Known thereafter as the Roadless Rule, the administrative policy has been bludgeon deployed against the economy of Southeast Alaska by barring access to natural resources and potential energy sources within significant areas of the Tongass National Forest.
On Wednesday, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals narrowly upheld the Roadless Rule on a 6-5 vote, saying, in part, that the administration of George W. Bush erred when it effectively reversed the Clinton-era rule in 2003.
The Bush-era Forest Service, according to the court majority, shouldn't have reversed the 2001 rule without providing a reasoned explanation for why it reached a different conclusion than the Clinton-era Forest Service, based on the use of the same "factual record."
Opposing that view, the court minority's opinion was that elections have legal consequences, and the Bush-era Forest Service did not act arbitrarily in heeding the Bush administration's policy direction to amend the original Roadless Rule.
We tend to agree with the court minority on this one.
That the Clinton-era Roadless Rule was born of politics was referenced by Mike Dombeck when the then-chief of the Forest Service wrote this thought to agency employees on Jan. 5, 2011: "Both of these rules (the Roadless Area Conservation Final Rule and the agency's road policy) were shaped by the involvement of literally millions of people."
In other words, the Roadless Rule was shaped by the perceived public opinion of that day.
However, by the time the Roadless Rule was announced in early January 2001, the public already had voted in a different administration with a clearly different view than its predecessor. The Bush administration took office on Jan. 20, 2001.
Why bother having elections if those elected cannot act within the mandate and expectations of the public who elected them?
Dombeck's letter contained other concepts of interest.
We see, for example, that the "transition" concept frequently being voiced now for the Tongass National Forest has been a core goal of the Forest Service for many years.
"Over the past decade or longer, the Forest Service has made the transition from emphasizing resource development and production to focusing on conservation, stewardship and restoration," Dombeck wrote in that Jan. 5, 2001 letter." The roads rule's emphasis away from new road construction toward managing a transportation system, providing safe access through improved maintenance of the existing roads system is emblematic, of that shift.
"Similarly, completion of the roadless rule signifies the shift away from the timber controversies of the past over roadless entry and old-growth harvest," Dombeck wrote.
We haven't noticed much end of controversy here in the Tongass, watching the current furor over the Big Thorne timber sale that contains a relatively small amount of old-growth timber harvest.
As for maintenance of existing roads, the Forest Service sure has put a lot of effort into removing access to existing roads in the Tongass during the past decade or so.
And, what of economies? The only economics mentioned by Dombeck regarded the Forest Service itself.
"This year we received a budget increase of over 40 percent and plan to hire as many as 5,000 part-time and full-time employees," he wrote in 2001.
Super! We'd be curious, though, to see how actual Forest Service employment in Southeast Alaska (and nationwide) has fared since Dombeck's letter.
It's easy to pick at something written years ago. Circumstances change, as can the political winds.
For the court to say that the Bush administration of 2003 was off the mark in reaching a different conclusion than the Clinton administration of 2001 — especially on a policy originally shaped by politics — seems, to put it kindly, a stretch.
The State of Alaska should continue to pursue its legal opposition to the Roadless Rule. The policy's absence could allow for a positive transition to multiple use of public lands in the Tongass National Forest, and provide a glimpse of hope for a diversified economic future for Southeast Alaska.
July 31, 2015
Juneau Empire: Whale sculpture a worthy endeavor
In the past, this newspaper has stated its support of the Whale Project — the effort to put a bronze whale sculpture on Juneau's waterfront as a way to beautify our city, enhance an adjacent micro-ecosystem and draw tourists farther along our historic waterfront.
This paper again throws its support behind this worthy project.
We're not alone. The City and Borough of Juneau Assembly has supported the project, as has the core committee that is still spending its time and energy bringing it to fruition.
This piece of privately commissioned art has certainly seen its share of mixed reviews, however. Unfortunately, many of those opinions are fueled by inaccuracies.
Some have said public funds are paying for the creation of the whale sculpture — an immense bronze cast of a humpback whale leaping out of a reflection pool. Water works complete the effect. No public funds are going toward the sculpture or the waterworks; money for the art piece was raised solely out of donations and fundraising efforts.
