HANGING ART – Raven Shaw hangs up art at her booth for the Sitka Artisans Market this afternoon at Harrigan Centennial Hall. Her business, Raven's Random, sells original art stickers and prints. The market opens tonight and runs through Sunday. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

Sitkans Step Up Roadless Rule Advocacy

By SHANNON HAUGLAND
Sentinel Staff Writer
    Conservation groups, fishermen and tribal governments from across Southeast Alaska are coming together to state their opposition to exempting the Tongass National Forest from the 2001 National Roadless Rule as proposed by the U.S. Forest Service.
    Opponents of a new Alaska-specific rule favored by the Forest Service object to opening new areas of old growth timber for clearcutting, rolling back restoration work under way and the threat to salmon habitat posed by removing the protections of the national Roadless Rule. The 60-day period for comment on the six alternatives under consideration for the Tongass ends Dec. 17.
    The Forest Service summarized:
    “Alternative 6 (preferred) would exempt the Tongass National Forest from the 2001 Roadless Rule and is fully responsive to the State of Alaska’s petition. The alternative would remove all 9.2 million acres of inventoried roadless acres and would convert 165,000 old-growth acres and 20,000 young-growth acres previously identified as unsuitable timber lands to suitable timber lands. Conservation of roadless values would be achieved through other means, including the Tongass Land Management Plan. This is specific to the Tongass National Forest. The Chugach National Forest would remain under the 2001 Roadless Rule.”
    The Sitka Conservation Society hosted a public presentation on the Roadless Rule Tuesday that drew a turnout of around 60 Sitkans to hear information on the proposal to exempt the Tongass from the national rule.
    SCS Policy Engagement Director Katie Riley said their event was a chance for Sitkans to discuss reasons the protection of the national Roadless Rule are important to them and the health of the America’s largest national forest, and to offer guidance on writing and submitting comments to the Forest Service.
    The Forest Service will have a public meeting and subsistence hearing on the proposed Alaska Roadless Rule Nov. 12 at Harrigan Centennial Hall. (See related story.)
    The alternatives up for comment under the draft environmental impact statement range from “No Action” to the specific plan for the Tongass favored by the Forest Service.
    National and Alaska-based environmental and conservation organizations have already weighed in, opposing the easing of the protections against development provided by the national Roadless Rule, joined by individual fishermen from throughout the region, at least one municipality, and a number of tribal governments.
    Riley said the groups she’s working with advocate for the “no action” alternative, which would leave the Roadless Rule in place.
    The Forest Service’s “preferred alternative” – alternative 6 – would exempt the Tongass National Forest from the 2001 national Roadless Rule, and enact an Alaska-specific rule that would affect 9.2 million acres of inventoried roadless areas in the forest.
    Gov. Bill Walker opened the door for a new forest management policy in 2018 when he invited the Forest Service to consider adopting a special plan for Alaska. Mike Dunleavy, who succeeded Walker as governor, has enthusiastically advocated for a Roadless Rule exemption for Alaska, joining President Trump, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, and all three members of Alaska’s Republican Congressional delegation.
    Dunleavy, who attributed the decline of the timber industry in Southeast to the 2001 national rule, said in an Oct. 15 press release, “Alternative 6 is fully responsive to the State of Alaska’s petition to completely remove the Tongass National Forest from the Roadless Rule.”

