A 60-day public comment period has now opened with the US Forest Service regarding proposed changes to the Roadless Rule. If approved, the Tongass National Forest will be exempt from the 2001 Roadless Rule, which currently prevents new roads from being constructed in inventoried roadless areas. In turn, this has prevented mining and logging projects. This is an opportunity for Yakutat residents’ opinions to be heard and considered by the federal government, regarding an issue that will directly affect our land.
On the US Forest Service’s website, www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=54511, the entirety of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement can be accessed for free. This proposal outlines six options, which range from “No Action” to “Exempt”. “No Action” continues the complete protection of the Tongass, while “Exempt” opens the entire 9,200,000 acres for use. The alternatives serve as a spectrum of options, which present possible compromises between continuing protection and unrestricting access. This change in regulation has the power to greatly impact our ecosystem health.
In the wake of global climate change, logging the Tongass would jeopardize a massive carbon sink. The construction of roads would fragment wildlife habitats and potentially reduce the biodiversity of our old-growth forest. However, road construction would also provide easier access to important cultural sites and hunting grounds. It also may affect our local economy, such as seasonal lodges whose income relies on guiding recreational trips to remote areas. Given the seasonal, nonresident nature of these projects, it’s unclear whether logging and timber would provide local jobs.
The Tongass Forest is home to Yakutat Forelands, wetlands which improve water quality and provide us with pristine drinking water. This watershed is also vital to our salmon runs, which are the cornerstone of our economy and subsistence way of life. This area has been subject to mineral exploration in the past and changes to the Roadless Rule could reintroduce potential development and associated impacts. The introduction of mining and logging would result in cascading effects that alter our water and land. The disruption of soil and loss of trees would increase erosion in our rivers, affecting our fishery productivity.
How to Submit Comments or Find More Information
YTT encourages our members to explore USFS resources to learn the depth of these proposed changes, and to voice their opinions regarding this issue, such as which of the six alternatives they prefer. Your opinion may be voiced through written comments emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org, submitted online through the USFS website above, or mailed to USDA Forest Service, Attn: Alaska Roadless Rule, P.O. Box 21628, Juneau, Alaska, 99802. The public has until midnight Alaska Time on December 17th to submit their comments.
The USFS has scheduled an Alaska Roadless Rulemaking public meeting for November 5, 2019, at the ANB Hall.
For more detailed information on where to learn about this topic, stop by the YTT Environmental Dept. office or call 784-3238 x 106.