The Tongass National Forest is once again exempt from the Roadless Rule.
The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 this week to reinstate exempt status for the 19 million acres that make up the Tongass.
The Clinton-era Roadless Rule is a once-size-fits-all approach to wildlife and resource management that doesn’t make sense in Alaska. Without the exemption, which Alaska had from 2003 to 2011, the state has been unable to build new roads in areas where they’re crucial for economic development and industry.
Nearly a dozen groups, mostly environmental, filed the lawsuit in 2009 because they believed the Tongass needed to be protected from Alaskans. They operate under the pretense that Alaskans aren’t willing or capable of protecting their own backyard; that the state will decimate its fisheries and wildlife for the sake of timber.
Most Alaskans live here because they love the outdoors and beauty the landscape provides. We don’t want it destroyed, but we still need a strong economy to ensure there are enough jobs that residents are able to live in the Last Frontier.
Ketchikan had a booming timber industry for decades, yet it still has fisheries, wildlife and natural forests for residents and tourists to enjoy. Alaska can have its cake and eat it too (within reason), but there needs to be options on the table. The Roadless Rule until this week eliminated some of those options for growth.
Alaska needs a diversified economy now more than ever. Oil alone isn’t enough to balance the state’s budget these days; that’s why there’s more effort than ever to get a gasline built in the next 10 years. Even then, Alaska will need to continue finding ways to keep its economy strong.
Without industry and exportable goods, whether that’s fish, timber, oil or gas, Alaskans will struggle to pay the ever-increasing costs of living in the state. When residents finally tire of never-ending lawsuits that stunt development and growth, they’ll pack up and head elsewhere.
Proponents of the Roadless Rule aren’t likely to let the court’s ruling go unchallenged. They’ve been fighting this battle for 13 years and will fight it another 30 if needed.
The issue will now head back to District Court so a judge can decide if further environmental reviews are necessary. We don’t know what the District Court will do, but the fact the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals returned it is a positive sign. It’s not unheard of for a lower court to disagree with a higher one, but the court of appeals ruling should hold some weight.
Conservationists know the primary rule to evolution: That which doesn’t evolve, dies. The same applies to communities. For Alaska’s economy to thrive it must evolve, and to do that it needs the Tongass to remain exempt of the Roadless Rule.
— Juneau Empire,