Fishermen in Opposition
    Among opponents to the preferred alternative are hundreds of fishermen and a number of tribal governments, who have been sending in their comments and the reason for their concerns.
    Sitka Conservation Society and the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association said in a joint news release this week that more than 200 area fishermen signed a letter sent to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue to request that the Forest Service “protect fish habitat, complete restoration work and phase out industrial scale clearcutting on the Tongass.”
    “Please protect our livelihoods and Alaska’s salmon spawning grounds by selecting an alternative that broadly protects fish habitat, continues the phase-out of industrial scale old growth clear cutting and prioritizes the restoration of degraded watersheds and streams,” the fishermen said in the letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and U.S.Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen.
     The SCS/ALFA news release included comments submitted to the Forest Service by a number of the concerned fishermen.
    “These areas are more valuable left intact than being cut for short-term gain,” said Cheston Clark, a Sitka salmon troller.
    Lexi Fish, who fishes on the F/V Myriad, commented: “Healthy salmon runs are an increasingly rare commodity on this planet. Roads, buildings, and urban development, on the other hand, are all over the place. We need to keep our corner of the world wild and roadless - our salmon, forests, and rural communities depend on it.”
    Jeff Farvour of the F/V Apollo said the Tongass should be managed for the long-term, wide-sweeping services, such as fish habitat. He noted that salmon are experiencing tough environmental challenges, which will be exacerbated by rolling back the Roadless Rule.
    “Here in Southeast Alaska we recently had four salmon runs listed as Stocks of Concern, we’ve had multi years of record droughts with 2019 in Southeast Alaska cited as one of the worst droughts in the nation, record low pink runs, coho runs that are below long-term and recent averages,” he said.
    At the same time, Farvour added, Southeast had two of the biggest ocean warming events ever seen in the Pacific Ocean.
    “Even the best road building techniques will impact salmon – so what is the plan to ensure fish and their habitat are not impacted, for maintaining any new roads into perpetuity?” he asked.
    Riley said even with the scores of Sitkans who have already submitted their comments, more keep walking in the door at SCS, saying, “What can I do? How can I help?”

Tribal Opposition
    Tribal governments weighing in from Southeast include the Organized Village of Kasaan, Angoon Cooperative Association, the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, Hydaburg Cooperative Association and the Organized Village of Kake.
    Representatives of the organizations signed a joint two-page letter to Agriculture Secretary Purdue, objecting to the exemption of Alaska from the national Roadless Rule, and to a process that they said violated their status as “cooperating agencies” under the National Environmental Policy Act.
    “We are profoundly disappointed with the manner the Roadless Rule exemption process has been handled, especially as regards the federally recognized tribes that involved themselves as ‘cooperating agencies,’” the letter said. “... The U.S. Forest Service plowed recklessly ahead at a frantic pace to satisfy a predetermined timeline.”
    The organizations said they came to the table as partners, and provided comments on the six alternatives, which they said represented a variety of compromises between maintaining Roadless Area characteristics while allowing for infrastructure construction, and economic development.
    “We spent or own time, money and energy to invest in creating a workable compromise for the communities of Southeast Alaska to this longstanding controversial issue,” said Joel Jackson, president of the Organized Village of Kake.
    Jackson noted the tribes later learned the Forest Service gave the state $2 million as a cooperating agency, and the Alaska Forest Association $200,000 for providing expertise.
    “For many tribal leaders, this is another indignation and example of environmental injustice as many Alaska Native communities bear the brunt of the climate change impacts and extraction policies that disrupt if not destroy the ecosystems they have come to rely upon while their concerns and voices are ignored,” Jackson said.
    The Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, representing American Indians and Alaska Natives, and tribes in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Northern California and Alaska, met in October and adopted a resolution supporting the No Action alternative.

Municipal Opposition
    The city of Skagway passed a resolution on Oct. 24 in support of the No Action Alternative and opposing Alternative 6, the Forest Service’s Preferred Alternative.
    In Sitka, Assembly member Kevin Knox said he plans to introduce a resolution to the Assembly expressing the city’s support for the No Action alternative.
    Speaking of the meetings the Forest Service is now holding around Southeast, agency spokesman Paul Robbins explained that the format at each will have two parts. The first part is an hour-and-a-half “public meeting,” at which an overview of the rulemaking process and the Roadless alternatives, including the Preferred Alternative, will be presented. Written comments may be given at that time, he said. The second part of each community meeting will be a two-hour “subsistence hearing,” at which comments from the public will be “recorded and transcribed public testimony” related to subsistence.
    The Forest Service Roadless Rule meeting and subsistence hearing in Sitka will be held Nov. 12 at Centennial Hall. The public meeting portion will be 5 to 6:30 p.m. and the subsistence hearing will be 7 to 9 p.m.
    Comments may be submitted several ways.
    Web: www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=54511
    Email: akroadlessrule@fs.fed.us
    Mail: USDA Forest Service, Attn: Alaska Roadless Rule, P.O. Box 21628, Juneau, Alaska, 99802
    Fax: 907-586-7852
    In-person delivery to Forest Service, 709 W. 9th Street, Room 535B, Juneau, Alaska 99801

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