Alaskans were alternately praising or condemning the Biden administration’s announcement Friday it would “repeal or replace” the Trump administration’s decision to lift the Roadless Rule for the Tongass National Forest, continuing a decades-long debate over management of the largest national forest.
Environmentalists praised the decision, while others condemned what they said was an unnecessary impediment to responsible resource development.
“We are feeling grateful and cautiously optimistic this morning and looking forward to the Biden administration taking the final step to put the national rule back in place on the Tongass,” said Meredith Trainor, Executive Director of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council.
While environmental organizations like SEACC lauded the move, many others condemned it, saying it was suppressing Alaska’s economic opportunity. Alaska’s congressional delegation issued statements panning the move and called for an end to continuous policy reversals.
“The Trump administration, through the Forest Service and (U.S. Department of Agriculture), put considerable work and effort into the final rule and now the Biden administration is literally throwing it all away. We need to end this ‘yo-yo effect’ as the lives of Alaskans who live and work in the Tongass are upended every time we have a new President,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, in a statement.
Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, said in a statement that the rule approved under the Trump administration struck the right balance between environmental conservation and fostering economic opportunity. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, invited President Joe Biden to visit Southeast Alaska before making decisions that impacted the region.
“From tourism to timber, Alaska’s great Tongass National Forest holds much opportunity for Alaskans but the federal government wishes to see Alaskans suffer at the lack of jobs and prosperity,” Gov. Mike Dunleavy said in a statement.
Several national environmental organizations praised the decision, including the Center for Biological Diversity, The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Camp and Defenders of Wildlife.
Defenders of the Roadless Rule pointed out that the overwhelming majority of public comments, 96%, favored keeping the rule in place during the most recent public comment period and the positive economic impacts the protections would bring.
“The Tongass produces more salmon than all other national forests combined. Today’s announcement is the first step toward ensuring that continues, and that the fishing and tourism industries, which account for more than one in four local jobs, will continue to drive southeast Alaska’s economy,” said Austin Williams, Alaska Legal and Policy Director for Trout Unlimited said in a statement.
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