Trump administration will eliminate roadless protections for Alaska’s Tongass forest

Beached logs pile up in Shoal Cove on Revilla Island in the Tongass National Forest. (Jim Baichtal/USFS)

President Donald Trump’s administration announced Wednesday that it is finalizing its plans to reverse roadless protections for more than 9 million acres of the Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska, or a little less than 15,000 square miles.

The administration last month, in an environmental review, had already signified its plans to exempt the Tongass from 2001 “roadless rule.” And Wednesday’s announcement, in a preliminary version of a government publication called the Federal Register, was broadly expected.

RELATED: Alaskans react to Trump Administration’s Roadless Rule rollback in the Tongass

The roadless rule was originally established in the final days of the Democratic Clinton administration, and it barred logging and road construction on some 58 million acres of national forest lands, including big swaths of the Tongass.

Since then, it’s been the subject of lawsuits, as well as requests for an exemption from Alaska elected leaders, who claim the rule has harmed the state’s timber industry and made it harder to develop mining and energy projects in Southeast Alaska.

Wednesday’s decision stems from a 2018 petition to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue from former independent Alaska Gov. Bill Walker’s administration.

https://mobile.twitter.com/lisamurkowski/status/1318592510470610951

Environmental organizations quickly blasted the announcement, noting that 96% of public commenters supported preserving the roadless rule in the Tongass.

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

Advocates argue that reversing the roadless rule would harm Alaska Native subsistence traditions and Southeast Alaska’s burgeoning tourism industry. They also note that the reversal is unlikely to revive the region’s dwindling logging business, and say that it threatens the Tongass’ ability to absorb greenhouse gas emissions.

Environmental groups immediately called on Congress to reject the Trump administration’s decision, and the exemption could also be challenged in court.

RELATED: Forest Service forging ahead with full Roadless Rule exemption for Tongass

This is a breaking news story — check back for updates.