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In 1999, the Clinton administration released a plan to review all roadless areas of more than 5,000 acres on federal lands for possible permanent protection. At that time Sen. Ted Stevens received a call from the White House assuring him that the Tongass would be excluded from the roadless areas review.
President Clinton instead chose to ignore the concerns of the state of Alaska, its Native people and the timber communities of Alaska's forests. Clinton waited until the final hours of his presidency before issuing the executive order that included the Tongass in the roadless plan, and broke his promise to Sen. Stevens in the process.
Clinton's act specifically and knowingly violated an earlier federal law, the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA).
ANILCA sought to strike an important balance. The law set aside millions of acres of land for conservation purposes, but it also included a clause, known as the "no more" clause, which stipulated that further withdrawals of more than 5,000 acres were expressly forbidden without congressional approval.
The "no more" clause gives Alaska powerful legal footing to refute the authority vested in the roadless rule within its borders. Approximately 9.6 million acres of Southeast Alaska's 16.8-million-acre Tongass have been designated roadless.
In June, Alaska won an out-of-court settlement on its 2001 lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The suit was enjoined to prevent application of the roadless rule in the Tongass and Chugach national forests.
The settlement calls for a proposed temporary regulation to exempt 300,000 acres of the Tongass from the roadless rule, leaving 95 percent of the forests still protected. A final determination on the proposal is expected in September.
The roadless rule was dealt another blow this summer by a 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judge ruling in favor of Wyoming's challenge of the roadless rule.
As the roadless rule unravels, it will stand as the most anti-access act ever to be handed down by any branch of the federal government. The rule in effect prohibits nearly all human activity in roadless areas including tourism, recreation, forestry, and multiple-use in general, the cornerstone of U.S. Forest Service policy.
If full application of the roadless rule were to prevail in the Tongass, dire social and economic consequences would follow. In fact, the Southeast Alaska communities of Craig, Wrangell, Ketchikan and Metlakatla already have suffered severe economic and social repercussions as a result of the rule.
The rule works against growth in tourism, power grid development, transportation improvements, scientific forest management, public access and hope and opportunity for future generations of Alaskans.
Even without the roadless rule, Alaska would continue to contain more land in protected status than all of the other states combined, and the Tongass will remain as it is now, the healthiest forest in North America.
Environmental groups such as SEACC, Greenpeace, the Sierra Club and Earth Justice are not interested in balance or compromise and continue to proffer passionate but baseless claims about the wholesale destruction of the forest, ruined watersheds and loss of forest and sea-born species.
The reality is that neither the Tongass nor the Chugach are being "devastated." There is not scientific evidence to support the notion that forest-dwelling species are threatened. There is no proof that salmon populations are being negatively impacted by unnatural influences affecting runoff from national forest watersheds.
Removing the Tongass and Chugach national forests from the roadless rule would have little impact on the many protections that will remain forever in place. Wilderness designations, old growth reserves, beach fringe buffers, and riparian buffers will remain protected. Pre-existing protections along with a host of legitimate, hard-fought safeguards governing timber and mineral extraction will preserve the unique ecology of Alaska's rainforests for future generations.
It is important to note that forest lands belonging to Alaska's Native peoples are not subject to the roadless rule or other national restrictions on forestry practices. Alaska's Native corporations have autonomy over the use of their land.
There is still time for public comment on the roadless rule. Two roadless rule comment periods are running simultaneously, both with a deadline of Aug. 14.
If you care about the future of Southeast Alaska, write the Forest Service and tell them you support the proposed rule making the Tongass and Chugach national forests permanently exempt from the roadless rule and that you wish to see the roadless rule modified to restore access to all national forest lands. The same letter can be sent to the addresses given for the two different comment issues.
The Forest Service's first comment period covers the proposal to amend the roadless rule to exempt the Tongass and Chugach national forests from the roadless rule until the Forest Service issues a final decision on the roadless rule. Comments on this proposal should be sent to:
Content Analysis Team
USDA Forest Service
P.O. Box 22810
Salt Lake City, Utah 84122
The second public comment period is for the proposed final changes to the roadless rule. Comments should be sent to:
Roadless Area ANPR Content Analysis Team
P.O. Box 22777
Salt Lake City, Utah 84122