MASKED UP – Mt. Edgecumbe High School students receive prizes for their costumes this afternoon outside the school library. This year’s Halloween costume contest was held outdoors with everyone wearing masks in order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Sitkans are trying to have a degree of normalcy while acting responsibly during the pandemic. Businesses are having Halloween-themed  sales over the weekend. Also, Sitka merchants will be hosting the downtown Trick-or-Treat event Saturday from 3 to 6 p.m. with everyone asked to observe social distancing recommendations. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

USFS Commenters Favor Roadless Rule

By GARLAND KENNEDY
Sentinel Staff Writer

After months of hearings, analyses, and meetings, the U.S. Forest Service on Tuesday released an official summary of public comments in the rulemaking process that would exempt the Tongass National Forest from the Roadless Rule.

All told, 96% of the 267,000 letters and comments received were in favor of keeping the Roadless Rule in place in the Tongass, and one percent supported exempting it from the rule, the summary report said.

Comments were accepted from around the nation. For reference, the population of Southeast Alaska as of the 2010 census was just short of 70,000.

“This is now a litmus test to the state of our democracy,” Sitka Conservation Society Director Andrew Thoms said in an interview today.

“We will see if the government makes decisions guided by the people or if we have descended to the level of corruption that would be a tragedy for what Americans expect from their country and their government,” he said.

The Roadless Rule, in place since 2001, prohibits road building activities in 9.4 million acres of the 16.9 million-acre Tongass National Forest. Project exemptions are possible under the rule.

While the summarized comments provided in the Forest Service’s analysis touched on a wide variety of topics from ecological justice to the value of old-growth forests, some themes remained constant.

Linda Waller and other demonstrators in favor of the Forest Service’s Tongass Roadless Rule hold signs at the roundabout during a protest on February 22, 2019. Comments gathered at Forest Service public meetings on the topic were released Tuesday. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

The present USFS rulemaking process for the Tongass began in 2018, at the invitation of Gov. Bill Walker. The state appointed an advisory panel to consider a number of management options ranging from “no action” to full exemption. The panel came out in favor of an Alaska-specific plan that would open formerly roadless areas to some development. But following that process the U.S. Department of Agriculture bypassed that recommendation and instead announced that its preferred alternative was full exemption.

The alternatives put out for public comment ranged from Option 1, “no action,” or keeping the rule in place, to Option 6, the full exemption. Options 2 through 5 were for management plans between those limits.

The USFS summary of comments received said:

“Commenters listed benefits that old-growth forests provide and consider them to be essential for the survival and viability of the ecosystem in the region. Commenters described the rarity of old-growth habitats, which make it a critically-valuable resource to keep protected as an intact forest. Commenters sought information on plans to restore or maintain the diversity of ecosystems and habitat types within the planning area including large-tree old-growth and old-growth cedar stands.”

The impact of commercial timber harvest on fisheries also was a concern.

“Commenters referred to pristine fish habitat serving as important breeding grounds for numerous fish species. Commenters expressed concerns that these are some of the last spawning grounds for especially important species,” the report said.

The future of the planet’s climate also featured in public comments as a major concern revolving around the clear-cutting of old-growth timber.

“Commenters said old-growth forests sequester considerable amounts of carbon, significantly more than young-growth forests. Additionally, commenters expressed concern logging old-growth forests would release substantial carbon reserves in addition to the loss of the carbon sequestration capabilities, contributing to the acceleration of climate change. Commenters state concerns that carbon sequestration capabilities and reserves lost due to logging cannot be recovered on a time scale sufficient for the mitigation demand,” the report stated.

Other topics included the value of the Tongass for tourism, recreation, and health. Others expressed a desire that timber companies be made to pay for logging road construction, which is currently funded by the Forest Service.

Of the public comments which supported the full exemption from the Roadless Rule, themes of economic well-being and power generation were common.

“Themes for support of Alternative 6 included socioeconomic considerations, improved fire response, reduction in restrictions inhibiting the timber industry, local decision making, existence of sufficient protections without the rule, reduced project costs for renewable energy and utility lines, elimination of regulatory uncertainty for permitted hydropower or intertie development, land use management, access, and development,” the Forest Service stated.

An adjacent USFS report, also made public this week, detailed the comments received from 196 individuals testifying in 18 Southeast Alaska communities about the subsistence issues raised by the Tongass management debate.

