The Trump Administration proposes to allow logging on the Tongass National Forest and exempt it from the Roadless Rule, stripping protections from old growth forests that are vital to the fight against climate change.

One of the world’s largest carbon sinks is under siege by the Trump administration. On Tuesday, the U.S. Forest Service proposed to allow logging on 9.3 million acres of Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, which is the largest intact temperate rainforest in North America and one of our nation’s greatest natural treasures. The move would exempt the Tongass from the Roadless Rule and reverse nearly two decades of conservation that protects a critical ecosystem in the fight against climate change. 

The Tongass is the country’s single most important national forest for carbon sequestration and carbon change mitigation. The U.S. Forest Service estimates the Tongass stores 10 to 12 percent of the total carbon captured by America’s national forests. Many of the trees in the Tongass are over 800 years old, standing over 200 feet tall and 12 feet in diameter. 

A recent IPCC report inventories the impacts of climate change on the planet’s last remaining winter ecosystems: glaciers are melting, coastlines are eroding, and permafrost is disappearing. Alaska is warming at roughly twice the rate compared to the rest of the country, which is causing a profound impact on communities, livelihoods, and ecosystems across the state. Protecting the Tongass is critical to fighting climate change and saving winter.

“Cutting old growth trees on the Tongass has an effect on powder skiing in the Wasatchand elsewhere in the lower 48,” says Hilary Eisen, Winter Wildlands Alliance policy director. “Our snow seasons are getting shorter. We’re getting more rain instead of snow. And not only are we failing to address climate change, but this action actually takes us backwards. It undos 18 years of pro-active conservation work that protected these critical carbon sinks.”

A fall scene with trees and snow-capped mountains in Alaska's Tongass National Forest

Photo Credit: Flickr

The U.S. Forest Service will publish a draft Environmental Impact Statement to exempt the Tongass National Forest from the Roadless Rule this week. The agency is recommending an alternative that strips longstanding protections against logging and road-building that have been in place since the Roadless Rule was enacted in 2001.

The Washington Post reports that the Trump administration wants to reverse long-standing protections against logging at the “request of Alaska’s top elected officials” who say timber production will boost the local economy. However, the timber industry provides just under one percent of southeastern Alaskan jobs, compared to seafood processing’s 8 percent and tourism’s 17 percent. Logging the Tongass will have a devastating impact to both Alaska’s salmon fishing and tourism. 

The Tongass is home to a wealth of wildlife—including whales, bald eagles, otters, beavers, wolves, and bears. There are five species of salmon in Tongass rivers. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, Alaska’s recreation industry supports more than 70,000 jobs in the state, generating more than $2 billion in wages and salaries. The Outdoor Industry also contributes $7.3 billion to Alaska’s economy. Rivers and forests on the Tongass provide ample opportunities for paddling, climbing, mountaineering, backcountry snowsports, mountain biking, and hiking.

Winter Wildlands Alliance and our partners at the Outdoor Alliance strongly oppose exemptions or exceptions to the Roadless Rule in Alaska—and elsewhere. The Roadless Rule preserves wild landscapes across our National Forest system and provides opportunities for recreation and adventure. It’s also a fundamental tool to conserve sensitive ecosystems and wildlife habitats. The public will have 60 days to provide comment on the Forest Service’s plan to rollback regulations on the Tongass. We will keep you informed as soon as the draft EIS is published and available to the public.

President Nixon signed the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) into law on January 1, 1970. 

With summer solstice in the rearview mirror, it’s time to start looking forward to the coming winter! Just kidding. Here at Winter Wildlands we love summer too! Earlier this month our staff gathered for a staff retreat at City of Rocks to camp, talk shop, and climb rocks. We are excitedly planning our 8th Biennial Grassroots Advocacy Conference and Wild Weekend, all of which will be in Boise this October. Save the date for October 24-27, 2019!

This month on the policy front:

  • Washington D.C. — We’ve been keeping track of a number of good bills that are making their way through Congress. Some of the ones we’re supportive of include the Colorado Outdoor Recreation & Economy Act, the Roadless Area Conservation Act of 2019, and the Land and Water Conservation Fund Permanent Funding Act. There are many others too — we’ll continue to keep the Bill Tracker page on our website up-to-date, so check it out for the full list.
  • Forest Service planning and environmental assessment – On June 13th the Forest Service published proposed changes to its National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations. According to the Federal Register notice, the Forest Service is proposing to change its NEPA regulations to increase efficiency in its environmental analysis. While we definitely agree that the Forest Service could be more efficient when it comes to NEPA, we’re wary of much of what they’re proposing here. Many of the proposed changes appear to be aimed at reducing public input in public lands management and expediting logging and road building. Comments on the proposed changes are due August 12. We’re still analyzing what the Forest Service has proposed, so stay tuned!
  • Winter travel planning – in late May we participated in an objection resolution meeting for the Tahoe winter travel plan. Over the weeks following that meeting, we’ve been encouraged  The Stanislaus will be hosting a similar meeting in early August. And, we’re hoping to (finally) see a final winter travel plan on the Lassen National Forest this summer! Winter travel planning on the Shoshone is on hold while they hire a new Environmental Coordinator.

