Alaska Delegation Criticizes Biden Administration Rule to Restrict Economic Activity Across the Tongass

WASHINGTON--U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, and Congressman Don Young, all R-Alaska, issued the following statements after the U.S. Forest Service announced it will attempt to re-impose near-blanket restrictions on road construction and other economic activities across millions of acres of the Tongass National Forest. The Forest Service will seek to do this by proposing a new rule to reinstate the 2001 Roadless Rule, despite finalizing a different rule to exempt the Tongass from the 2001 rule barely a year ago.

“This is a frustrating decision that will impact not just timber, but a wide range of industries in Southeast Alaska—tourism, recreation, mining, energy development, and transportation alike—so we will fight it,” Senator Murkowski said. “It is needless, given the level of protections that already exist for the Tongass. It misses a genuine opportunity to work together to establish a sustainable regional economy. And it is exasperating, given that we just passed a historic infrastructure bill, that the Biden administration is intent on returning the Tongass to an overly restrictive environment where projects almost always take longer and cost more, if they can proceed at all. Everything from the deployment of broadband to the development of more affordable energy stands to suffer under a return to the failed Roadless Rule.”  

“Like many Alaskans, I am deeply frustrated by the Biden administration’s continued assault on our state. This latest announcement by Secretary Vilsack shows a complete disregard for the interests of Alaska’s hard-working families,” said Senator Sullivan. “Instead of serving as puppets for the extreme leftist environmental groups who have no interest in promoting economic opportunities in our state, the Biden administration should recognize that Alaskans in Southeast—like any Americans—have a right to connect their communities, sustain local economies, build renewable energy projects, and responsibly harvest resources, all of which is being crushed by a return to this overly-burdensome and out-of-touch regulation.”

“USDA Secretary Vilsack — who works in a federal agency office 3,000 miles away from our state — doubled down on this Administration's record of hostility toward Alaska. Earlier this year, I implored Secretary Vilsack to come to Southeast to visit our communities before making a decision on the Tongass. Clearly, he did not. Those in Southeast, including Alaska Natives, know how to balance environmental protection with development; they have been doing it for years. To lock up the Tongass, as Secretary Vilsack is doing, sends the message that this Administration does not trust Alaskans to take care of the very environment in which they live. All our communities are asking for are the same things many people in the Lower 48 take for granted: transportation, economic opportunity, outdoor recreation, and the ability to stay connected with one another. This is truly a sad day for Alaska,” said Congressman Young. “To the countless families whose economic opportunity and chances of a better life are being snuffed out by the Biden Administration, I want you to know that I will keep fighting for you. I will not stop working until my constituents in Southeast receive the trust and respect they deserve from the people in D.C. who continue to think they know what is best for them.”

The Tongass spans nearly 16.7 million acres, covering nearly all of southeast Alaska, and is home to 32 islanded communities. For decades, successive layers of federal law and regulation, including the Roadless Rule, have continually restricted access needed for timber, mining, tourism, recreation, and the development of more affordable renewable resources such as hydropower.

Separate and apart from the Roadless Rule, the Tongass is already well protected under existing law. Some 91 percent of the forest is already conserved in Wilderness, Wilderness National Monument, or Inventoried Roadless Areas—meaning only nine percent of the Tongass is available for any kind of development.

In 2018, the Forest Service announced it would develop a state-specific Roadless Rule focused on the Tongass. The Alaska-specific rule, finalized in October 2020, exempted the Tongass from the one-size-fits-all Roadless Rule, which established sweeping prohibitions on road construction, road reconstruction, and timber harvest on inventoried roadless areas on National Forest System lands beginning in 2001. The 2020 rule came in response to a petition from the State of Alaska requesting a full exemption for the Tongass, and helped restore balanced management and reasonable economic prospects within the Tongass.

Now, the Forest Service has announced that on Tuesday, November 23, it will formally propose a rule to reinstate the 2001 Roadless Rule across the Tongass. The proposed rule will be open for public comment for 60 days. More information can be found here.

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