More roads may be built on the Tongass National Forest with the creation of a new Alaska-specific version of the national roadless rule. A committee which met for the first time this week will get to have a say in where, when and who gets to build.
The Alaska Roadless Rule Citizen Advisory Committee convened this week at Centennial Hall for two days. The committee, made up of 12 public representatives and state forester Chris Maisch, will revisit the 2001 rule which prevents new road building on 7.4 million acres of land in Southeast Alaska.
The rulemaking process is moving quickly. Gov. Bill Walker announced the members of the committee last Friday. The group met first on Tuesday, and by Wednesday at Centennial Hall, butcher paper scribbled with ideas lined the wall of a small conference room. Multi-colored maps coded with land use designations filled one corner.
The Committee has a lot of priorities to balance. Representatives from mining, timber, conservation, economic development and Native corporations have to come to a consensus on who will get to build new roads and where.
The idea is to create a new rule which allows more timber access while conserving the characteristics of Southeast roadless areas.
The committee had its first chance to hear from the public on Wednesday afternoon. Many of the more than 20 people who testified were critical of the process.
Juneau fly fishing guide Mark Hieronymus noted the absence of representatives from the tourism and guiding industries on the committee. Brian Holst, executive director of the Juneau Economic Development Council, is the only committee member representing tourism.
Any erosion to protections offered by the national roadless rule, to Hieronymous, would hurt guides.
“Anglers from the Lower 48 encountering lost and irretrievable fishing opportunities in their home states now travel to Southeast Alaska,” Hieronymous said. “Ensuring the management priorities are fish and recreation values is a wise investment opportunity for Alaska.”
Joan McBeen attended a scoping meeting for the new rule recently in her small Southeast town of Tenakee Springs. She’s a retired commercial fisherman and sportfishing lodge owner. Tenakee depends on roadless areas, she said, to support fish habitat.
“All of Tenakee fishes salmon. It’s a wonder we don’t have gills,” she said.
Not everyone who commented was critical of building more roads in Southeast. Local man Jim Clark urged the committee to open more access to timber harvesting in Southeast.
“You ought to come up with a proposal that is in the best interest of Southeast Alaskans, is a good representation of Southeast Alaskans and look to providing access,” Clark said.
The committee will send its report to the State of Alaska. The Forest Service is also gathering public comment online and through a series of scoping meetings around Southeast Alaska. Those two efforts will culminate in a proposal for an Alaska-specific rule which will end up on the desk of U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, who has expressed support for increasing access to timber in Southeast. The process to develop the new rule will take about two years.
• Contact reporter Kevin Gullufsen at 523-2228 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @KevinGullufsen.