Forest Advocates Defend Tongass National Forest’s Roadless Rule

Alaska Native Tribes, Southeast Alaska Businesses and Forest Advocates Defend Tongass National Forest’s Roadless Rule

Legal intervention seeks to retain forest protections that support Tribes, communities, and sustainable local economies

JUNEAU (ÁAKʼW ḴWÁAN TERRITORY) — A broad coalition of Alaska Native Tribes, commercial fishers, small tourism businesses, conservation groups, and other forest advocates are seeking to defend last year’s reinstatement of National Roadless Rule protections across the Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska by intervening in several legal challenges opposing the rule.

The coalition of Tribes and forest advocates, represented by Earthjustice and the Natural Resources Defense Council, is intervening to prevent industrial logging and damaging roadbuilding on over 9 million mostly undeveloped acres within the 17-million-acre Tongass National Forest.

When the Roadless Rule was reinstated last January on the Tongass National Forest by the U.S. Forest Service, the decision was widely celebrated by Tribal Nations in Southeast Alaska, across Alaska and nationally. The reinstatement decision recognized the need to preserve the Tongass’ roadless areas to protect cultural uses, enhance carbon storage, and conserve biodiversity, and noted strong and uniform support for the rule among Southeast Alaska Tribal Nations.

Despite the widespread popularity of Forest Service’s decision, the State of Alaska, two power companies and a coalition of business and industry supporters filed three separate lawsuits in September asking a federal court in Alaska to overturn the 2023 protections in favor of the 2020 Trump-era Roadless Rule excluding the Tongass.

Under the current Roadless Rule protections, sustainable economies that center the priorities of Tribes and local communities are taking root and flourishing. Overturning these protections would roll back progress toward a more sustainable future and bring back the threat of large-scale logging, which is why 16 Tribes, businesses, fishing, and conservation groups are intervening in the lawsuits today to uphold the rule.

The rule, which recognizes that Southeast Alaska’s future depends on sustainable uses of the forest, is intended to prevent large-scale industrial logging like clear cutting and to conserve the region’s old-growth forests. Old-growth forests are central to the cultures, traditions and lifeways of the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people, essential for climate protection and important for many purposes to many people, communities and businesses who live on or near the forest.

While the Roadless Rule prohibits logging and logging roads, it allows for other development projects, including hard rock mines, federal-aid highways, utility lines, hydropower projects and other energy projects.

The following statements were issued in response to today’s filing.

Joel Jackson, President, Organized Village of Kake:

“The Roadless Rule has helped protect the Tongass National from harmful logging and road building. Without old growth timber, we lose an important carbon sink and habitat essential to the survival of salmon, people and many other species. The Tongass Roadless Rule is important to everyone – to our way of life and for streams, salmon, deer, and all the forest animals and plants.”

Norman Skan, President, Ketchikan Indian Community:

“The Roadless Rule is beneficial and allows our Tribe and community to thrive. Ketchikan Indian Community is committed to continue working with our tribal neighbors and other stakeholders on this critically important issue.”

Nathan Moulton, Tribal Administrator, Hoonah Indian Association:

“Our lifestyle, culture and foods are linked in critical and dynamic ways to the Tongass National Forest, and so are the economies that power our communities. The Roadless Rule reduces the risk of long-term exploitation of critical old-growth forests and promotes community vibrancy, Alaska Native cultures and food security. The Roadless Rule maximizes the economic, social and environmental sustainability of our Tribe and our region and must not be overturned.”

Mike Jones, President, Organized Village of Kasaan:

“The Roadless Rule has worked well for our Tribe and our community by helping to protect customary and traditional uses of our lands and waters, and the fish, wildlife, trees and plants. This helps us honor our ancestors and provide for current and future generations. The Roadless Rule must continue to be upheld across the Tongass National Forest.”

Wanda Culp (Tlingit), Tongass Hub Regional Coordinator, Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN):

“The Tongass Forest is home to the ancient Tlingit and Haida Indigenous Nations.  It is where my ancestry originates, my bloodline is Indigenous to this land, its DNA is my DNA. The air we breathe, the water we depend on, the land we live upon, all pristine. This is why we need to ensure the Roadless Rule stays in place—to protect the forest from harmful interests and to ensure a liveable future for all generations.”

Judy Daxootsu Ramos (Tlingit from Yaakwdáat Kwáan (Yakutat, Alaska), Raven moiety, Kwáashk’ikwáan Clan) Board Co-Chair, Southeast Alaska Conservation Council:

“Southeast Alaska is the traditional homeland to the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people and has been for thousands of years, but in the last 200 years, we’ve seen tremendous changes — I’ve seen it change drastically in my lifetime — the Roadless Rule is necessary to protect and respect our traditional homelands.”

Linda Behnken, commercial fisher and Executive Director, Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association:

“The Roadless Rule is essential for protecting the remaining intact ecosystems within the Tongass National Forest for generations to come. It would be short-sighted and irresponsible to roll back these protections that support critical habitat for fish and wildlife, sustainable fisheries, and coastal fishing communities, especially as we endure threats posed by climate change and ocean warming.”

