Washington, D.C. – Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) led a bicameral letter to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue today urging a pause or full reversal of the proposed exemption of Tongass National Forest from the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, which has protected tens of millions of acres of federal lands from overdevelopment and unwarranted logging since Jan. 12, 2001. On the House side, the letter – available online at https://bit.ly/3iwnlpq – is also led by Reps. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) and Deb Haaland (D-N.M.).
Gallego, chair of the Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States, and Cantwell, a senior member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, are the authors of the Roadless Area Conservation Act, which would prohibit commercial logging or the construction of roads in inventoried federal roadless areas where those activities are prohibited by the Roadless Rule. The bill, for which Rep. DeGette is an original House cosponsor, would make it impossible to grant such exemptions. Cantwell has championed the bill since 2001.
The Department of Agriculture (USDA), which includes the U.S. Forest Service, has already published a final environmental impact statement indicating it will fully exempt Tongass National Forest from the Rule, which threatens to open millions of acres of one of the world’s biggest natural carbon sinks to commercial logging. The announcement came despite overwhelming national and local opposition to the proposal.
Among many concerns the lawmakers cite, they point to USDA’s failure to consult with Alaska Native tribes during the planning process, a lack of commercial demand for wood taken from the Tongass, the lack of scientific support for the move, the obvious environmental risks involved with opening the Tongass to more development and extraction, and the strong bipartisan opposition to the proposal.
“We are prepared to use the congressional tools available to us, including oversight hearings, appropriations restrictions, and legislation, to rein in further misuse of the authority and responsibility entrusted to your Department for the long-term welfare of the forests of the American people,” the lawmakers write. “An economically sustainable, collaborative, and science-based management policy for the National Forest System depends on maintaining strong Roadless Rule protections, especially in the Tongass National Forest.”
Today’s letter is signed by 15 senators and 49 members of the House of Representatives.
The letter marks the latest move in the Committee’s ongoing oversight of the administration’s mismanagement of the Tongass. Democrats on the Committee sent letters:
• On Oct. 11, 2018, opposing changes to the national roadless rule in Alaska.
• On May 10, 2019, to request more information in light of concerns about inadequate tribal consultations.
• On July 11, 2019, with Senate colleagues expressing concerns with the rulemaking’s artificially expedited timeline at the expense of tribes and other stakeholders; and
• On Nov. 18, 2019, Grijalva and Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, called for an investigation of the administration’s use of public grant money to weaken protections for the Tongass.
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