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Forest Service Mulls Weakening National Land Protections

More than 170,000 acres in North Carolina are protected under the Roadless Rule, a federal law that blocks most commercial road-building and development in national forests. (Adobe Stock)
More than 170,000 acres in North Carolina are protected under the Roadless Rule, a federal law that blocks most commercial road-building and development in national forests. (Adobe Stock)
November 14, 2019

RALEIGH, N.C. – A 2001 federal rule banning tree harvesting and road construction in national forests is under threat.

Developers and the U.S. Forest Service are seeking permission to open Tongass National Forest – more than 16 million acres of old growth forest in Alaska – to development.

Former Forest Service chief Mike Dombeck says managing national forests requires a careful balancing of several industries' interests, not allowing one to lobby for changes that solely benefit it.

"And what we have here is, we have a small segment of that interest in largely the timber industry in Alaska, which really wants access to more old-growth timber," Dombeck states.

Experts say that if Congress votes to terminate the 2001 Roadless Rule, national forest land in other states, including 172,000 acres in North Carolina, may be left vulnerable to development.

The Forest Service will take up the issue of making changes to the Roadless Rule in a series of public hearings this week.

Lexi Hackett and her husband own a family fishing operation in southeast Alaska. They catch and sell wild Alaskan salmon. She says the region's sparse urban development has allowed fisheries to thrive.

"There are economic drivers to keeping the forest healthy and protected, and I would say the primary is fishing, but also tourism,” she states. “Tourism would definitely be diminished if there was a lot of unattractive projects put in."

Hackett adds that lawmakers should consider the long-term impact of depleting trees more than 300 years old, and the ecosystems that depend on them.

"There's no good reason to roll back the Roadless Rule at this point,” she stresses. “It's very confusing that this is even on the chopping block. People just say, 'Development, development, development, more jobs,' and people think it's that simple, but it's not."

Supporters of the exemption say the Roadless Rule has stunted logging industry job creation and economic growth.

Support for this reporting was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - NC