The Roadless Rule, as we’ve mentioned before, is a rule that helps to protect backcountry areas on our National Forests from unnecessary road building, logging, and development. It’s a popular rule that was created after a lot of public input. The state of Alaska, influenced by some large timber companies, has been working for years to seek an exemption from the Roadless Rule. This is in large part because a few timber companies would like to log in some of the old growth forests like the Tongass National Forest in southeast Alaska.
Logging is a somewhat complex industry in Alaska, partly because the forests are difficult or expensive to access and because timber then has to be shipped down to the lower 48. The outdoor recreation and tourism industry, on the other hand, has been growing steadily and depends on access to sustainable public lands. The Outdoor Industry Association’s most recent report shows that outdoor recreation is responsible for four times more jobs in Alaska than oil and gas production, mining, and logging combined.
Back in the spring, Alaska lawmakers tried to get an exemption from the Roadless Rule included into the omnibus spending bill. But outdoor enthusiasts, among others, spoke up against this and lawmakers dropped the attack.
Now the state of Alaska, under pressure from timber companies, has petitioned the Forest Service to develop an Alaska-based Roadless Rule. Right now, the Forest Service is soliciting public comments to create an Alaska-specific rule. A few other states have unique Roadless Rules. In Idaho and Colorado, public input shaped the state-specific rules and they turned out really well. If the public responds robustly to the Alaska rule, and the Forest Service listens, it could turn out okay.
Right now, the Forest Service is holding a comment period, which closes October 15. They've heard pretty loudly from timber and industrial interests, so it's really important that this is balanced with public comments. You can read Outdoor Alliance’s official comment letter at right, or by clicking here.
One issue with these state-specific rules is that they can open the floodgates for lots of other states to try to opt out of the Roadless Rule. In fact, just yesterday afternoon, we learned that Utah is also seeking an exemption to the Roadless Rule. This could open up a lot of backcountry recreation to unnecessary development and will swallow up a ton of the Forest Service’s time trying to unnecessarily revise a Rule that works well and is popular with the public.