Outfitters, retailers support Roadless Rule in Tongass

Some of Alaska’s and the nation’s best-known fishing and hunting outfitters and retailers pressed the U.S. Forest Service on Dec. 17 to keep the national Roadless Rule in place in Tongass National Forest.

“Our ability to fulfill our missions and meet he needs of our customers, and the Forest Service’s ability to meet the needs of the public are directly tied to one another,” spokespersons for several dozen companies, including Orvis, Sage, First Lite and Simms said in a letter to the federal agency on the last day for public comment on whether there should be an exemption to the Roadless Rule for Tongass National Forest.

The U.S. Forest Service announced in October that it was seeking to lift the Roadless Rule for Tongass, a move that has the strong support of Alaska’s congressional delegation and Gov. Mike Dunleavy, in order to provide more economic opportunity for harvesting timber resources and for energy opportunities.

A range of options had been under consideration for the vast national forest, but then in August the Washington Post reported that the balance on those options were lifted by a conversation between Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy and President Donald Trump.

Many residents of Southeast Alaska, including the Organized Village of Kake, depend on wild food sources in the Tongass, including salmon streams. Large-scale logging has historically damaged this critical salmon spawning habitat.

Other signers of the letter included Alaska-based Coastal Alaska Adventures, Glacier Guides, UnCruise Adventures, Bear Creek Outfitters and others. The letter addressed to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen emphasizes the economic strength of fishing, tourism and outdoor recreation to the economy of Southeast Alaska.

“Roadless areas on the Tongass are some of the best and most valuable lands on the forest,” the letter said. “Many of the most important salmon streams are in roadless areas. Increasingly scarce winter deer range and prime bear habitat is often found in low elevation roadless areas. Roadless areas offer the right combination of beautiful scenery, wild landscapes, fish and wildlife, and access that our growing tourism and recreation industry demands.”

There is no set date by which time the Forest Service has to make a decision, but one is expected some time in 2020.