Roadless rules

Missouri's Mark Twain National Forest has 25,000 inventoried roadless acres. (Paul Sabelman/Flickr)

(Jefferson City) -- The Trump administration wants to reverse roadless protections for the country's largest national forest, and opponents fear pristine land in Missouri and other states could be next.

A U.S. House committee held a hearing last month on a proposal to fully exempt the Tongass National Forest in southeastern Alaska from the 2001 Roadless Rule. Lexi Hackett has lived in the area all her life and, as a commercial fisher, said she's concerned that opening the Tongass land for development would hurt crucial salmon habitat and the local fishing industry.

"It's a really breathtaking and special place that deserves to be protected," she said, "not just out of the philosophy that we should keep some things in their beautiful, natural state in our world, but also because it does provide an abundance of resources."

Supporters of the exemption have argued that roadless restrictions curb economic growth and that more access is needed for timber and energy exploration. However, Hackett contended that a rollback in the Tongass could create a domino effect for all 58 million roadless acres in the United States. Missouri has roughly 25,000 designated roadless acres in the Mark Twain National Forest.

Mike Dombeck, former chief of the U.S. Forest Service, said he thinks the timber industry simply is trying to gain more access than other interests. He added that the recreation, tourism and commercial fishing industries make up one-fourth of the economy and jobs in that part of Alaska.

"So that, compared to the 1% of the timber industry, really should tell us that the future of the Tongass National Forest is really about recreation, tourism, clean water, and keeping wild places wild," he said.

Dombeck added that it's estimated that the nation is losing open space at a rate of two football fields every minute, and noted that national forest lands belong to all Americans. Comments on the changes to the Roadless Rule are being accepted here until Dec. 17.

The public-hearing schedule is online at fs.usda.gov, the Roadless Rule is at fs.fed.us, and information on the subcommittee hearing is at naturalresources.house.gov. Public comments can be made at usda.gov.