Hal Anderson/Ketchikan Daily News via AP, file
JUNEAU, Alaska — A federal agency said Wednesday it is reinstating restrictions on road construction and logging in the nation’s largest national forest in southeast Alaska, the latest step in a long-running battle over the Tongass National Forest.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced in late 2021 that it was beginning the process of overturning a Trump administration-era decision that exempted the Tongass — a rainforest that is also home to rugged coastal islands and glaciers — from the so-called roadless rule. The agency has finalized the plan on Wednesday.
The new rule will take effect after it is published in the Federal Register, which is expected to happen Friday, agency spokesman Larry Moore said.
The Tongass is roughly the size of West Virginia and provides habitat for wildlife including bears, wolves, bald eagles and salmon.
Roadless areas cover about one-third of the US National Forest System land. But Alaska’s political leaders have long sought exemptions to the roadless rule for Tongass, seeing the restrictions as burdensome and limiting economic opportunities. They supported former President Donald Trump’s efforts to remove the roadless designation of about 9.4 million acres in the Tongass.
Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy said Wednesday on social media that Alaskans “deserve access to the resources the Tongass provides — jobs, renewable energy sources and tourism, not a government plan that treats people as an invasive species in working forests.”
This dispute is more than two decades ago.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, revisiting the issue, cited a directive President Joe Biden gave earlier in his term to review and address regulations enacted under Trump that could interfere with Biden’s stated environmental and climate goals.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said in a statement that the Tongass is “critical to biodiversity conservation and addressing the climate crisis. Restoring the roadless preserve listens to the voices of indigenous nations and the people of Southeast Alaska while recognizing the importance of fishing and tourism to the region’s economy.” .”
Conservation groups welcomed the decision.