That’s all for now. I hope you’re enjoying the long days of summer and finding time to get out on our public lands!

Hilary Eisen
Policy Director

October has been a busy month here at Winter Wildlands Alliance! Last week, we wrapped up a meeting in Boise with other conservation partners, representatives from snowmobiling organizations, Forest Service staff, state biologists, and Fish and Wildlife Services biologists. We came together to talk about how winter recreation impacts wolverines, and to start working toward science-based recommendations that we can all agree on for managing winter recreation in wolverine habitat. It was just the first meeting of many, but we’re optimistic and excited to engage with such a broad range of partners in a collaborative manner.

Meanwhile, we’re nearing the end of the public comment period for the Chugach Forest Plan. The Chugach, America’s northernmost national forest, is soliciting public feedback on the draft EIS they have developed. The Chugach features spectacular coastal mountains with some of the best and wildest backcountry terrain in the world. In this planning process we’re advocating for Alternative D. Comment now (Public comment period ends November 1)!

Also in Alaska, we’re continuing the engage in the Wrangell-St Elias National Park backcountry management plan. Right now the Park Service is looking for comments from those who have personal connections to Wrangell-St Elias. If you’ve been lucky enough to visit Wrangell-St Elias, please consider telling the Park Service about your experience. Comments are due October 31.

We directed a lot of attention to Alaska in October but Utah is on our radar as well. Alaska has been working on getting an exemption to the Roadless Rule in order to open up untouched coastal rainforests on the Tongass to commercial logging (that comment period ended October 15). Now Utah is drafting a petition, asking the Department of Agriculture and U.S. Forest Service for an exemption to the federal Rule and permission to write a state-specific Rule, just like Alaska. We’re working with our Utah-based grassroots groups to stand up for roadless lands in Utah. Stay tuned to our channels in case the opportunity arises for people outside of Utah to weigh in!

We’re also still working to save LWCF. Congress let the Land and Water Conservation Fund expire on September 30. There are two bills that would permanently reauthorize and fully fund LWCF – Senate bill S. 569 and House bill H.R. 6759. Please contact your Senators and Representative and ask them to both support these bills and push for a vote before the end of the year.

And hot off the press: the Plumas National Forest just published a draft EIS for its winter travel plan. Public comments are due December 10. Stay tuned for our outreach on that!

Finally, don’t forget to vote (and vote for public lands!) on November 6!

Carston Oliver, Wasatch Mountains, UT. Photo by Adam Clark

The state of Utah is gathering public comments to inform a petition to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to propose scaling back or entirely doing away with Roadless protections on national forests across the state. Please take action today to Keep the Wasatch Wild!

The Roadless Rule helps protect backcountry areas on our national forests — like those on the Wasatch — from unnecessary road building, logging, and development. It’s intended to “provide lasting protection in the context of multiple-use management” for the 60 million acres of roadless areas on our National Forests and Grasslands. Extensive road building in conjunction with commercial timber is prohibited on these roadless areas, but they are still open for lots of different recreational activities, including backcountry skiing (and snowmobiling, hiking, climbing, hunting, mountain biking, etc.). While these areas are protected from new development, the Roadless Rule is less restrictive than Wilderness areas in terms of what it does and does not allow.

The Roadless Rule is widely supported by the public. But as with many environmental protections in these times, it’s under attack. Earlier this year, Alaska lawmakers tried to get an exemption from the Roadless Rule included into the Congressional spending bill. But the public spoke up against this and lawmakers dropped the attack. Then Alaska decided to ask the Department of Agriculture (which oversees the Forest Service) for an exemption to the Rule and permission to write its own, Alaska-specific Rule. Permission was granted to Alaska and now Utah is clamoring to be next in line.

Lawmakers claim to be open to the idea of keeping some areas protected as they are today. But if Utah is allowed to move forward with writing its own version of the Roadless Rule, it could open up a number of prime backcountry ski zones (and other recreation areas) to unnecessary development. This rulemaking process will also swallow up a ton of the Forest Service’s time trying to unnecessarily revise a Rule that works well and is popular with the public.

Unlike the Forest Service’s existing 371,000-mile road network, which has an estimated $3.2 billion maintenance backlog, the Roadless Rule is not in need of repair. We don’t need more roads in Utah’s backcountry when we can’t even maintain the ones we already have. Help get the message across to Governor Herbert – Utah should leave the Roadless Rule alone.

Take Action to Protect Roadless Lands in Utah! 

Use the form below to send in a comment to the Governor’s Office