The U.S. Forest Service is seeking to exempt the Tongass National Forest from a rule that limits road construction and timber harvest on national lands. The agency is seeking public comment on the proposed change from now until December 17th. At a meeting Thursday, the Skagway Borough Assembly passed a resolution in support of maintaining the Roadless Rule.
The Tongass is a temperate rainforest that spans just shy of 17 million acres in Southeast Alaska
Popular recreation areas in Skagway such as the Denver Valley and Upper Dewey Lake are part of the national forest, but it is unclear whether they would be affected by lifting the Roadless Rule.
Mayor Andrew Cremata is more concerned about the impact that logging could have on visitor’s trips through Southeast Alaska.
“I wonder what happens to that experience when cruise ships are passing by clear cut areas, or when cruise ships dock in a port and people take a flight through an area that has been clearcut or a place that you used to be able to fish like I’ve done in Baranoff that you can no longer do because the stream has been compromised,” Cremata said.
Skagway depends on the tourism industry. Cruise ships brought around a million people up the Lynn Canal to the city this year. The money those visitors spend on shore excursions, souvenirs and food keeps the community afloat.
Governor Mike Dunleavy and Alaska’s representatives in Washington D.C. support lifting the Roadless Rule. They argue it has hurt the local timber industry and prevented the development of transportation and energy infrastructure. Public opinion differs.
Last year the Forest Service hosted 17 public meetings about developing an Alaska-specific roadless rule that would open up the Tongass to logging. Most of the 140,000 public comments received last year opposed the change.
The Forest Service plans to host more meetings in Alaska this year, but Cremata said he is frustrated that they chose not to hold a public meeting in Skagway. That is part of the reason why he drafted a resolution opposing any changes to the Roadless Rule.
“So this is our opportunity to have a unified voice in this process,” Cremata said. “These are public lands and the public should have an opportunity to speak on it.”
Several residents, tribes and conservation groups wrote letters in support of the resolution. There were no comments or letters opposing the resolution. At the meeting, Skagway resident Jan Wrentmore thanked the mayor for bringing it forward.
“I couldn’t even begin to enumerate the reasons why we should support this resolution,” Wrentmore said. “It would result in long term impacts and damages to our economies, recreations, fisheries, tourism, and those would not be reversed in our lifetimes.”
The resolution opposing changes to the Roadless Rule was passed by the assembly with 5 votes in favor. Assemblyman Dan Henry was absent.