Alaska will take the win.
A 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed this week that the Tongass National Forest is exempt from the Clinton-era Roadless Rule.
The ruling allows road building in roadless areas and timber harvest.
But, and it’s a major “but,” that is the situation as long as the decision isn’t appealed and lost. The likelihood of no appeal is slim to nothing if history is indicative.
The Roadless Rule has been in dispute here in Alaska for at least 10 years.
That’s a decade of an executive order, followed by one court ruling after another, and uncertainty for Southeast Alaskans.
The indecision, which it essentially is as the courts batter it back and forth, has contributed to the demise of the timber industry. For anti-timber forces, it’s provided a loose end in their effort to shut down the Tongass to harvest.
The 9th Circuit judges — two out of three — agreed that the U.S. Department of Agriculture had legitimate grounds for exempting the Tongass from the Roadless Rule in 2003.
A lawsuit filed by the Village of Kake and extreme environmental groups challenged the exemption in 2009. Then came a ruling against the exemption in 2011, and the state appealed that court decision.
The 9th Circuit’s ruling allows Southeast Alaska to breathe easier when it considers economic growth in the Tongass. It has mining and hydropower projects in development, plus Alaska remains intent on timber harvest in the Tongass.
BUT, until the final gavel falls and the appeals process is exhausted, Alaska still remains in somewhat of a limbo in regard to economic growth in the Tongass. The possibility of an unfavorable appeal exists.
In the meantime, the case has been sent back to the lower court to decide whether further environmental review is necessary.
Still, Alaska will move ahead, planning and preparing for projects necessary to sustain the region. It’s the only way for a future.
The 9th Circuit judges gave us hope for that future this week.
— Ketchikan Daily News,