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State Challenges USFS 2001 Roadless Rule

June 17, 2011, Juneau, Alaska - Governor Sean Parnell and Attorney General John Burns have directed the Department of Law to file a legal challenge to the Roadless Rule adopted in 2001 by the United States Forest Service. The Roadless Rule prohibited local and regional control over decisions about road construction, reconstruction and timber harvest on roughly 58.5 million acres of national forest lands and grasslands.

Until a recent Alaska Federal District Court ruling, the state’s largest national forest, the Tongass National Forest, was exempt from the Roadless Rule under a regulation promulgated pursuant to a settlement agreement with the federal government.

“Applying the Roadless Rule to national forest lands in Alaska diminishes jobs and hurts families, and removes local and regional management of the forests from the state, communities, residents, and foresters,” Governor Parnell said. “This is the wrong time for the Forest Service to further restrict timber supply, new mining jobs and development, and impose higher energy costs on communities. Our forests are best managed for multiple uses including mining or logging, which require construction of roads. A one-size-fits-all forest mandate from Washington D.C. is the wrong approach.”

If allowed to stand, the Roadless Rule will increase costs for developing hydroelectric projects by prohibiting roads along transmission line routes for construction and maintenance. Those increased costs would be passed along to consumers.

“As Federal District Court Judge Brimmer already found in the roadless case in Wyoming, procedure counts,” Attorney General Burns said. “The Roadless Rule and the rushed manner in which it was adopted violates several federal statutes, including the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), the National Environmental Policy Act, and other federal statutes. It creates de facto wilderness without the approval of Congress.”

The State of Alaska also filed a notice of appeal of the Federal District Court decision that the Tongass exemption was invalid. Judge Sedwick ruled that the Forest Service violated the APA by changing the status of the Tongass from not exempt to exempt without providing adequate reasons.

The state maintains that the Forest Service provided a substantial examination during the Tongass exemption decision. The record shows extensive discussion about the settlement with the state, the direction provided to the USFS by Congress in the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) and the Tongass Timber Reform Act.

ANILCA provides that administration agencies may not withdraw more Alaska land for wilderness without the approval of Congress. The Tongass Timber Reform Act mandates that the Forest Service must seek to meet timber demand from the Tongass, while the Roadless Rule makes that impossible.

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