Study at a glance
- The state of Alaska asked the Trump administration to lift on the Roadless Rule.
- Alaskan tribes and businesses are challenging the repeal of a ban on logging and road building.
- The contested area includes Tongass forest, which originally belonged to the region's aboriginal tribes before the federal government claimed rights to the land.
For decades, “the lungs of the country” were protected from American citizens who sought to alter it with roads and logging.
But since President Clinton passed the Roadless Rule in 2001, America's largest national forest has been subject to the whims of politics: first challenged by Alaska in a lawsuit, then repealed by President George W. Bush. It was reinstated by the courts in 2006 with an exemption for the Tongass, which was later protected by lawmakers in 2007, before President Obama approved clearcut logging on nearly 400 acres of remaining old growth forests, which was blocked again by courts.
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Under President Trump, both the state of Alaska and the federal government sought to again remove the protections of the Roadless Rule for the 9.37 million roadless acres of the forest, finally achieving this in October through a rule under the authority of the Forest Service. Now, several Alaskan tribes are again taking the matter to court, seeking an injunction on the repeal.
"The Tongass National Forest is central to the life ways of the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian people who have lived in and depended on the forest since time immemorial," the tribes argue in the complaint.
One of the world’s largest intact temperate rainforests, the Tongass is home to black and brown bears, Alexander archipelago wolves, rare endemic species and old-growth spruce and cedar trees, the complaint noted. It’s also the source of 75 percent of the commercially caught salmon in the region and 25 percent of the commercially caught salmon on the west coast of the United States.
“A major carbon sink, the Tongass is also a critical defense against climate change. The decision at issue in this litigation puts all of this at risk,” argue the plaintiffs, including the Kake, Saxman, Hoonah, Ketchikan and Klawock communities and several major environmental protection nonprofits.
The state argues that the regulations are unnecessary, citing existing statutory and land management plans, and the Trump administration proposed that removing the regulations would "provide certainty" to the forest. But the United States Department of Agriculture also noted that removing the Roadless Rule protection didn’t guarantee significant logging jobs or income and in fact did carry high environmental risk.
“If the judge doesn’t overturn the government decision, our way of life will be destroyed,” Joel Jackson, 64, president of the Organized Village of Kake, told The Guardian. “The Tongass has been our home for over 10,000 years, we need to protect what we have left.”
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