Forest Service substantially weighed the ‘state’s preferences’ in Roadless Rule decision

Part of the Tongass National Forest in April 2008. (Creative Commons photo by Xa’at)

On Friday, the U.S. Forest Service explained its decision to seek an exemption from the Roadless Rule for the Tongass National Forest. The agency published the information in the federal register.

The Forest Service acknowledged it gave “substantial weight to the state’s policy preferences” to be exempted from the federal rule. The agency also said this change would allow more “flexibility” in how the nation’s largest national forest is managed.

Austin Williams, an attorney with Trout Unlimited, doesn’t think that justification makes sense.

“What flexibility is going to mean … is that the Forest Service is going to have flexibility to plan timber sales in new areas that it has previously had off limits,” Williams said.

A change in the federal rule could open up over 9 million acres in the nation’s largest national forest. Though the federal agency says those lands “would not be scheduled or expected to be subject to timber harvests.”

The Forest Service could not be reached in time to provide additional comments.

In 2018, former Gov. Bill Walker signed off on a petition, asking for the Alaska exemption.

It’s something Gov. Mike Dunleavy has also pushed hard for. The Washington Post reported a conversation between Gov. Dunleavy and President Donald Trump in August encouraged the administration to lean toward granting Alaska a full exemption.

Tribal governments have expressed concern over the impact the exemption would have on hunting and fishing in the region. According to the Forest Service’s own summary of comments, most of the public said they wanted to keep the Roadless Rule in place.

The Forest Service is accepting public comments on the draft plan starting Oct. 19, 2019 until Dec. 17, 2019. A final decision is expected by 2020.