Alaska Roadless: The Creative Middle Alternatives

We’ve talked before about the history of the Roadless Rule in Alaska (should the Tongass have been included in the first place, litigation and so on). In my view (as a card-carrying State Roadless Rule veteran), the purpose of a State Rule is to take the nationwide 2001 Rule, which was a mark on a wall and fairly quickly constructed, and figure out improvements that fit the State. We have had 20 years of case law since 2001, and some of it is not really all that clear. How this works out in practice is that if someone wants to do a project, it depends on whether Environmental Groups with Lawyers like the project or not. It’s a bit like having an approval process for projects in your community by individuals often living far from the area affected, and perhaps not as familiar or sympathetic with the concerns of those living in the area. Perhaps they see it as an “iconic landscape” or a reservoir of carbon or biodiversity. It doesn’t feel fair because you can’t go into their communities and tell them what not to do to protect the environment.

There are many interesting concepts in the “middle alternatives” of the Alaska Roadless Rule that are worth discussing. Unfortunately, to me, the preferred alternative (I would bet not the FS’s call, after all, they did all this creative work) the exemption from 2001 was selected as the preferred. I still think it’s worth sharing all the ideas for common ground that the public and folks from the Forest Service and State came up with. Perhaps it’s not too late for whoever is deciding to seems to me as if it would bolster the inevitable court case to select an alternative that incorporated the complex public comment on offer. This, to me, would be a case for not having a preferred in advance- selecting one (at least THAT one) possibly just further polarized people.

Here’s a link to a powerpoint from last fall from which I copied the slides below. I particularly like this idea of the “community use priority” as it takes into account community needs by requiring that projects need approval by community government (check out all the alternatives in the powerpoint, I only put a few below). You can click on them, as well as the “reimagining” slide above) to make them larger.

2 thoughts on “Alaska Roadless: The Creative Middle Alternatives”

  1. IG to probe grant funding for Alaska timber group
    Marc Heller, E&E News reporter
    Published: Wednesday, March 11, 2020

    The Agriculture Department’s inspector general will investigate whether the state of Alaska followed the law when it directed a federal forestry grant toward fighting roadless-area restrictions on logging, according to lawmakers who requested the inquiry.

    House Natural Resources Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry ranking member Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), who had asked for the investigation, welcomed it in a statement today.

    At issue is a $2 million grant in 2018 from the Forest Service that Alaska’s Department of Natural Resources used to prepare for challenging the Roadless Area Conservation Rule. The rule prevents road construction, logging and similar activities in parts of the Tongass National Forest and other national forests.

    From the grant, the state forwarded $250,000 to the Alaska Forest Association, which represents the timber industry and opposes the rule, to analyze potential timber harvests in designated roadless areas in the Tongass.

    Grijalva and Stabenow have questioned whether that was an allowable use of the funds, especially if groups on the other side of the debate weren’t aware that federal money was available for the purpose.

    State officials have said the forest group provided useful information on the timber impacts of each alternative outlined by USDA.

    USDA later said its preferred option is to fully exempt the Tongass from the roadless rule. Some areas that have been closed to logging and other development could become open. A final decision could come in June, officials have said.

    Other alternatives outlined by USDA include exempting some roadless areas, but not others, or leaving the rule in place.

    In a Feb. 19 letter to the two lawmakers, USDA Inspector General Phyllis Fong said her office would determine whether the grant had been used properly and what led the Forest Service to award it. The IG will also investigate whether other groups were aware that federal funding was available.

    “Alaskan officials have no right to waste taxpayer money weakening a rule that protects the Tongass and the public owners of the land,” Grijalva said in a statement. “Congressionally appropriated funds need to be used as they were intended, not to prop up efforts to open more of our national forests to extraction at public expense.”

    Stabenow said in a statement, “The Tongass is America’s largest national forest, and protecting it is a critical part of addressing the climate crisis.”

    The nearly 17-million-acre Tongass is one of the last intact temperate rainforests. It’s also a source of timber and other resources important to the southeast Alaska economy, and the state’s political leaders say the roadless rule goes too far in limiting those activities. Exemptions from the roadless rule are allowed in limited circumstances, and officials have often granted them for small mining operations, for instance.

    Federal forestry grants are typically used to help reduce wildfire risks, to fight pests and diseases, and for similar purposes. Using the money to influence federal policymakers on a major forest management regulation is an unusual choice, critics said.

    The Alaska Wilderness League’s legislative director, Leah Donahey, said directing funds typically used on wildfire measures to logging lobbyists is a “betrayal of the public trust.”

    Alaska officials have defended the use of the grant, saying the lawmakers cherry-picked information to distort the facts and mislead the public. The analysis by the forest association provides essential information about lifting the roadless rule, Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R) said in November, when the lawmakers made their request public.

    In a statement, Dunleavy called any IG inquiry “time consuming and ultimately pointless.”

    He added, “As Alaskans we continually need to remind the Washington D.C. establishment that Alaska is a sovereign state.”

  2. Another version (with a comment from a Smokey Wire contributor at the end):

    “Perhaps it’s not too late for whoever is deciding to change.” This feels like something really different – an effort by an agency to use the NEPA process to explore alternatives and mitigate environmental effects, and actually have that influence a decision. Fancy that.

    “It doesn’t feel fair because you can’t go into their communities and tell them what not to do to protect the environment.” Nobody “tells the federal government what to do,” but thanks to NEPA citizens of Alaska can chime in with their opinion anywhere their federal government is proposing to do something.


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