FOIA: 96% of Americans support keeping national Roadless Rule on the Tongass despite attempted rollback

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: MAY 5, 2020, JUNEAU, ALASKA —  A staggering majority of public comments are in favor of protecting the Tongass National Forest — the largest intact coastal temperate rainforest in the world and one of the nation’s largest carbon storehouses — from new road building and logging, despite attempted rollbacks from the Trump administration and Alaska’s Congressional Delegation.

New reports from the U.S. Forest Service — obtained today through a Freedom of Information Act request by the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council — reveal that over a quarter of a million comments were received on the proposed rule change. Of those, the Forest Service analyzed 15,909 “unique letters,” of which 96% support retaining the 2001 national Roadless Rule on the Tongass. Less than 1% of commenters voiced support for exempting the Tongass from the Roadless Rule altogether, as preferred by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and advocated by Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy and Alaska’s Congressional Delegation. In addition, an analysis of testimony given at 18 subsistence hearings across Southeast Alaska followed a similar pattern reporting a “vast majority” of the nearly 200 Southeast Alaskans who testified supported keeping the Roadless rule in place to protect subsistence resources. 

"Americans and Alaskans have spoken with one voice," said Meredith Trainor, Executive Director of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council. “It is undeniable that we as a nation and we as Alaskans, regardless of political party, are determined to keep the national Roadless Rule in place on the Tongass National Forest.”

The reports expose the stark divide between the public will and the ambitions of political leaders, and also come on the heels of a federal investigation launched by two members of Congress into the possible misuse of funds granted to the State of Alaska.

“These reports clearly show that the will of out-of-touch political leaders — the likes of Governor Dunleavy, Senators Murkowski and Sullivan and Representative Young — is not the will of the people and certainly not the will of Southeast Alaskans who want to keep the Tongass healthy and intact,” said Dan Cannon, Tongass Forest Program Manager for the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council. “Americans and Alaskans demand that these public resources be better managed and protected, and we refuse to let the Trump administration continue its assault on the nation’s public lands and climate.”

The Alaska Roadless Rule: Draft Environmental Impact Statement Public Comment Report says that most of the commenters support keeping the protections in place. Some of the key themes included an inadequate public process and lack of Tribal Government engagement; and concerns about climate change and impacts to wildlife habitat. In a separate Subsistence Hearings Report, testifiers took issue with the hearing process and raised subsistence resource concerns including abundance and distribution, access, and competition.

It is truly extraordinary that in the face of such overwhelming support for the 2001 Roadless Rule, the Trump and Dunleavy administrations and Alaska Congressional Delegation continue to work to lift all protections on the Tongass.

Read the Alaska Roadless Rule: Draft Environmental Impact Statement Public Comment Report here.

Read Alaska Roadless Rule: Draft Environmental Impact Statement, Subsistence Hearings Report here.

ABOUT THE ROADLESS RULE

The landmark 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule protects more than 58 million acres of national forest lands from industrial-scale logging and road building. At more than 17 million acres, the Tongass National Forest is the largest national forest in the country, stores 2.8 billion tons of carbon, and is the homelands of the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people. Exempting the Tongass from the national Roadless rule would lift protections on over 9 million acres.

BY THE NUMBERS

267,000: Total number of comments submitted overall to the Forest Service during Roadless Rule DEIS comment period

15,909: Total number of those comments considered “unique letters” that were analyzed by the Forest Service

  • 96%: Commenters supporting of keeping full Roadless Rule protections on the Tongass
  • <1%: Commenters favored exempting the Tongass entirely from national roadless rule  

Subsistence Hearings:

  • 196 people provided oral testimony at 18 subsistence hearings
  • “Large majority” supported Alternative 1
  • Approximately 10 supported Alternative 6

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