The federal rule protecting the nation's last remaining stretches of roadless wilderness will apply now to the largest and grandest of the national forests under a court ruling in Alaska, which threw out the exemption granted to the Tongass National Forest.
Ruling in Anchorage, U.S. District Judge John W. Sedwick invalidated an exemption crafted under the Bush administration that had been intended to boost the crippled timber industry in Southeast Alaska by allowing access to stands of timber in remote sections of the forest.
The Tongass, stretching over 17 million acres of emerald islands and azure waterways, has long been prized for its stunning stands of towering old-growth trees, which also are home to bears, wolves, salmon, bald eagles and other wildlife.
"The Tongass exemption reflected an outdated policy of building these extremely expensive roads into wilderness and remote areas of the Tongass just to log out the last valuable stands of old growth that still remained in the forest," said Tom Waldo, an attorney for Earthjustice, which helped argue the case.
Regulations protecting many of the nation's roadless areas, originally put forward under the administration of President Bill Clinton, have been batted back and forth in the courts for years. A special exemption was carved out for the Tongass National Forest, which had a management plan in place protecting much of its remaining old-growth trees and guaranteeing a supply of timber to the region's dying timber industry.