How would lifting the Roadless Rule change Tongass logging? Not much, both sides say

Kake Tribal Council President Joel Jackson, second from left, prepares to testify to the U.S. House Subcommittee on Public Lands. Photo: Liz Ruskin

WASHINGTON – The Trump Administration has proposed to exempt the Tongass National Forest from the Roadless Rule. That rule is despised by supporters of the Tongass logging industry. But at a U.S. House hearing Wednesday, people for and against the rule agreed that removing the roadless restrictions won’t make much difference for an industry that’s already a shadow of its former self.

Joel Jackson of Kake was a logger, back when the industry thrived a few decades ago. He built logging roads. And when they’d logged the last of the stands around his village, Jackson says they realized the damaged they’d done.

“We’ve lived with the effects of logging. Full-scale industrial logging. We’ve experienced many different changes to our forests,” Jackson told the Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands.

Local salmon streams turned silty, he says. Fish and deer became scarce. Jackson, now Kake’s tribal president, doesn’t want the Roadless Rule lifted.

“We cannot afford to have any more devastation in our homelands,” he said.

Alaska Congressman Don Young never liked the Clinton administration’s Roadless Rule and he’s happy the Trump administration is trying to exempt the Tongass. But he says he knows it won’t bring back the heyday of logging.

“It’s not about logging,” he said. “I doubt if there’ll be any more trees cut in the Tongass because no long-term leases are being held.”

Young says lifting the rule will allow other kinds of development, like mining, hydro-electric dams, even improved broadband infrastructure.

James Furnish was the deputy chief of the forest service in the Clinton Administration. He wants to keep the Roadless Rule, but he agrees with Young: The effect on the timber industry will be minimal.

“That’s one of the biggest red herrings I’ve ever heard,” Furnish said. “And I would argue that with or without the roadless protections, the fate of the timber industry in Southeast Alaska would be little different than it is today.”

Furnish says factors like distance to markets, export policies and defects in the timber are much more influential.

Other opponents of lifting the rule says they’re concerned about the impact roads themselves can have have on fish streams, whether for logging or not.

Jackson, the Kake tribal president, says the forest needs time to heal.