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19 months and counting on Tongass National Forest exemption appeal

Posted: March 20, 2014 - 11:04pm

The state of Alaska has been left to “sit and wait” for more than a year and a half by the federal court system, Alaska Assistant Attorney General Tom Lenhart said.

Lenhart gave an update on the Tongass National Forest’s exemption from the Roadless Area Conservation Rule to the Alaska Board of Forestry during its meeting Thursday. In 2011, the state “immediately” filed an appeal with the federal courts when they struck down the Tongass’ 2003 exemption from the Roadless Rule, reinstating restrictions imposed in 2001 on unroaded areas of the forest’s 17 million acres.

“It was atrocious, in my opinion,” Lenhart said during his presentation.

Lenhart said most appellants hear back from the courts within three to 12 months. Nineteen months have passed, he said, and the state has no word on the exemption appeal.

“All we can do is sit and wait,” Lenhart said.

Opponents of the rule say it blocks the state from millions of dollars of economic development in the country’s largest national forest. Proponents of the rule say the land and the animals that call it home need to be protected. The Tongass was exempt from the rule until 2011, when the Organized Village of Kake, the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council and other environmental organizations won a lawsuit.

Forestry board member Eric Nichols, of the Forest Industry Trade Association in Ketchikan, said Southeast Alaska’s economy is beginning to be “stifled” by the rule.

“There’s a lot of things that get put off until this thing comes into play,” Nichols said. “It’s starting to have an impact on Southeast.”

Lenhart replied that reinstating the Tongass exemption wouldn’t be a fix-all for the timber industry.

“Even if we win this, it’s no silver bullet for the industry,” he said. “That by itself doesn’t cut down a single more tree.”

Also at the board meeting, U.S. Forest Service Tongass Supervisor Forrest Cole gave an update on the new Tongass Plan Advisory Committee, which will amend the Tongass management plan to comply with the Roadless Rule.

Almost 80 people applied to be a part of the committee, Cole said. The Forest Service sent along 35 names to the U.S. secretary and undersecretary of agriculture, who will appoint 15 committee members and one alternate soon, he said. The committee will decide on a “proposed action” by May.

The goal of the group is to come up with a “narrowly focused amendment” that’s easy to implement into the current management plan, Cole said.

“If it was a complete revision of the forest plan there’s no way it could get done,” he said.

Cole said a draft of the amendment will be “on the street” in August 2015, when it will be up for feedback and edits. The new plan will be finalized in August 2016, he said.

“So far the stars are aligning in order to get the advisory committee set up and the amendment started,” he said.

• Contact reporter Katie Moritz at 523-2294 or at

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Frank Heart
Frank Heart 03/21/14 - 08:22 am
Unfortunately, there appears

Unfortunately, there appears to be a lack of rain forests so, you bet your sweet bottom it is in our country's best interest that we comply with the Roadless Rule.

How about Ketchikan take it upon themselves to create new business opportunities that are in compliance with the Roadless Rule.

It appears that the oil spill from 1989 at Prince William Sound will need on going restoration work.

Samuel Joplin
Samuel Joplin 03/21/14 - 10:21 am
National Forest Lockup

The roadless rule is nothing more than an attempt be overzealous preservationists to lock Alaskans out. National forests should be managed through careful conservation - not preservation constructs. Roads provide access to rainforests. A road does not destroy a rainforest. Alaska already has more land preserved than any other state. Unlike National Parks in other states, most of Alaska's national parks are not accessible by road. Alaska's national forests should not be locked up with no access!

Judy Hodel
Judy Hodel 03/21/14 - 11:48 am
Logging Tongass Old Growth=Corporate Welfare

One needs look no further than the USFS budget for proof. Over the past five years, USFS has invested $8.6 million annually in tourism and recreation, which helps support a billion-dollar tourism industry that provides 10,200 jobs.

They have put $7.9 million toward fish and wildlife, which helps support another billion-dollar industry and another 7,200 jobs in Southeast Alaska.

Finally, $23.4 million goes annually to timber cutting and roads, a money-losing industry that provides just 107 jobs (these numbers come from the Forest Service).

In economic terms, USFS spends $843 per year supporting each tourism job, $1,097 per year per fishing job, and $218,692 per year per timber job.

trent Morrison
trent Morrison 03/22/14 - 08:35 am
I wonder if Samuel lives in

I wonder if Samuel lives in SE Alaska. Alaskans are not blocked out of this forest, we are living in it. Logging on federal land is a deficit-run federal program - we the taxpayers subsidize logging on federal land. Tom Lenhart wants to kill the Roadless Rule in the Tongass National Forest so the logging industry can get in there. The “overzealous” timber industry is a main culprit behind climate change. The timber industry has destroyed our planets natural carbon-storing environments: the forests and wetlands. Now we have excessive amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere causing mega storms. These storms costs American taxpayer’s lives and billions of dollars. Taxpayers have been forced to subsidize the timber industry and now taxpayers are paying $$$ for the storms that are interconnected to this industry. The consequences of climate change are getting worse daily and we will have ever-increasing "extreme" weather-related events. Not only that but the costs to taxpayers will only increase exponentially. I don't know how any taxpayer can be for exempting the Tongass National Forest from the Roadless Rule this will allow the timber industry in this forest. It is far more cost effective for our country and for taxpayers to keep the Roadless Rule in place in the Tongass National Forest.

Samuel Joplin
Samuel Joplin 03/24/14 - 03:11 pm
What "roadless" means

The Clinton era roadless rule has nothing to do with saving money associated with timber sales. It is simply an effort to lock up federal lands. Roadless rules have resulted in extra federal expenditures to tear out existing logging roads that were being used for hunting and fishing access. Oh, and another thing... There is actually a tremendous increase in vegatative growth after an area is logged in comparison to old growth trees, so logging must be better for climate change. Save the planet - cut an old growth tree today!!

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