The public comment period for the draft environmental impact statement on the Alaska Roadless Rule is coming to an end Tuesday, Dec. 17, at midnight.
Even as the deadline approaches, opponents of the rule are still looking to get people involved.
“I would never say that a public process have an inevitable outcome,” said Meredith Trainor, executive director of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council. “Throughout this process, the people of Southeast Alaska have made it clear that the future of the Tongass is not logging but fishing and tourism.”
The 2001 Roadless Rule prevents road construction and timber harvest on the roughly 58.5 million acres of inventoried roadless areas owned by the national Forest Service.
In October, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the Forest Service, announced it would be considering six alternatives to the Roadless Rule in Alaska. Alternatives cover a range of options but in its announcement of the public comment period the USDA said Alternative 6, total exemption of the Tongass National Forest, was its preferred alternative.
Opponents of the USDA’s plan have campaigned fiercely for Alternative 1, the “no action” alternative which would leave the rule in place on the 9.2 million acres of the Tongass.
The issue has become contentious locally with opponents accusing Gov. Mike Dunleavy and the Trump administration of catering to logging and mineral industry interests. In August, the Washington Post reported President Donald Trump expressed an interest in lifting the Roadless Rule following a meeting with Dunleavy.
Critics of the rule say lifting the rule is not about logging, but more about the construction of critical infrastructure and forest management.
“It’s unfortunate the dialogue has been loud and less than factual,” said Robert Venables, executive director of Southeast Conference. “You either have to love it to death or hate it completely. It’s unfortunate not to have that conversation.”
In the past, Venables and Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, have pointed to an electrical intertie project between Kake and Petersburg which ended up costing more than planned due to the bureaucratic hurdles caused by the Roadless Rule.
Roadless Rule supporters are concerned opening the Tongass would lead to industries which would impact the environment and affect other sectors of the economy.
SEACC is hosting one last public comment event at 5:30 Monday, Dec. 16, at Northern Light United Church. Trainor said a stenographer would be present to record people’s spoken comments and submit them in writing.
Venables too suggested people should submit their comments and said he hoped they would do so knowledgeably.
“This is not the end of the matter. There’s no doubt the discussions, the lawsuits, the rhetoric will continue,” Venables said.
Comments can be submitted at the Forest Service website and mailed or hand delivered to the Forest Service Ranger Station on Mendenhall Loop Road.
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