improvements too costly and challenging and that it locks up land, preventing Alaskans from reaching portions of the state.
Supporters of the rule also say it keeps critical protections in place to ensure conservation and protection of the Tongass, which serves both as a tool against climate change and is essential in the life cycle of salmon, another critical resource for Southeast.
Proponents of restoring the rule were heartened by the president’s action.
“It’s significant to have the Tongass on the list of things they recognize they need to address,” said Donahey about Biden’s executive order.
In addition to a review of the decision about the Roadless Rule, Trainor and Donahey both shared optimism that conservation efforts could pick up steam this year. They noted an ongoing court case related to the Roadless Rule and the Roadless Area Conservation Act’s re-introduction as examples.
“It’s very clear that climate change is a priority for Biden,” Trainor said.