The Forest Service has almost completed its fourteen-day-sprint through Southeast Alaska for the state-specific Roadless Rule scoping meetings. Despite not taking notes for the record or recording the comments of literally hundreds of Southeast Alaskans who made time in a busy fall season to attend the scoping meetings, Forest Service staff from DC are plowing forward with plans to reduce roadless area protections on the Tongass National Forest; plans sufficiently weak to appease the administration of Governor Walker after the State failed to convince any federal court that their tired claims had merit.
In the last two weeks, we as a community worked hard to ensure a strong turnout for the Southeast Alaska meetings, and those of us here at SEACC were honored and humbled by the number of Southeast Alaskans who showed up for the Tongass. From our stalwart Tongass defenders who won’t let a lifetime of determined work to protect old-growth be thoughtlessly erased, to those newer to the Tongass and Southeast who showed up for their first-ever Forest Service meeting or phone-banking: thank you.
We’re writing today to ask you to please(!) submit official comments in support of the Roadless Rule by the October 15th deadline and to share an update on the Governor’s “Citizen’s Advisory Committee” or ‘CAC,’ and where things are headed next.
We need to make ourselves heard!
Despite requests to the contrary, testimony was not recorded for the official record during the scoping meetings. This means speaking out at a meeting was not enough. For your comments to count, you must submit them in writing by October 15th.
Comments ideally could include personal details about which Tongass roadless areas you depend on most, specific places of concern, why this process is unnecessary, and your desire to keep all Tongass roadless areas road-free! Even if you cannot provide that level of detail, you should still write in! You get those comments in and we’ll make sure they count. Even “I support keeping the national Roadless Rule on the Tongass” helps!
Have your comments in already? Reach out to three friends and ask them to do the same, and buy them a beer or a cup of coffee to say thanks.
Why this crazy rush?
The reason for the scattershot slate of meetings, at the busiest time of year for most Southeast Alaskans, is the schedule adopted by Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue to respond to the State’s petition. Why the rush? We believe it’s an effort to ensure the final Record of Decision (basically, the official decision regarding what they’ll do) occurs far enough in advance of a potential new federal administration that a future Congress will not be able to use the Congressional Review Act to roll back what would be a new regulation exempting the Tongass. To do that, this process has to be completed at least 60 legislative days before the end of the congressional session, which means the Forest Service and US Department of Agriculture are racing the clock and the end of the Trump administration.
A ‘CAC’-amamie State Process
If the public meeting schedule felt a bit like a pub crawl on speed, the process for selecting a Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) feels like the Governor not inviting the kids he doesn’t like to his birthday party.
The newly constituted Citizens’ Advisory Committee was announced late Friday, consists of 13 voting members, and was supposed to represent a balanced group of federally recognized tribes in Alaska and Alaska Native regional corporations, environmental organizations, timber, mining, energy and commercial fishing industries, tourism, transportation, and state and local government. Instead, the committee is weighted towards development interests. You can see the official members list here. This Committee will recommend 2-3 potential scenarios for changing the Roadless Rule that suit the State.
The press release announcing the process explained that “the intent is to develop a state-specific roadless rule that establishes a land classification system designed to conserve roadless area characteristics in the Tongass National Forest while accommodating timber harvesting and road construction/reconstruction activities that are determined by the State to be necessary for forest management.” Such a rule not only conflicts with existing federal law but will prove unfeasible. How can you possibly conserve roadless area characteristics by permitting road construction on these currently undeveloped wildlands?
I applied to the Citizens Advisory Committee myself, but did not get a party invite this time around (it seems SEACC never does.) Luckily, two environmental organization representatives from Southeast were given seats at the table – Andrew Thoms of the Sitka Conservation Society (SCS), and Michael Kampnich of the Nature Conservancy, from Prince of Wales Island. Both men are long-time conservationists in Southeast Alaska, and we trust they will work hard to protect the Roadless values we all share.
Who’s missing from the State’s process?
A lot of good people, strong voices, and stakeholder groups that really shouldn’t be. The CAC has a noticeable absence of tourism operators and small businesses, hunters, anglers, and backcountry recreationists. Surprisingly, there isn’t a single scientist on the committee — much less an independent scientist — considering the climate, wildlife, fisheries, hydrology, and ecosystem process issues implicated in rolling back Tongass roadless protections. Further, there are somehow only two Indigenous Alaskans on this thirteen-member committee, and only two women (if only another woman who knows something about forests had applied…huh).
A lot of sitting in the audience at meetings trying not to interject, that’s what.
The ‘CAC’ process begins with a two-day meeting in Juneau today, October 2nd, and tomorrow, Wednesday, October 3rd. Both meetings run almost all day. This evening there is an “information session” at the Prospector Hotel at 375 Whittier St. here in Juneau 6:00 – 7:30 pm, though what opportunities will be available here we do not know. Additionally, there will be an hour-long public comment period tomorrow, the 3rd at 2:45 pm which you can join by calling (855) 803-2032; the passcode is 9703894438.
Here are the meeting details:
- Tuesday, October 2nd, 10:00 am – 5:00 pm at Juneau's Centennial Hall, at 350 Whittier St.
- Wednesday, October 3rd, 8:00 am – 4:00 pm, same location
We don’t yet know what will follow, in terms of meetings to come. We’ve heard there may be a weekly Friday teleconference, and that the committee may only meet in-person twice – once at the beginning of the process, and once at the end, but that’s all very much up in the air. We know the committee is charged with producing their recommendations by late November – the date we’ve seen is November 30, 2018.
Instead of sitting at the table, we’ll weigh in by showing up at every meeting, sharing information with the larger conservation community and you, and continue building tools to help you to speak up and make yourselves heard.
I want to thank each and every one of you who has taken action by attending meetings and sending in comments, especially during a time when local elections and the unending drama in DC threaten to divert our attention from what’s happening at home. Stick with us, though, and together we can and will Keep Roadless in the Tongass.