The Roadless Rule is Back: But There’s More Work to Be Done

Written by Maranda Hamme

April 26, 2023

On January 25, we celebrated the long-awaited announcement of fully restored 2001 Roadless Rule protections for more than 9 million acres of the Tongass National Forest. The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) decision rolls back the Trump administration’s 2020 Alaska- specific Roadless Rule and restores the longstanding National Roadless Rule as requested by Southeast Tribes, Alaskans, and SEACC supporters alike.

The final ruling reflects the Biden administration and USDA’s commitment and new approach to managing the Tongass National Forest guided by the Southeast Alaska Sustainability Strategy (SASS), which was announced in July of 2021. The strategy includes four primary components, one of which proposed the reinstatement of the 2001 Roadless Rule protections. The strategy also includes hard-won elements like engaging in meaningful consultation with Tribal Nations, ending large-scale old-growth timber sales on the Tongass, and identifying investment opportunities to reflect our region’s diverse opportunities.

Clearly finalizing the Roadless Rule, along with the exciting plans outlined in the SASS, is a big win for the Tongass, our home. Now, following this exciting news, we can finally take a moment to reflect on the last four hard but hopeful years.

During the Roadless Rule process, SEACC, other conservation organizations, and Southeast Alaskans banded together during multiple Roadless Rule public processes to showcase the diverse voices of our region. We expressed our strong desire for protections on the Tongass to first the Trump administration, and then the Biden administration.

In October 2020, when the Trump administration canceled the application of the nationwide Roadless Rule to 9 million acres of the Tongass, the public submitted nearly half a million comments during the federally required public process. The Forest Service analyzed a subset of the comments, finding 96% supported keeping the Roadless Rule on the Tongass, and only 1% supported the exemption ultimately selected by the Trump administration.

In the fall of 2021, SEACC and our partners again gathered detailed letters of support from folks in nearly every community of Southeast Alaska expressing their unique stake in the health and protection of the Tongass. In total, more than 170,000 comments were submitted to the USDA Forest Service between November 2021 and January 2022 — a majority of which were in favor of restoring Roadless Rule protections.

Through comment period after comment period, petitions, rallies, and lobbying for the National Roadless Rule to stay in place on the Tongass, we can finally see this chapter close on a high note. This outcome would not have been successful without the leadership of Tribes, Southeast Alaskans, and our allies who spoke out in support of putting Roadless Rule protections back in place on the Tongass.

Gunalchéesh — thank you — for your part in advocating for the Tongass, the traditional homelands of the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian peoples.

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