Saturday Soapbox: Local support is strong for the protection of off-road forests | Opinion
Last year, after minimal public process, the outgoing Trump administration finalized a plan to exempt Alaska’s Tongass National Forest from the 2001 National Forest Roads Rule despite damning public comments in favor of the rule and of its long-standing protections for fish and wildlife. If implemented, the rule change would repeal conservation measures for more than 9 million acres of forest, making the land currently protected available for extensive industrial exploitation of old tree clearcuts and forestation. construction of expensive and heavily subsidized forest roads.
However, now President Biden has made an effort to restore protections in the Forest Zone No National Road Conservation Rule for Tongass National Forest, acknowledging the overwhelming support for these protections. More than 600 hunters, fishermen, recreationists, environmentalists, religious leaders, local businesses and elected officials have stood up to support the protection of road-free areas here in Washington state over the past two decades.
A common complaint I hear about our lawmakers in Washington, DC is that they ignore what local people think and want. A 2019 statewide poll commissioned by Trout Unlimited found a majority of likely voters in Alaska oppose efforts to repeal the roadless rule and strongly support efforts to protect salmon , the salmon industry and valuable salmon streams in the Tongass. Twenty-six percent of people in the Tongass region make their living from guiding, outfitting and fishing and have testified that they do not want changes.
Tongass’s 17 million acres are America’s last true salmon forest. It produces more salmon than all the other national forests combined.
So what does this have to do with Washington State? What happens in Alaska will count here. If the plan to clear the 9 million acres of old-growth virgin forest in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest is successful, you can be sure that Washington State’s 2 million acres of road-free areas will soon be under attack. . These include areas such as the headwaters of the Teanaway River and the currently protected roadless forests along the Cle Elum River in Kittitas County. The local members and volunteers of the Icicle, Yakima River Headwaters and Yakima River Flyfishers chapters of Trout Unlimited know that we need to keep these road-free area protections intact. If we don’t, the result will undo the financial and boot-in-the-river investments that have been made to support the recovery of our local salmon.
The Roadless Rule 2001, created almost 20 years ago, was a balanced policy that, over a two-year period, garnered over a million comments and held 600 public meetings. More than 1.6 million Americans helped create the rule, 95% of them supporting it. The roadless rule keeps wild landscapes intact by prohibiting commercial logging and roads in undeveloped areas. In doing so, it saves taxpayer dollars and preserves drinking water, fish and wildlife habitat, and recreational areas.
We all understand how important our fish are to our economic livelihoods, our local communities and our culture. We must defend our considerable investment in protecting and restoring our local salmon populations by protecting their habitat, including areas without roads. If we can’t save our last salmon forest in the country’s largest and most untouched national forest, how can we save our own salmon?
Pat Hesselgesser is president of the Washington Council of Trout Unlimited, which has three locals in Kittitas, Chelan and Yakima counties.