JUNEAU — The federal government said Thursday that it’s beginning the process of repealing a Trump-era rule that permitted road-building and logging harvesting in an enormous Southeast Alaska rainforest that provides habitat for wolves, bears and salmon.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that a proposed measure to repeal last year’s rule will be published for public comment next week, beginning a 60-day process.
The previous rule exempted more than 9 million acres in the Tongass National Forest from a 2001 rule that banned road construction, reconstruction and timber harvesting in roadless areas, with some exceptions.
At 16.7 million acres, Tongass is the largest national forest in the country.
Conservationist and Alaska Native communities had opposed the exemption, arguing it threatened wildlife, old-growth rainforest and local economies that rely on tourism and fishing. They applauded Thursday’s announcement.
“The Tongass is a priceless resource and a critical tool in the fight against climate change, and this action brings us one step closer to ensuring that our forest wildlands remain protected for good,” Sierra Club Alaska Chapter Director Andrea Feniger said in a statement.
Andy Moderow of the Alaska Wilderness League agreed. “We commend President Biden and Secretary Vilsack in taking steps to restore the faith and trust of Alaskans who recognize that industrial-scale, old-growth logging is a relic of the past in Southeast Alaska,” he said in a statement.
Alaska lawmakers have supported the exemption, however. When the Biden administration first announced plans to repeal or replace the exemption in June, U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan called the decision “misguided,” and U.S. Rep Don Young said it was “yet another nail in the coffin for economic opportunity” in Southeast Alaska.
Sullivan had said the roadless rule is a hindrance to activities such as mineral development, building energy projects and connecting communities.