Much Needed Protections Extended to the Tongass National Forest
After years of effort by Sierra Club staff and volunteers, millions of acres of critical wild areas in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, called by many the "Crown Jewel" of national forests, have been protected from logging, road construction and other damaging activities.
A federal court ruling issued earlier this month will reinstate protections for this iconic wild place. As a result of action by the Sierra Club and allies, U.S. District Judge John W. Sedwick overturned the so-called 'Tongass Exemption' which arbitrarily removed over 9 million acres of the forest from protection under the Roadless Area Conservation Rule. The decision is an important victory in the continuing fight to keep our nation’s forests protected in the face of new and growing threats-- from logging to a rapidly changing climate.
Critical coastal temperate rainforests, including old growth trees, fisheries, wildlife habitat and other recreational and economic resources are now safeguarded on the Tongass, the largest national forest in the country.
Now that the “Tongass Exemption” is history, the Roadless rule will help maintain healthy populations of wolves, bears, salmon, goshawks, deer and marten. It will also protect the waters and lands on which 75,000 people depend for their livelihoods.
The 2001 Roadless Rule is one of the hardest fought land protection efforts in our nation’s history, with nearly one million people sending comments to the Forest Service. The rule preserved nearly 60 million acres of national forest lands nationwide, protecting them from road building and other damaging development. As we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Roadless Rule this year, only about 75 miles of roads have been built in wild areas.
However, despite the clear benefits of protecting our outdoor legacy for future generations the rule has come under attack. Efforts to undermine the Roadless Rule range from exempting whole forests like the Tongass, to allowing states to opt out of protections, to legal challenges to the national rule.
Friday's court decision is welcome news, but the fight is still far from over. There are still roadless areas not protected under the rule, including all of Idaho and Colorado; conflicting court decisions have created uncertainty over the protections already in place; and energy developers and loggers are still looking for ways to use our national treasures to line their pockets.
Even as we celebrate the protection of one our last wild frontiers, we continue to work to manage our forests as a legacy to future generations.
Photos courtesy US Forest Service