From Backcountry Hunters & Anglers:
WASHINGTON – Unique backcountry fish and wildlife habitat in America’s largest national forest, the Tongass in Alaska, will once again be conserved under a rule finalized today by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
This afternoon’s announcement by the USDA is the latest decision affecting the long-term management of the 9.3 million acres of roadless backcountry lands in the Tongass. The USDA rule restores long-established protections for these areas, which comprise habitat for sought-after game species, including mountain goats, Sitka black-tailed deer and both brown and black bears, and encompass thousands of miles of salmon-rich waterways, legendary among anglers and fundamental to the state’s commercial salmon industry.
Backcountry Hunters & Anglers has consistently voiced support for responsible management of roadless areas within the Tongass, and BHA today applauded the administration’s decision.
“Alaska hunters, anglers, Tribal Nations, outdoor recreationists, business owners and community members have collectively stepped up to support conserving the Tongass’s unique backcountry roadless areas,” said John Gale, BHA vice president of policy and government relations. “These public lands and waters comprise invaluable fish and wildlife habitat and play an important role in the economies of communities across southeast Alaska.
“Of the 1.6 million comments submitted by Alaskans and others during the original roadless rulemaking process, 95 percent supported strong roadless area protections,” Gale continued. “We thank the administration for taking action to uphold the integrity of this cherished backcountry landscape by ensuring the long-term conservation of roadless lands in the Tongass.”
The 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule guides management of 58.5 million acres of backcountry national forests. However in 2018 the USDA formally undertook a rulemaking process to develop an Alaska-specific version of the national roadless rule following a request by the state of Alaska, which wanted to facilitate increased development of and industrial access to roadless lands in the state. In 2020 the Forest Service repealed roadless protections for the Tongass in its entirety, opening the world’s largest intact temperate rainforest to harmful development.
“The Tongass National Forest is one of the world’s largest salmon spawning areas, and its importance must not be understated,” said BHA Alaska Coordinator James Majetich. “Many Alaskans rely on the hunting and fishing opportunities it provides in order to continue their subsistence way of life. The USDA rule reinstating roadless area protections in the Tongass keeps an irreplaceable habitat for wildlife and Alaskans intact, and Alaska BHA is pleased with the administration’s decision to implement it.”
The 2001 Roadless Rule represents a collaborative management approach that was adopted following one of the most extensive public engagement campaigns in the history of federal rulemaking.
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