Wow. Just wow! The comment period for the National Roadless Rule in the Tongass National Forest closed on Tuesday. As the dust settles, we are finally able to take a look at the massive positive response and support that just happened. The numbers are impressive:
- In 2019 alone, there have been 202 newspaper articles and opinion pieces (and counting) on the Tongass and the Roadless Rule.
- More than 600 people attended public meetings across Alaska and in Washington DC. Even more people convened and attended meetings of their own in Seattle and Juneau.
- Just under 500,000 people commented on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement in support of keeping the Roadless Rule, with the Audubon flock contributing nearly 30,000 of those comments.
- During the previous scoping comment period, over 95% of the comments supported keeping the Roadless Rule, and we expect to see a similar breakdown of comments on the DEIS.
In addition to people commenting individually, countless organizations weighed in, including fishermen groups, tourism companies, Alaska Native tribes, environmental groups of all kinds, and scientists. The issues that resonated with everyone were the Roadless Rule’s role in protecting big trees, wildlife, sustainable businesses like recreation, tourism, fishing, and of course climate change mitigation and adaptation.
Remember that this comment period began during a warm October, not long after a summer filled with wildfires, record temps in Alaska, record drought in Southeast Alaska, heat-stressed fish and wildlife, and the horrifying spectacle of the Amazon burning. We know that the climate is changing rapidly due to an increase in human-caused carbon emissions. We know that the big Tongass trees help sequester carbon and provide people and wildlife a more stable environment in which to remain resilient in the face of such change.
In our comments, we told the Forest Service that the Roadless Rule helps keep the Tongass ecosystems intact for wildlife and people. But we were not in this fight alone. Audubon works with a close coalition of other conservation groups, and we rely on our members and supporters to weigh in on comment periods and circulate the science and our policy recommendations. And, you did!
Now, what’s next? With such incredible momentum and public opinion on our side, there is actually a chance that the agency will hear us. But if the agency still refuses to listen, we will be there to challenge any arbitrary decision that does not conform to the science and to the overwhelming public support for the Tongass. Ultimately, remember that your voice matters and that Audubon will continue to advocate for the Tongass and the sustainable value it represents for humans and wildlife.