The U.S. Forest Service plans to repeal or replace a Trump-era rule that opened the most carbon-dense and largest national forest to logging and road-building.
The agency said in the White House’s 2021 regulatory agenda released Friday that it reviewed the rule and will take steps to scrap or replace it possibly by 2025—the time frame set by President Joe Biden’s Jan. 25 executive order on addressing climate change.
The move is certain to provoke strong objections from Alaska lawmakers.
The Alaska Roadless Rule, which took effect in 2020, exempted southeast Alaska’s Tongass National Forest from a 2001 regulation protecting roadless areas in national forests nationwide. It opened the Tongass’ remote islands and old-growth trees to new logging and mining.
Aiming to Correct Trump Era
The Forest Service said Friday that it is aiming to correct the Trump administration’s defiance of overwhelming public opposition to ending protection for roadless areas in the Tongass.
In the Trump administration’s final decision on the rule, the Forest Service said at the time it would heed the will of Alaska elected officials instead of the public opinion.
“The Trump Administration’s decision on the Alaska roadless Rule was controversial and did not align with the overhwhelming majority of public opinion across the country and Among Alaskans,” the Forest Service said Friday in an unsigned statement.
The 16.8 million-acre Tongass is the world’s largest remaining coastal temperate rain forest. Scientists say the Tongass plays a key role in helping to stabilize the climate in the face of global warming because its ancient trees and soil store more carbon dioxide than any other in North America.
The Forest Service didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. But tribes and environmental groups that sued the Forest Service to challenge the rule hailed the decision.
“We urge the Forest Service to fully reinstate the Roadless Rule,” Earthjustice attorney Kate Glover said in a statement. “Placing intact areas of this majestic temperate rainforest off-limits to industrial logging would benefit Alaska Native people who have always lived here, recreational small businesses, fishermen, visitors, and wildlife.”
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) championed the Trump-era rule because she said last year that it offered greater economic opportunities for Southeast Alaska residents. Murkowski’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
“A large majority of written comments and oral subsistence testimony supported retaining the 2001 Roadless Rule on the Tongass National Forest,” the Forest Service wrote in its 2020 decision on the rule. “However, many of the State’s elected officials, including the Governor, the federal delegation, and some municipal governments support changing the 2001 Roadless Rule.”