Divided Federal Court Rules Agriculture Dept. Improperly Exempted Nation’s Largest National Forest from Roadless Rule

Monday, August 03, 2015
Tongass National Forest (photo: National Forest Service)

The Tongass National Forest, a vast rainforest covering much of southeastern Alaska, will remain a wilderness thanks to a ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.


The entire court voted 6-5 on Wednesday to toss out a George W. Bush administration attempt to exempt the Tongass from the Roadless Rule, which limits road construction and logging in national forests. The ruling (pdf) overturned an earlier vote by three members of the court to uphold the exemption.


“We applaud the court for striking down the misguided Bush-era plan to exempt the Tongass National Forest from the Roadless Rule. Today's decision ensures that this stunning wilderness will continue to be protected for the wildlife who inhabit it and those who enjoy it—for this generation and those that follow,” said Aaron Isherwood, managing attorney for the Sierra Club,.


The Bush administration attempted to exempt the Tongass from the Roadless Rule because it claimed it would harm local economies and spur litigation. A lower court vacated the exemption in 2011 on appeal by the State of Alaska, but it was restored by the three-judge panel in 2014,.


The vote fell almost completely along party lines of the presidents who appointed the judges. Of the six who voted to keep the forest roadless, three were appointed by Barack Obama, two by Bill Clinton and one by Jimmy Carter. The five voting to keep the Bush exemption included three appointed by Bush, one appointed by Ronald Reagan and one by Clinton.


The Tongass contains wetlands, ice fields, small islands and old-growth forests of red cedar, Sitka spruce, and western hemlock. Bald eagles, several species of Pacific salmon, porpoises, and minke and killer whales live within the forest’s boundaries.


“Today’s decision is great news for the Tongass National Forest and for all those who rely on its roadless areas. The remaining wild and undeveloped parts of the Tongass are important fish and wildlife habitat and vital to residents and visitors alike for hunting, fishing, recreation, and tourism, the driving forces of the regional economy,” said Earthjustice attorney Tom Waldo.

-Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

Ninth Circuit Ensures Protection of Roadless Areas in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest (Earthjustice)

Greens Win Big Victory in Tongass Forest (by Rebekah Kearn, Courthouse News Service)

Village of Kake, et. al vs. U.S. Department of Agriculture, et. al (Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals) (pdf)

Obama Administration Approves Logging in Roadless Area (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)



Bill Tremblay 9 years ago
Read the 1964 Wilderness Act. Until Congress designate the area as wilderness it's not wilderness. The Tongass already has more than a third of its land base as congressionally designated wilderness (5.8 million acres) with almost another half million acres set aside for other protections. The roadless rule, as applied to the Tongass, is misguided.

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