By Yereth Rosen
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - The Trump administration has proposed reopening the Tongass National Forest to road-building, setting the stage for more logging, mining and development in the heart of North America’s largest temperate rainforest.
The U.S. Forest Service on Thursday released a final environmental impact statement that said the state of Alaska should be exempt from a 2001 rule that bars new roads in national forests.
Notice of the rule-exemption report was published on Friday in the Federal Register, kicking off a review period of at least 30 days.
Removal of road-building restrictions in Alaska would potentially open up more than 9 million acres of the 17 million-acre Tongass to logging and other development.
The Tongass, which sprawls over mountains, glaciers, coastlines and islands, is the largest U.S. national forest. It is known for its abundant fish and wildlife and its centuries-old stands of spruce, hemlock and cedar.
The rule exemption option selected by the Forest Service “provides maximum additional timber harvest opportunities,” the environmental impact statement said.
The current effort to exempt Alaska from the roadless rule was prompted by a 2018 petition from the state, which argued that it unfairly restricts access to areas suitable for logging and other uses.
Governor Mike Dunleavy on Friday applauded what he said is “a reasonable accommodation for Alaska.”
“After conducting a thorough, multi-year public process the Forest Service has once again acknowledged that this onerous rule has imposed an unfair burden on our state,” the Republican governor said in a statement.
Environmentalists condemned the plan.
“The largest intact temperate rainforest left in the world, the millions of salmon, 650 million tons of carbon storage, and the people, businesses and jobs that depend on an intact Tongass National Forest are too important to throw away for a politically-motivated industry handout,” Tim Bristol, executive director of the nonprofit group SalmonState, said in a statement.
(Reporting by Yereth Rosen in Anchorage, Alaska; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Matthew Lewis)