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Alaska Roadless Rule public comment scheduled to end Tuesday

JUNEAU, Alaska — The public comment period for the draft environmental impact statement on the Alaska Roadless Rule has nearly come to an end.

The comment period is scheduled to close Tuesday at midnight, The Juneau Empire reported.

Comments can be submitted on the U.S. Forest Service website and mailed or hand delivered to a forest service ranger station, officials said.

The 2001 Roadless Rule prevents road construction and timber harvest on about 91,400 square miles (236,725 square kilometres) of inventoried roadless areas owned by the forest service, which is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The USDA announced in October that it would consider six alternatives to the Roadless Rule.

An alternative for a total exemption of the Tongass National Forest is the USDA’s preferred alternative, the agency said.

Opponents of the USDA plan campaigned for a “no action” alternative that would leave the Roadless Rule in place on 14,375 square miles (37,231 square kilometres) of the Tongass.

Plan opponents accused Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy and the Trump administration of catering to logging and mineral industry interests.

“Throughout this process, the people of Southeast Alaska have made it clear that the future of the Tongass is not logging but fishing and tourism,” said Meredith Trainor, executive director of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council.

Six Alaska Native tribes issued a joint statement in October condemning the plan to lift the rule.

Critics of the Roadless Rule contend that lifting the rule is not about logging, but more about the construction of critical infrastructure and forest management.

“It’s unfortunate the dialogue has been loud and less than factual,” said Robert Venables, executive director of Southeast Conference economic development agency. “You either have to love it to death or hate it completely. It’s unfortunate not to have that conversation.”

The Associated Press