(DailyVantage.com) – When President Joe Biden took office in January 2021, he promised to undo much of former President Donald Trump’s policies. While most pertained to immigration controls, environmental and energy policies also remained at issue. One was the 2020 Alaska Roadless Rule, which allowed for the development of nearly 10 million acres in the state’s Tongass National Forest. The Biden Administration has taken steps to overturn this rule.
On Wednesday, January 25, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced in a press release that it had “finalized protections” for the forest. Secretary Tom Vilsack celebrated this win, saying it “listens to the voices of Tribal Nations” and Southeast Alaskans without taking away from the economic “importance of fishing and tourism” in the region. The Tongass encompasses 16.7 million acres, the world’s largest intact tract of rainforest.
Today we finalized protections for the Tongass National Forest which repeals the 2020 Alaska Roadless Rule and restores longstanding roadless protections to 9.37M acres of roadless areas that support the ecological, economic & cultural values of SE Alaska: https://t.co/78warCBZ8M pic.twitter.com/TKj6QHEojz
— Dept. of Agriculture (@USDA) January 25, 2023
The new rule bans the building of roads and logging on 9.37 million acres, effectively reinstating protections the Trump Administration stripped away in 2020. The forest is rife with centuries-old hemlock, cedar, and Sitka spruce trees that provide homes to hundreds of wildlife species.
Mining the forest for its rare minerals has generated particular interest in the area, which experts say would bolster the state’s economy. While climate activists consider this a win, not everyone does. Republican Senator Dan Sullivan (AK) says the rule harms Alaska’s economy and Governor Mike Dunleavy (R) said it’s “a huge loss for Alaskans,” according to The New York Times.
Others say the rule will affect the timber industry, which restrictions have already driven out of the state. The number of jobs in the industry has suffered a dramatic decline. Last year, there were 312 positions, down from 3,543 in 1991.
The Federal Register published the rule on Friday, January 27, after the Forest Service received more than 112,000 comments during the public comment period from November 2021 through January 2022. Organizations and individuals alike commented on the rule change and the potential impacts. The majority of the comments favored banning roads in the forest.
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