Murkowski supports a ‘complete exemption’ for Tongass from Roadless Rule

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, answers questions in a studio at KTOO on Aug. 13, 2019, in Juneau, Alaska. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

A decision by President Donald Trump’s administration over exempting the Tongass National Forest from the Roadless Rule is expected soon.

That’s according to U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who said Tuesday that rolling back restrictions to roadbuilding is crucial for Southeast Alaska’s economy.

“I, very early on, went to the Trump administration and said as we look to the state of Alaska and the application of the Roadless Rule, we have to be able to have a plan that is specific to us,” she said Tuesday.

The head of the U.S. Forest Service was directed by U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue last summer to initiate an Alaska-specific rule for the Tongass.

A 90-day comment period last fall received over 144,000 comments, and the majority expressed opposition to rolling back protections. According to the Forest Service’s summary, a minority of comments supported a full exemption from the Roadless Rule for Alaska — which is what Murkowski is advocating.

“I think complete exemption from the Roadless (Rule) is what is best suited for Alaska,” Murkowski said. “We’re encouraging the secretary of Agriculture as he is moving forward with these decisions to include a full exemption as one of the preferred alternatives. At this moment in time, we’re still waiting. In fairness, I thought we would already have it by mid-August.”

The next step for the Forest Service is the release of a draft environmental impact statement. That could include a full exemption or some hybrid rule for the Tongass.

Another public comment period would be held before a final report is released in 2020.

Conservationists are concerned that exempting the Tongass from the Roadless Rule would open up large tracts to commercial old-growth logging.

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