Press Release

Multistate Coalition Objects to Forest Service’s Proposed Removal of Protections for Ancient Alaskan Rainforest

The Forest Service’s proposed rule would discard roadless area protections for 9.2 million acres in the Tongass National Forest.

Wash­ing­ton, D.C. — A coali­tion of six state attor­neys gen­er­al led by Cal­i­for­nia Attor­ney Gen­er­al Xavier Becer­ra sub­mit­ted com­ments to the U.S. For­est Ser­vice today call­ing on the ser­vice to with­draw a pro­posed rule that would exempt the Ton­gass Nation­al For­est in Alas­ka from the Road­less Area Con­ser­va­tion Rule (Road­less Rule). The rule would open the largest intact tem­per­ate rain­for­est in North Amer­i­ca – an area larg­er than Mary­land – to new road­build­ing and log­ging. In their com­ments, the AGs empha­sized that the For­est Ser­vice failed to pro­vide a ratio­nal expla­na­tion for its pro­posed rever­sal, in vio­la­tion of the Admin­is­tra­tive Pro­ce­dure Act; failed to ade­quate­ly assess the proposal’s envi­ron­men­tal impacts as required under the Nation­al Envi­ron­men­tal Pol­i­cy Act; and failed to ini­ti­ate inter­a­gency con­sul­ta­tions man­dat­ed under the Endan­gered Species Act. In addi­tion, the AGs not­ed the increased threat that log­ging and road­build­ing would pose to the habi­tat of vul­ner­a­ble wildlife species, and the Ton­gass’ role as the largest car­bon sink of all the nation’s nation­al forests.

“ Cause I said so’ has nev­er con­sti­tut­ed sus­tain­able legal or ratio­nal fed­er­al pol­i­cy. Yet, that’s the essence of the Trump Administration’s rea­son­ing for expos­ing mil­lions of acres of envi­ron­men­tal­ly sen­si­tive and vital pub­lic lands and wildlife to exploita­tion in the Ton­gass Nation­al For­est,” said Cal­i­for­nia Attor­ney Gen­er­al Xavier Becer­ra. At this crit­i­cal junc­ture in humankind’s fight to sus­tain a hab­it­able plan­et, we must pro­tect pub­lic lands and the fish and wildlife that reside with­in them if we expect to pre­serve our own species. We urge the Trump admin­is­tra­tion to with­draw its dan­ger­ous pro­pos­al to rad­i­cal­ly and inex­plic­a­bly change the man­age­ment of the Ton­gass Nation­al For­est.”

Locat­ed in South­east Alas­ka, the Ton­gass is a large­ly untouched rem­nant of the vast tem­per­ate rain­for­est that once stretched from Alas­ka to north­ern Cal­i­for­nia. The area is home to species like hump­back whales, green stur­geon, short-tailed alba­tross, South­ern Res­i­dent killer whales and salmon. The for­est is also an impor­tant tourism des­ti­na­tion, attract­ing more than a mil­lion vis­i­tors every year. By pre­vent­ing road­build­ing and log­ging, the Road­less Rule is cred­it­ed with pre­serv­ing many of the Ton­gass’ unique envi­ron­men­tal and cul­tur­al val­ues.

The AGs’ com­ments cen­ter on the proposal’s fail­ure to com­ply with three fed­er­al laws:

The Nation­al Envi­ron­men­tal Pol­i­cy Act (NEPA):
In their com­ments, the AGs said that the pro­posed rule and sup­port­ing Draft Envi­ron­men­tal Impact State­ment (Draft EIS) fail to com­ply with NEPA’s require­ment that the For­est Ser­vice ratio­nal­ly con­sid­er and dis­close all of the rule’s poten­tial envi­ron­men­tal impacts. For instance, the For­est Ser­vice pro­vides no analy­sis, study, or cita­tion to sup­port its asser­tion that the pro­posed rule will have no sig­nif­i­cant envi­ron­men­tal impact. The Draft EIS dis­counts the cli­mate impacts of the pro­posed rule, dis­card­ing an ear­li­er con­clu­sion that log­ging in the Ton­gass can cause sig­nif­i­cant green­house gas emis­sions. Sim­i­lar­ly, the study unlaw­ful­ly dis­miss­es poten­tial impacts of log­ging and road­build­ing to migra­to­ry birds as neg­li­gi­ble, con­tra­dict­ing the For­est Service’s pre­vi­ous find­ings.

The Admin­is­tra­tive Pro­ce­dure Act (APA):
The AGs also say that the pro­posed rule vio­lates the APA by fail­ing to pro­vide a ratio­nal expla­na­tion for exempt­ing the Ton­gass from the Road­less Rule, a rad­i­cal pol­i­cy change for the nation­al for­est. In pre­vi­ous find­ings, the For­est Ser­vice had found that road­less area pro­tec­tions were crit­i­cal to pre­serv­ing the Ton­gass’ unique envi­ron­men­tal val­ues and the pro­pos­al fails to explain why its pre­vi­ous find­ings are no longer valid.

The Endan­gered Species Act (ESA):
The AGs’ com­ments also high­light the For­est Service’s fail­ure to con­sult with the Nation­al Marine Fish­eries Ser­vice and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Ser­vice about pos­si­ble impacts to species pro­tect­ed under the Endan­gered Species Act — includ­ing Pacif­ic hump­back whales and short-tailed alba­tross — even though the ser­vice acknowl­edged in the Draft EIS that log­ging and road­build­ing could impact these and oth­er species.

The attor­neys gen­er­al of Illi­nois, Mass­a­chu­setts, New York, Ore­gon and Wash­ing­ton joined Cal­i­for­nia in sub­mit­ting the comments.

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About the State Ener­gy & Envi­ron­men­tal Impact Cen­ter
The State Ener­gy & Envi­ron­men­tal Impact Cen­ter (State Impact Cen­ter) is a non-par­ti­san Cen­ter at the NYU School of Law that is ded­i­cat­ed to help­ing state attor­neys gen­er­al fight against reg­u­la­to­ry roll­backs and advo­cate for clean ener­gy, cli­mate change, and envi­ron­men­tal val­ues and pro­tec­tions. It was launched in August 2017 with sup­port from Bloomberg Phil­an­thropies.
For more infor­ma­tion, vis­it our web­site.