In this Nov. 29, 2018 photo, clouds swirl over Douglas Island. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)

In this Nov. 29, 2018 photo, clouds swirl over Douglas Island. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)

Opinion: The Roadless Rule is a misnomer for what’s really happening in the Tongass

The Roadless Rule, as currently comprised with an exception provision, works.

  • By Kate Troll
  • Wednesday, February 1, 2023 7:14pm
  • Opinion

I am a Troll in the Tongass. I love that alliteration. It heightens my sense of place to what we simply call “the Tongass.” Being a good Troll, I’ve been around Tongass National Forest management issues for decades and one of the things that I’ve learned is that the “Roadless Rule,” a provision that limits logging roads, is a misnomer for what is actually going on inside the forest.

I first became engaged on Tongass matters when the Tongass Timber Reform Act passed Congress in 1990. I was representing the United Fishermen of Alaska. More recently I served on the Tongass Advisory Committee for aiding the transition to the young growth timber industry. This committee, like others, developed their recommendations based on the Roadless Rule being in place. This was easy to do because there are hundreds of miles of exisiting logging roads that could be used to access second-growth timber. In fact, on Prince of Wales Island alone there are more than 2,000 miles of logging roads.

There is also an exception process that allows for more roads. Since the enactment of the Roadless Rule, 57 projects have been approved under the Forest Service’s exception provision; allowing new roads for hydroelectricity projects, new roads for community development and access to mining claims. In other words, the only new roads not allowed are logging roads for clearcutting timber in roadless areas.

Our political leaders seem to overlook the application of this Exception Provision. Even Rep. Mary Peltola, announced that she does not support the Biden Administration’s decision (to re-instate the Roadless Rule) saying it will prevent community-supported development in the region, including renewable energy projects. All one need do to verify that the exception system works is to look at the community of Sitka which is now using 100% renewable electricity thanks to the Blue Lake hydroelectric project that was approved under the Roadless Rule.

Sen. Dan Sullivan called re-instating the Roadless Rule “overly burdensome” and said he would “fight this and other Biden administration anti-Alaska actions with everything in my power.” If this Roadless Rule is so overly burdensome, then why do Native tribes from Skagway to Ketchikan support the reinstatement of this rule? If this rule is so anti-Alaska why then do a majority of Southeast Alaskans also support this rule? According to a May 2019 poll done by Trout Unlimited, 60% of Southeast Alaskans and 57% of Alaskans statewide wanted the Roadless Rule reinstated.

As a person who has a master’s degree in forest science, I am not anti-timber. But I am a realist and recognize that logging in the Tongass has fundamentally changed. Today, old-growth timber harvest comprises just 1% of Southeast’s economy. According to the State of Alaska’s own economic experts, the Tongass timber industry has been in a state of decline, not because of the Roadless Rule but because of permanent and fundamental changes in global timber markets, high labor costs and distances from markets.

Then it’s important to recognize that old-growth trees are now more valuable as repositories of carbon than they are as timber. As shown by Sealaska Corp., which made $100 million on the carbon assets of 165,000 acres of old-growth, there is a smarter way to go than pushing to log old-growth.

Let’s be honest here. The Roadless Rule, as currently comprised with an exception provision, works. It works for renewable energy and community development. It works for our fisheries, subsistence and tourism. Even the climate benefits. The only place it doesn’t work for is new clearcutting of old-growth, which from a regional economic standpoint is of minimal consequence. If anything, the Biden Administration just took a pro-tribe and a pro-Alaska stance.

• Kate Troll is a retired Natural Resource Professional, a former Borough Assembly member and author of two books. Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire. Have something to say? Here’s how to submit a My Turn or letter.

More in Opinion

Web
Have something to say?

Here’s how to add your voice to the conversation.

Former President Donald Trump speaks to a capacity crowd at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage on July 9, 2022. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Opinion: A primary election of ill-informed voters

On Tuesday, Republicans across the state will help anoint Donald Trump as… Continue reading

HEX Cook Inlet, LLC and Subsidiaries presents a check to the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Administration in October of 2023. (Photo courtesy of the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Administration)
My Turn: The Legislature should rein in AIDEA

This story has been updated to correct the photo caption, which originally… Continue reading

(Juneau Empire file photo)
Letter: What’s wrong with this picture?

At 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 24, I and several other moms and… Continue reading

Palestinians sell goods next to buildings destroyed by an Israeli airstrike in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024. An estimated 1.5 million Palestinians displaced by the war took refuge in Rafahor, which is likely Israel’s next focus in its war against Hamas. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)
My Turn: Palestinian residents are helpless victims in attacks made by leaders

In 1948 the United Nations gave the country of Palestine to European… Continue reading

The Juneau School District administrative office, which would be closed and turned over to Juneau’s municipal government under a pending consolidation plan. (City and Borough of Juneau photo)
Opinion: Juneau School District edges closer to balanced budget, but what’s next?

After a marathon public hearing last week, the Juneau School District (JSD)… Continue reading

Students at Juneau Community Charter School play chess in a classroom. (Juneau School District photo)
Opinion: Final Draft – Civic education and the problem with standardized testing

There’s a lot of intense disagreements with the education bill that the… Continue reading

Joe Geldhof is a parent of two daughters who attended public schools in Juneau and a former Juneau Assembly candidate. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire file photo)
My Turn: Focus on saving teacher jobs, not buildings or nostalgia, to fix school district crisis

The numbers are bad. Really bad. Even dire. Juneau is losing population.… Continue reading

Most Read