USDA finds that 2020 exemption to the roadless rule undermines work to confront the climate crisis

JUNEAU, Alaska – The US Department of Agriculture announced today that it intends to repeal or replace an unpopular 2020 Forest Service rule that allowed road construction and industrial old-growth logging in the Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska. The 2020 decision completely exempted the Tongass from the roadless rule, making more than nine million acres of backcountry lands in the nation’s largest national forest vulnerable to industrial clear-cut logging of old-growth forest, as well as costly and unnecessary road construction. The USDA said the rule undermines the country’s work to address climate change.

“We’re glad to see the Forest Service correcting such an obvious wrong,” said Austin Williams, Alaska Legal and Policy Director for Trout Unlimited. “Exempting the Tongass from the roadless rule was short-sighted from the start and opposed by a vast majority of Alaskans. It’s long past time to end clear-cut logging of old-growth forest, which damages critical fish and wildlife habitat, costs taxpayers many millions of dollars, undercuts tourism and fishing jobs, and hampers our ability to fight climate change.”

More than 96 percent of all public comments opposed the “Tongass Exemption” and supported keeping roadless area protections. Dozens of prominent outdoor businesses from Alaska and across the nation sent a letter just last week calling on the USDA to reinstate the roadless rule. A statewide 2019 poll commissioned by Trout Unlimited found that the majority of likely voters in Alaska opposed efforts to repeal the roadless rule and strongly supported efforts to protect salmon, wildlife, and high-value salmon streams in the Tongass.

Photo: Lee Kuepper

“It makes no sense in the wealthiest nation in the world for us to cut another stick of old growth,” said Chris Wood, president and CEO of Trout Unlimited. “Our national forests are extraordinarily valuable to local communities, fish and wildlife, and our economy. They help regulate our climate and clean our air and water. It’s time to look forward and manage our forests with these values in mind. This is a good step to get things back on track.”

Decades of unsustainable clear-cut logging and rampant construction of logging roads in the Tongass have left a legacy of more than 1,100 bridges and culverts that fail to meet state or federal standards for fish migration and impede fish from accessing nearly 250 miles of habitat.

“The Tongass produces more salmon than all other national forests combined. Today’s announcement is the first step toward ensuring that continues, and that the fishing and tourism industries, which account for more than one in four local jobs, will continue to drive southeast Alaska’s economy,” Williams added.

Trout Unlimited, the nation’s oldest and largest coldwater fisheries conservation organization, is dedicated to caring for and recovering America’s rivers and streams, so our children can experience the joy of wild and native trout and salmon. Across the country, TU brings to bear local, regional, and national grassroots organizing, durable partnerships, science-backed policy muscle, and legal firepower on behalf of trout and salmon fisheries, healthy waters and vibrant communities. In Alaska, we work with sportsmen and women to ensure the state’s trout and salmon resources remain healthy far into the future through our local chapters and offices in Anchorage and Juneau. Learn more about our work to conserve key areas of the Tongass National Forest at