A recent Juneau Empire headline reads "25,000 public comments pour in on roadless rule." I have several responses to this article. First, while the Forest Service has not yet finished counting the public comments it received this summer on the proposed exemption of the Tongass from the roadless rule, its tally at the time the article was printed was 125,000, not 25,000. This error, whether it resulted from a typo or a miscommunication with the Forest Service, is the kind that the paper should correct prominently, so I was glad that the Juneau Empire noted the correction a few days after the story's publication.
Regardless of the final count of this summer's roadless comments, though, millions of people - including myself - have commented on this topic over the years. I am actually far more concerned that the Forest Service appears to be ignoring many of the comments it did receive. Forest Service spokesperson Ray Massey was quoted as saying that the agency isn't interested in the many form letters it received because, he said, they are merely "votes."
The Forest Service is required to hold public comment periods because Americans value the right to offer input on major decisions made by our government. It doesn't matter whether that input comes in the form of suggestions, information, or a stated preference. All of the comments sent to the Forest Service on the roadless rule are valid.
There is no reason for the Forest Service to ignore the public, but when it comes to the Tongass that is exactly what the agency is doing. This summer's comment period represented the third time that the Forest Service has asked the public about management of Tongass wild lands areas in the last three years. All three times both Alaskans and Americans have overwhelmingly given the agency the same answer: we have asked for more safeguards for our hunting and fishing grounds, and the bays and valleys where we run businesses that depend on healthy, intact forests.
The Tongass should be guided by the roadless rule because it protects watersheds and forestland on the Tongass that are critical to the long-term success of the Southeast Alaskan economy and way of life. The future of the Tongass does not lie with timber alone; instead, it lies with fishing, hunting, guiding, small-scale logging and all the other forest uses that compose the livelihoods of Southeast Alaskans.
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