The subsistence hearings were held in connection with Forest Service informational meetings on the Roadless Rule that were held in communities around Southeast in 2019. Public comment was accepted only on subsistence.

“Those in support of Alternative 1 generally indicated the 2001 Roadless Rule works across Southeast Alaska by preserving roadless area characteristics while supporting economic opportunity for seafood and tourism industries, community socioeconomic well-being, subsistence lifestyles, and Alaska Native culture,” the report read.

The USFS summary said “testifiers also frequently mentioned increasing and competing pressure for subsistence resources, dominance of economic interests over community preferences, skepticism regarding the influence of political pressure, and lack of trust in the Forest Service to manage public lands for current and future generations.”

Of the comments in the subsistence hearing, the report said that about ten supported Alternative 6, the full exemption.

“Those in support of Alternative 6 generally indicated the 2001 Roadless Rule is too restrictive, referenced the multi-use mandate for national forest management, supported additional timber harvest economic opportunity, or indicated a strong preference for less federal regulation, in general.”

Another key theme of the subsistence hearings was a perceived lack of communication between state, federal, and local stakeholders.

“Testifiers consistently indicated Forest Service tribal outreach, engagement, and government-to-government consultation was insufficient throughout the Alaska Roadless Rule project. Some indicated tribal engagement did not honor or comply with the Forest Service’s government-to-government consultation responsibility,”  the report stated.

Those who testified at the subsistence hearings also expressed an “underlying belief subsistence hearing testimony would not be meaningfully considered or accommodated in the development of an Alaska Roadless Rule.”

The Forest Service is set to release the Final Environment Impact Statement in the coming months, with a final decision from the Secretary of Agriculture to follow.

 

 

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August 5, 2020

A Note To Our Readers

Reopening: Phase One:

 

On March 30 the Daily Sitka Sentinel began taking precautions against the coronavirus, which was starting to show up in Alaska.

We closed our building to the public and four key employees started working remotely. Home delivery was suspended to protect our carriers from exposure to the virus.

Four months later, the virus is still with us and the precautions remain in effect.

In appreciation for the willingness of our subscribers to pick up their daily paper at drop-off sites, the Sentinel was free to all readers, and subscriptions were extended without charge.

As of August 1 the Sentinel is once again charging for subscriptions, but the present method of having subscribers pick up their papers at designated sites will continue.

The expiration date of all subscriptions has been extended without charge for an additional four months.

We thank our readers for their support in these uncertain times, and especially those who paid for the paper despite the free offer.

We look forward to the time when we can safely resume home delivery.

To check on the expiration of your subscription or to make a payment please call 747-3219. The subscription email address is This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . We also will be mailing out reminder cards.

The single copy price is again 75 cents. The news racks do not require coins to open, but we ask that the 75 cents for a non-subscription single copy sale be paid with coins in the slot.

– The Sitka Sentinel Staff

 

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Alaska COVID-19
At a Glance

(updated 10-30-20)

By Sentinel Staff

The state Department of Health and Social Services has posted the following update on the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Alaska as of 9:40 a.m. Friday.

New cases as of Thursday: 380

Total statewide – 14,837

Total (cumulative) deaths – 81

Active cases in Sitka – 17 (14 resident; 3 non-resident) *

Recovered cases in Sitka – 62 (49 resident; 13 non-resident) *

The state says the cumulative number of cases hospitalized is 430.

To visit the Alaska DHSS Corona Response dashboard website click here.

* These numbers reflect State of Alaska data. Local cases may not immediately appear on DHSS site, or are reported on patient’s town of residence rather than Sitka’s statistics. 

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20 YEARS AGO
October 2000

Photo caption: Their Halloweeen party over, Sitka Tribe of Alaska staff members and their families turn heads as they stroll down Katlian Street Friday. Several Halloween events were held over the weekend. This afternoon kids were invited downtown to trick or treat at businesses; and tonight parties and more trick or treating expeditions will bring out more ... whatever.


50 YEARS AGO
October 1970

The only method through which the United States will adopt a 200-mile limit for its contiguous fishing zone is by a change in international law which would require consent of two-thirds of the nations at an international conference, the assistant Secretary of State for Fisheries and Wildlife told fishermen in Sitka. 

 

 

 

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