Governor files lawsuit against roadless proposal

Posted: Thursday, February 01, 2001

ANCHORAGE -- Gov. Tony Knowles filed a lawsuit Wednesday to block the federal government from banning road-building in large areas of the Tongass and Chugach national forests.

Knowles said the plan signed in the last days of the Clinton administration violates public process provisions in numerous federal laws, including the National Forest Management Act and the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.

In addition, the suit says the plan violates the ''no more'' clause of the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, designating 106 million acres in Alaska as national forests, parks and wildlife refuges.

In the suit against the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of Agriculture, Knowles seeks to permanently prevent the federal government from implementing the roadless plan in Alaska.

''Years of work and millions of dollars were invested in the public process that drafted the Tongass and Chugach forest plans, and to change certain provisions at the last minute by executive fiat constitutes a double cross,'' Knowles said in statement.

Under the Clinton plan, the U.S. Forest Service will ban road-building in 58.5 million acres of federal forest land where no roads currently exist, including nearly 15 million acres in the Tongass National Forest. Clinton signed the order Jan. 5.

In Alaska, the order halted new road construction in the Chugach and all road construction in the Tongass, except for developments involving timber sales that already were proposed.

President Bush has not said whether he will try to roll back the new forest restrictions although he expressed sympathy to Western states during his campaign.

The plan did not give adequate consideration to the social and economic impacts that would result from cutting off wide swaths of Alaska's national forests, Knowles said.

''As a result, the Forest Service is implementing unlawful forest plans and has caused and will continue to cause immediate, direct, adverse, and irreversible harm to the state of Alaska,'' the lawsuit says.

The plan would result in between 364 and 383 job losses and reduced income to Southeast Alaska communities of up to $17.6 million, according to the governor.

The government has 60 days to respond to the suit filed in U.S. District Court in Anchorage.

The state House of Represent-atives in Juneau on Wednesday passed a resolution opposing inclusion of the Chugach and Tongass in the roadless policy.

The roadless plan has no regard for the hundreds of people in Southeast Alaska who rely on timber to make a living, said Rachel Moreland, associate director of the Alaska Forest Association, a Ketchikan trade group representing the forest products industry.

''There is not any real concern from the government for these people. They are not interested in balance. Their main concern is a set-aside of this land,'' she said.

Aurah Landau, spokesperson for the Southeast Alaska Conser-vation Council, said the roadless plan will open up the land to a variety of uses besides logging, such as hunting and fishing. Guest lodges, for example, pump about $2 million into the local economy each year, she said.

''The roadless plan continues to open up these lands for all these other uses,'' Landau said.

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