Hunter McIntosh, president and executive director, The Boat Company:

“The Boat Company operates small cruise vessels and is part of a growing regional ecotourism economy focused on outdoor recreation and adventure tourism. Ecotours are trips where visitors learn about and admire nature in ways that contribute to conservation and the economic well-being of local communities. By managing roadless areas for outdoor recreation, local communities benefit, and visitors emerge refreshed by the well-known physical and emotional benefits of forest recreation. By preserving intact forests, policies such as the Roadless Rule provide economic benefits that outweigh industrial, extractive uses and protect important ecosystem service values such as carbon storage and sequestration, and fisheries and wildlife.”

Captain Dan Blanchard, owner and CEO, Uncruise Adventures:

“Each year UnCruise Adventures provide hundreds of visitors with scenic views of southeast Alaska coastlines, fjords and forests, and remote recreation experiences such as hiking, kayaking, beach combing and wildlife viewing. I cannot understate the importance of inventoried roadless areas to the ecotour economy.  Our clients expect to see “wild” Alaska and prefer natural landscapes that support healthy and iconic wildlife species such as bears or bald eagles.  Clearcutting and timber road construction in inventoried roadless areas will force us to divert our travel routes and reduce shore-based activities to avoid seeing or being around clearcuts.  These changes would negatively affect Southeast Alaska’s reputation as an uncrowded and high-quality adventure travel destination free from industrial activities.”

Karlin Itchoak, senior regional director for Alaska, The Wilderness Society:

“Reinstating the Roadless Rule was a significant and long-awaited victory for the Tongass and it was a direct result of Tribes and Indigenous peoples of Southeast Alaska demanding the protections of their ancestral homeland. Attempts to roll back these protections disregard their undying efforts and pose significant threats to the communities that depend on this sustainable forest, as well as the wildlife and sacred old-growth forest now protected from harmful development. We stand in solidarity with local Alaska Native leaders in demanding that the Roadless Rule holds firm and the voices of Southeast Alaska are heard to ensure that the Tongass rainforest is protected for the preservation of culture and future generations to come.”

Andy Moderow, senior director of policy, Alaska Wilderness League:

“The Roadless Rule is common sense policy that puts people and public lands first. Reinstating those protections in the Tongass National Forest is at the foundation of efforts to build a sustainable future for Southeast Alaska.  It’s also a flexible rule, that allows for community access, hydropower infrastructure, utility connectors, and other projects when they serve a legitimate public interest.  We will keep defending this rule whenever it is attacked, so that future generations can count on the Tongass National Forest just like we can today.”

Nicole Whittington-Evans, Alaska Program director, Defenders of Wildlife:

“Protecting the Tongass National Forest is an important step in recognizing the role our forests play in fighting the biodiversity and climate crises. Tongass Roadless areas protect rare intact old-growth forest habitat for wildlife and help address climate change by sequestering carbon. Defenders will not waver in our support for protecting this irreplaceable habitat.”

Cooper Freeman, Alaska Representative, Center for Biological Diversity:

“I’m outraged the Dunleavy administration is trying to open up more logging in the country’s largest forest carbon sink in the midst of the climate and extinction crises. Protecting more than half the Tongass is one of the best ways we can preserve this irreplaceable old-growth forest for future generations. We’ll do everything we can to make sure the spectacular Tongass is protected.”

Hallie Templeton, legal director, Friends of the Earth:

“As the country’s largest national forest and carbon sink, protecting the Tongass is essential for local communities and for our global battle against climate change. This is one of our last remaining truly wild places, and it demands ultimate protection from corporate interests. We are proud to continue fighting alongside our tribal, local business, fishing, and conservation partners to ensure that the Tongass and its natural abundance remain off limits to industrial development.”


Situated in the southeast corner of Alaska, the Tongass is a temperate rainforest and the ancestral homeland of the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian peoples. The islands, fjords, glaciers, and muskegs that make up the nation’s largest national forest provide some of the most rare and intact ecosystems in the world, providing critical habitat for wildlife including salmon, brown and black bears, bald eagles, flying squirrels, goshawks, and Sitka black-tailed deer.

These lands are integral to the ways-of-life of Alaska Native people in the region, who depend on roadless areas for hunting, fishing, gathering traditional medicines, and cultural uses. In addition, the region supports a thriving tourism industry and a local, sustainable, commercial fishing industry. Both industries depend on the forest’s intact ecosystem. The Tongass also serves as the country’s largest forest carbon sink, making its protection critical for U.S. efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions and to set a global example.

Originally adopted in 2001, the Roadless Rule is one of the most significant conservation measures adopted to protect the national forests of the United States. Applicable nationwide, it prohibits industrial logging and most roadbuilding in intact areas of the national forest system, with a few exceptions. Alaska’s Tongass National Forest was protected under the national rule in 2001 but was exempted first under the Bush administration and later under the Trump Administration. During the recent Trump-era rollback in 2020, the public submitted nearly half a million comments. Of those, 96% advocated for keeping Roadless Rule protections in place for the Tongass, and only 1% supported the Trump exemption.

In January 2023, in a much-celebrated decision, the Biden administration reinstated the Roadless Rule for the Tongass, protecting the forest once again from logging and roadbuilding.

The following Tribes and groups, represented by Earthjustice and NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), are intervening to protect the Roadless Rule: Organized Village of Kake, Hoonah Indian Association, Ketchikan Indian Community, Organized Village of Kasaan, Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network, The Boat Company, Uncruise, Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, Alaska Wilderness League, Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, the Wilderness Society and NRDC.

Communications contact: Brittany Miller, [email protected], (202) 222-0746

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