JUNEAU, AK – The Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska (Tlingit & Haida), along with many other Southeast Alaska tribes, is pleased with the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) final rule to restore longstanding roadless protections to the Tongass National Forest.
The USDA’s announcement made yesterday, returns stability and certainty to the conservation of 9.3 million acres of the United States’ largest national forest and world’s last largest temperate old-growth rainforest.
The USDA’s repeal of the 2020 Alaska Roadless Rule returns the listed roadless areas of the forest to management under the 2001 Roadless Rule, which prohibits construction, reconstruction and timber harvest with limited exceptions. The 2001 Roadless Rule continues to be critical in conserving the resources of the Tongass National Forest, as well as the underlying values that roadless areas represent for our Southeast Alaska communities and people.
“The USDA has rectified a critical issue for our people who are most impacted by decisions affecting the Tongass,” said Tlingit & Haida President Richard Chalyee Éesh Peterson. “Our way of life is intertwined with these lands and waters, and we have a deep interest and duty to protect the traditional lands of our people in perpetuity.”
Following the State of Alaska petitioning the USDA to consider exempting the Tongass National Forest from the Roadless Rule in 2018, the Trump administration wrongly issued a final ruling to fully exempt it in 2020.
This all occurred after tireless efforts from Southeast Alaska tribal governments to reach a compromise on the state and federal level and secure meaningful government-to-government consultations.
Throughout the public process, Southeast Alaska tribes provided testimony at consultations, public meetings and subsistence hearings, as well as written comments. With our homelands under threat, it became clear Southeast Alaska tribes had to advocate for the Roadless Rule of 2001 to be reinstated. Southeast Alaska tribes even petitioned the federal government to implement a Traditional Homelands Conservation Rule that would require more robust consultation in the management of the lands we depend on and to protect the traditional and customary uses and areas of Southeast Alaska important to our people.
The Tongass National Forest is largely regarded as the ‘Lungs of North America’ or ‘America’s Amazon’ and plays a significant ecological role in absorbing carbon produced in the United States.
“For so many reasons, we depend on a healthy, intact, forest ecosystem,” said President Peterson. “We need it to mitigate the impacts of climate change and our fish and wildlife depend on it to provide a healthy ecosystem with clean waters and old-growth forests. Our homelands must be managed for the benefit of our people and with our traditional knowledge, stewardship practices and priorities integrated. There is an immense sense of relief in knowing our forests are no longer vulnerable to unchecked road construction, logging, and other large-scale industrial development.”