Shutdown not stopping review of Alaska’s Roadless Rule

A fire left its mark on this Tongass National Forest tree trunk, as seen in 2008.
The Tongass National Forest. (Creative Commons photo by Xa’at)

The bulk of federal employees will miss two paychecks by Friday, Jan. 25, as the partial government shutdown continues. But the U.S. Forest Service is dedicating paid staff to a controversial initiative in Alaska.

The agency released an update on its website earlier this week, saying it’s still working on “high-priority projects,” such as reviewing how the Roadless Rule applies to Alaska. The rule is a federal regulation most states have to follow, which makes it difficult to build new roads on wilder parts of national lands. Alaska has asked for an exemption to the rule.

It’s been a decades-long battle in the state — centered mostly on the timber industry and energy development in the Tongass National Forest.

In August, the Forest Service said it would review the state’s ask and deliver a draft environmental impact statement by the summer of 2019. Now, despite limited staffing, the agency is still working to meet that deadline.

The Forest Service is using leftover federal funds from last year to pay its employees.

Recently, conservation groups in Alaska criticized the agency for planning a timber sale during the shutdown and for a lack of transparency.

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