Great News for Ancient Forests and Climate: Tongass Protections Restored

We’re excited to share that this month, the Administration announced that it will restore protections for the Tongass National Forest. This is good news, but we still need to permanently protect backcountry roadless areas. Learn more and take action.
The Mountaineers The Mountaineers
July 22, 2021

Over the past few years, we’ve asked you to take action against a proposal to exempt the Tongass National Forest in Alaska from the Roadless Rule. The Roadless Rule is an important conservation tool that protects many of our most valued backcountry landscapes, including many in Washington, from logging, road building, and other development. The previous administration removed protections from the Tongass rainforest to open it up to development, despite overwhelming opposition.

We’re excited to share that this month, the Administration announced that it will restore protections for the Tongass National Forest. The new protections will end large-scale old growth logging in the Tongass and will instead support forest restoration, climate resilience, and recreation. This new effort also includes meaningful consultation with Tribal governments and funding for sustainable economic and community development.

This is good news for Southeast Alaska’s ancient forests, which support Tribal communities and millions of wild salmon, host incredible outdoor recreation opportunities like mountaineering and sea kayaking, and capture a tremendous amount of carbon. Thanks to the leadership of local tribal communities and advocacy by the conservation and recreation community - including thousands of Mountaineers - this magnificent forest will be protected. Your voice makes a difference!

The new path forward for the Tongass sets a strong precedent for protecting Roadless Areas like those in Washington, but we still need to permanently protect backcountry roadless areas by passing the Roadless Area Conservation Act. Passing this bill would offer permanent protection for the 30% of National Forest lands that are currently protected under the 2001 Roadless Rule. Without permanent protection, we risk a future administration removing protections from ancient forests and recreation destinations like Washington Pass in Washington and beyond. 

Tell your members of Congress to support the Roadless Area Conservation Act, and thank champions like bill sponsor Senator Maria Cantwell. Personalizing what we've created is always advised - add a story about climbing in Washington Pass or use the interactive map from Outdoor Alliance to find other Roadless areas where you spend time.

TAKE ACTION

Background

What is the Roadless Rule?

The Roadless Rule is a critical - though lesser-known - tool that protects wild landscapes in our National Forests. It was established in 2001 after enormous public outreach, and provides protection for 60 million acres of roadless areas on our national forests and grasslands. While these areas are protected from development, the protections are less restrictive than Wilderness and allow a greater range of recreation activities. These remote, un-developed landscapes are treasured by our community for the backcountry recreation experiences they provide. 

Chances are, you’ve recreated in a Roadless area. In Washington, prized climbing and backcountry skiing areas like Washington Pass and Liberty Bell, hiking trails near Mount Baker and Baker Lake, and scrambling destinations in the Teanaway and Entiat Mountains are protected by the Roadless Rule. Exempting the Tongass National Forest from the Roadless Rule could have paved the way for similar action on other Roadless areas like these. A threat to the Roadless Rule in one corner of our national public lands is a threat to all of our Roadless areas, including the ones you’re most connected to. 

Why is the Tongass Important?

In 2020, the previous Administration stripped Roadless protections from more than 9 million acres of old-growth forest in the Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska. This proposal began in 2018, when Alaska petitioned the Forest Service for an exemption from the Roadless Rule. Though thousands of Americans, including hundreds in our community, asked the Forest Service to maintain protections for the Tongass, the Administration still rolled back protections on the forest. 

Without Roadless protections, the Tongass could have been opened up to logging, road building, and other intensive development. These changes could permanently alter the Tongass National Forest and cause ripple effects for our global climate, Native communities, and salmon. The Tongass contains nearly a third of all that remains of the world’s rare old-growth temperate rainforest. The ancient trees in the Tongass combat climate change, storing 8% of the carbon captured on National Forest lands in the country. Logging in the Tongass risked releasing centuries worth of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. 

In her book Salmon in the Trees: Life in Alaska's Tongass Rain Forest, Braided River author Amy Gulick describes the Tongass as one of the rarest ecosystems on Earth. “The Tongass is a place where salmon, trees, bears, eagles, and people are all connected in a glorious cycle of life that has thrived for millennia,” writes Gulick. The Native communities of the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian see their relationship to the Tongass as the basis of their cultural survival. A tribal member interviewed by Gulick shares that “subsistence hunting and fishing nourishes our body and spirits, and sharing the bounty of the land with our family and community reinforces our clan ties.” 

What's next?

As outdoor enthusiasts, we know our community cares about both conservation and recreation, and the Roadless Rule is vitally important for both. While it's great news that the Tongass will be protected, it's imperative to permanently protect Roadless Areas to ensure that they can continue to store carbon and provide outdoor recreation opportunities. 

The Roadless Area Conservation Act (S. 877/H.R. 279) is a bill led by Washington state Senator Maria Cantwell and Congressman Gallego of Arizona to permanently protect the Roadless Rule, protecting backcountry roadless areas and taking us off the merry-go-round of single-state objections. Passing this bill would offer permanent protection for the 30% of National Forest lands that are currently protected under the 2001 Roadless Rule.

The tool below will let you send a message to your members of Congress asking them to support the Roadless Area Conservation Act. Personalizing what we've created is always advised - add a story about climbing in Washington Pass or use the interactive map from Outdoor Alliance to find other Roadless areas where you spend time.

TAKE ACTION

We appreciate working with our partners at Outdoor Alliance on this issue. 

main photo by ron otsu.