It was announced on Tuesday that Trump’s administration proposed to put an end to all the restrictions regarding Southeast Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. Apparently, road building will be legal again, and the forest will be used to build a better industry.
It’s been two decades, and there are still a lot of debates and discussions followed by lawsuits, and they are all about the proper use of Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. This proposal is actually a direct response to what is happening in those two decades.
The Forest Service send a written statement informing the people that soon there would be an open public comment regarding the proposal. In 2001, the state adopted a new law named Roadless Rule that banned almost every development in the Alaskan forest. It led to many companies, road builders, and other firms making lawsuits against the Rule. But if the new proposal has more votes for than against it, the Roadless Rule will be partially voided, and road building in the forest will be legal again.
There are six options in the proposal, and one of the most interesting is “Alternative 6” that would open more than nine million roadless acres for construction. That means that all old-grown forests and a part of the young-grown would be converted to roads. Of course, this option was immediately criticized by the Environmental groups. They did point out that this would take us to the contamination of rivers, and they completely disagree with the proposal.
If you are not familiar with Tongass National Forest — it’s the largest rainforest in North America that remains intact. And not only that, but it’s also the largest national forest that the U.S. has. It has 17 million acres, and approximately 5.7 million are labeled as wilderness, and that would remain intact. There is also Chugach National Forest located near Anchorage, and those restrictions from Roadless Rule would remain the same for it.
Democrats and Republicans, alongside with other independent administrations, have been trying for years to exclude Tongas from that Roadless Rule, but due to many suits from environmental organizations, that wasn’t possible.
So, last year, Bill Walker, who was in the government at that moment, asked Trump’s administration to exclude the Tongas, and they agreed. That’s the reason why they wrote new regulations and excluded the forest from the previous rules that applied.
When Mike Dunleavy became a governor, he promised in his campaign that he would establish natural resources so he could boost the economy in Alaska. Therefore, he renewed that push in November 2018 and asked the president to exclude Tongas from that Rule.
According to him, that would be a big victory for the industry of Alaska. Annual timber harvest would increase, and it would bring more new jobs and make an opportunity for forest economics. He actually doesn’t understand why there are so many people that are against this. To him, that is just a forest, and it’s made for people to go there, harvest the trees, dig, etc. It’s not a national park, so it’s not created to stay as it is.
As public records indicate, the timber industry in this country had a significant part when it comes to creating jobs. But lately, it’s not going that well, and that is the governor’s main concern. Approximately 337 persons were employed during 2018, and that is less than 10% of what it used to be before Roadless Rule.
The Republicans Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Sen. Dan Sullivan, and Rep. Don Young provided the people with a written statement saying that they are very happy about the announcement. They also thanked the President and Secretary of Agriculture for the hard work they did.
Republican Sen. Bert Stedman was also pleased by this announcement, and, according to him, Southeast Alaska received some excellent news since they have been challenged for years, having to deal with the forest service. He pointed out that the proposition would be beneficial for the country, and it will increase the timber industry.
On the other hand, Democratic state Sen. Jesse Kiehl is not that thrilled about it as his opponents are, and he suggested some other alternative instead of “Alternative 6.” He thinks that this would have a big and negative influence on the tourism industry, and it will bring a lot of risks for Alaska’s fisheries.
Of course, The National Audubon Society, Trout Unlimited, and SalmonState, also gave their thoughts about this proposal. According to them, this proposal shows nothing but disrespect for native Alaskans who enjoy clean water, wilderness, salmon, etc. since it will ruin their beautiful nature.
Anyhow, nothing can happen overnight. Any action or proposal that Trump administration suggested will take years to implement, and that is something that a leader of an economic and analysis firm, Meilani Schijvens, confirmed. Actually, the final impact of this decision won’t be complete until the end of 2020, and after that, they will be subject to litigation for years. She confirmed that state leaders are not looking for something that will make changes instantly. Instead, they want something that will have an impact on the economy in the years that are coming.