US restores roads, logging restrictions in Alaskan forests

JUNE, Alaska (AP) — A federal agency said Wednesday it will reinstate restrictions on road construction and logging in the nation’s largest national forest in southeast Alaska, the latest move in a long-running fight over the Forest. Tongass National.

In late 2021, the US Department of Agriculture announced that it was beginning the process of repealing a Trump administration-era decision that exempted the Tongass, a rainforest that is also home to rugged coastal islands and glaciers, from the called the pathless rule. The agency said Wednesday that it had finalized that plan.

The new rule will take effect once it is published in the Federal Register, which is expected to happen on Friday, agency spokesman Larry Moore said.

The Tongass is about the size of West Virginia and provides habitat for wildlife including bears, wolves, bald eagles, and salmon.

Roadless areas account for about a third of all land in the US national forest system. But Alaska’s political leaders have long sought an exemption to the roadless rule for the Tongass, viewing the restrictions as a burden. and a limitation of economic opportunities. They supported former President Donald Trump’s efforts to remove the roadless designation of approximately 9.4 million acres in the Tongass.

Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy said on social media Wednesday that the people of Alaska “deserve access to the resources that the Tongass offers: jobs, renewable energy resources and tourism, not a government plan that treats humans inside a forest.” functioning as an invasive species.

The dispute dates back more than two decades.

The US Department of Agriculture, in reviewing the issue, cited a directive from President Joe Biden early in his term to review and address rules enacted under Trump that could conflict with environmental and climate goals set by Biden. .

US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a statement called the Tongass “key to conserving biodiversity and addressing the climate crisis. Restoring Roadless Protections listens to the voices of the tribal nations and people of Southeast Alaska while recognizing the importance of fishing and tourism to the region’s economy.”

Conservation groups and tribal leaders in Southeast Alaska applauded the change.

Joel Jackson, president of the Kake Organized Village, said in a statement: “We are tied to our lands that our ancestors walked thousands of years ago. We walk these same lands and the land still provides food security: deer, elk, salmon, berries, our medicines. Old wood plays a big part in keeping all these things coming back year after year; It is our supermarket all year round. And it’s a spiritual place where we go to ground ourselves from time to time.”