Push to overturn roadless decision

Legislators hope Tongass resolution will help reverse ban on building new roads

Posted: Wednesday, January 17, 2001

Alaska lawmakers opposing President Clinton's roadless policy say a resolution working its way through the Legislature could help overturn new logging limits in the Tongass National Forest.

The House Transportation Committee advanced the resolution Tuesday. It calls for overturning President Clinton's policy banning most roadbuilding and logging in current roadless areas in the Tongass through a lawsuit, or congressional or presidential action. The resolution also calls for exempting the Chugach National Forest in Southcentral Alaska from the policy.

Moved without dissent, the measure now heads to the House Resources Committee.

Legislative resolutions are commonplace and lack any force of law. But Rep. Peggy Wilson, a freshman Republican from Wrangell, said this one is significant because it will help Alaska's congressional delegation make the case to colleagues that there was an injustice done to the state and its timber industry.

"When Congress gets this, they will know the whole state of Alaska is singing the same song," Wilson said. "We all know that people in the Lower 48 don't have a clue what it's like to live in Alaska."

On Jan. 5, Clinton announced he was including the Tongass in the new policy immediately, overturning a 2004 effective date proposed by the Forest Service. Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles quickly announced he would file suit to overturn the decision made by the outgoing president, a fellow Democrat.

Wilson said the last-minute inclusion of the Tongass in the policy was a successful attempt to pre-empt serious resistance within Alaska until it was too late.

"I think the people of Alaska deserve to have someone standing up and fighting for them on this issue," she said. "The presidential action really is an affront to all Alaskans."

Claire Richardson, spokeswoman for Knowles, said the state Department of Law expects to file its complaint against the roadless policy by the end of the month. Richardson said that while the legislative resolution would have no legal impact, the governor welcomes it.

Katya Kirsch, executive director of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, and Susan Schrader, conservation advocate for the Alaska Conservation Alliance and Alaska Conservation Voters, tried to convince the House committee that the roadless policy was developed fairly and is in the best interests of fish habitat, water supplies and diverse uses of the forests.

Schrader noted more than 600 public hearings were held nationwide, including 17 in Alaska. She said 62 percent of the testimony favored inclusion of the Tongass. "It does not simply reflect President Clinton's personal philosophy."

"It's time for you to listen, also," Kirsch said.

But Rep. Albert Kookesh, a Democrat from Angoon, said the roadless policy threatens to scuttle a hydroelectric project for his village, as well as road links in the Southeast Transportation Plan being developed by the state.

Wrangell Republican Sen. Robin Taylor accused SEACC of trying to mislead the committee by overstating support for the roadless policy in Ketchikan.

Kirsch's comment that 40 percent of those testifying at a hearing there supported the roadless policy ignores the fact that most of them were eco-tourism guides "brought in and paid for" by environmental groups, Taylor said.

"It's a national forest, senator," Kirsch replied.

Bill McAllister can be reached at billm@juneauempire.com.

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