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House Democrats to President Trump: Don’t Kill Protections for America’s Largest National Forest

October 11, 2018
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) and 47 House Democrats signed a public comment letter opposing the Trump administration’s proposed rollback of protections for the Tongass National Forest in southeast Alaska.

The Trump administration is considering exempting millions of acres of public lands from protections known as the “Roadless Rule,” which restricts road construction, logging, and other costly and environmentally-damaging development in old-growth forests and other protected areas. The Roadless Rule helps preserve these places, in Alaska and dozens of other states, while still providing significant management flexibility for activities including mechanized recreation, connections between communities, hydropower development, mining access roads, and fire suppression and public safety.

At its inception, the Roadless Rule received public comment from roughly 1.6 million people, with 95% voicing support for strong roadless area protections – representing the most robust public engagement in the history of federal rulemaking at the time. But the rollback has been driven by an artificial timeline focused on undermining existing protections, rather than listening to the public’s concerns. In their letter, the members push for additional opportunities for the public to weigh in, both in in-person meetings as well as through an extended comment period.

The signed letter can be found here.

“As one of the largest intact temperate rainforests in the world, the Tongass National Forest is a truly unique ecosystem that has long been home to many, including Alaska Native communities and countless animal species,” said Rep. Ruben Gallego, who serves on the House Natural Resources Committee and as Ranking Member of the Indian, Insular, and Alaska Native Affairs Subcommittee. “The Trump Administration’s reckless effort to roll back conservation protections for this national treasure with limited public input puts these lands and local sustainable industry at risk.”

Numerous environmental groups praised the letter, including the Alaska Wilderness League, Defenders of Wildlife, Earthjustice, Environment America, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Sitka Conservation Society, Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, and The Wilderness Society.

“We applaud Representative Gallego (R-AZ) and his House colleagues for recognizing this Tongass roadless rulemaking process for what it is: a play by the State of Alaska to jumpstart a dying timber industry at the expense of local, sustainable businesses and federal taxpayers,” said Leah Donahey, legislative director at Alaska Wilderness League. “The Tongass is the only national forest in America where we still clear-cut irreplaceable old-growth forest. We should be preserving this valuable treasure, not chopping it down and shipping the logs overseas.”

“The Roadless Rule is a critical conservation tool that protects some of America’s most valuable and ecologically sensitive wildlands," said Sierra Club Federal Policy Associate Jordan Giaconia. "This effort to undermine environmental safeguards for Alaska’s national forests threatens these extraordinary places and opens the door to even broader attacks on public lands nationwide."

“This administration keeps dangling short-sighted, anti-conservation proposals before us, hoping that Americans will bite or won’t notice,” said Emily Fieberling, conservation associate with Environment America. “Truth be told, Americans want to keep wild places wild. Exempting our largest natural forest from the roadless rule pushes entirely in the wrong direction.”

“Congressman Gallego’s leadership, along with the support of his colleagues, is critical to ensuring the clean water, wildlife, and recreational values of our public lands are protected for future generations,” said Megan Birzell, Roadless Defense Campaign Manager at The Wilderness Society. “From the more than 9 million acres of roadless area in Tongass National Forest in Alaska to the nearly 1.2 million acres of roadless national forest in Arizona, we can’t afford to roll back the commonsense and widely supported public lands protections provide by the Forest Service’s Roadless Rule.”

“The Roadless Rule works, and there’s no defensible reason to roll it back,” said Niel Lawrence, Alaska Director, Nature Program, Natural Resources Defense Council. “With sensible exceptions for roads and logging where appropriate, this conservation measure protects America’s last undisturbed wildlands so that our children and grandchildren may inherit the same unspoiled forests we enjoy today.  It benefits salmon fisheries and the region’s booming recreation and tourism sectors.  This proposal is one more piece of a broad attack on the public lands that belong to all of us by an administration beholden to polluters and corporate interests.”

“The Roadless Rule is of national importance and protects approximately 58.5 million acres of national forest and safeguards habitat and imperiled wildlife,” said Robert Dewey, Vice President for Government Relations, Defenders of Wildlife. “The Trump administration should listen to the 1.6 million people who want to protect roadless habitat and uphold this vital law.”

“Our wildest national forests are under attack, and it’s time for all of us to stand together and protect our most beautiful forest lands, the Tongass and Chugach National Forests in Alaska,” said Martin Hayden, Vice President of Policy and Legislation at Earthjustice. “Instead of continuing with a costly and unnecessary taxpayer-financed bailout of industrial logging operations, Secretary Perdue should shut this rollback down and stand with the recreation and fishing industries that account for 35 times the number of jobs timber provides. If he doesn’t, Members of Congress should stand up to protect jobs, wildlife, and lands.”