However, the city has approved, via a years-long public process, spending roughly $600,000 acquired from sales taxes on site prep and CBJ man hours needed for that portion of the project. That site prep includes extending the seawalk and creating what is referred to as "bridge park."
Another criticism is that the city cannot afford this project in light of budget shortfalls. In fact, this project stands to raise money — the committee organizing the Whale Project is in the process of trademarking the whale. That trademark will then be transferred to the city. Any money made off the whale (and if it is marketed correctly, we think there could be plenty) will go directly into city coffers as a way to fund maintenance of the park and art piece. If any money is left after those expenses are paid, that cash could also be used for just about anything.
Others simply say they don't want it. All are entitled to their own opinions, but keep in mind this project was initiated by Juneau residents, the same people who wanted to build it as a way to commemorate the 50th anniversary of statehood. The project has missed that deadline, but it should be complete in time for the 150th anniversary of the Alaska Purchase. This community has always supported public art, and while opinions about the details of that art might vary, we think many can agree this new piece will become as beloved as other pieces of art that initially faced criticism, such as the Windfall Fisherman — the bear sculpture that sits downtown.
Additional criticism surrounds the site, currently a rude dirt parking lot at the base of the downtown side of the Juneau-Douglas Bridge. Critics say the site is too far removed from the downtown hub. Indeed. Yet, how many criticized the renovation of the building that now houses Seong's, Coppa and the Glacier Salt Cave and Spa? We heard plenty of gripes. Today it is a bustling little hub. Look at what recent improvements have done to the Foodland Shopping Center. It's fair to say the vitality of that area has increased. Similarly, the extension of the seawalk, the creation of the riparian area and the installation of the whale sculpture will encourage tourists to explore that direction. Completion of the State Library, Archives and Museum building will do the same.
The pursuit of a large-scale sculpture on the edge of Juneau's waterfront is a worthy endeavor. We believe the generosity of private donations toward the creation of the sculpture and associated water works, as well as the money put forth by the city, will effectively create a local icon.
People have an opinion about and a passion for art, but few question the value of public art, and we are confident that this project will become an iconic symbol of Juneau.
Aug. 2, 2015
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Sen. Murkowski's bipartisan effort would help Alaska, U.S.
It's been eight years since the last successful omnibus energy bill became law, but that didn't dissuade Sen. Lisa Murkowski from contributing her own offering late last month. Sen. Murkowski's bill, a bipartisan effort with Sen. Maria Cantwell, of Washington state, is a carefully calculated offering that steers clear of hot-button energy issues such as the proposed Keystone XL pipeline or the federal export ban on oil. While steering a bill to the middle sometimes cuts off useful proposals on both sides of the aisle, in this case Alaska's senior senator has done good work. Her bill is a worthy one, and contains several components that would help Alaska and the rest of the U.S.
There have been several efforts since 2007 to pass comprehensive energy legislation at a national level, but all have failed after senators tacked on controversial measures related to subjects such as climate change and hotly debated energy projects. That's an outcome both Sens. Murkowski and Cantwell are looking to avoid: In a Senate Energy Committee hearing last week, the senators implored their colleagues not to burden the bill with divisive amendments. They were successful: on Friday, the bill passed out of the committee, which Sen. Murkowski chairs.
By staying away from danger zones on either side of the aisle, the senators give the important bipartisan measure the bill contains a better chance of success. Of the topics tackled by the bill, many would benefit Alaska and other states. Particular topics of interest to residents here are energy efficiency and weatherization. The omnibus bill would reauthorize the federal Weatherization Assistance Program and the State Energy Program, which provide funds directly to states to help with weatherization of low-income families' homes and energy efficiency programs.
The bill is rife with other passages that also will be beneficial for the state. It will speed up federal permitting for liquefied natural gas export, which would be a boon for Alaska's full-diameter natural gas pipeline. It will reauthorize federal geothermal energy research, an energy avenue that could help some of the state's most far-flung communities where carbon-based energy is most expensive. It promotes research and development of microgrid systems that would impact Alaska villages — and much of the research for those systems is being done locally at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Center for Energy and Power.
Still, the bill isn't a Christmas tree for Alaska — far from it. Sens. Murkowski and Cantwell made sure to focus on priorities that will have benefits for all states, and in doing so separated some measures from the bill that are important to themselves and their states. For instance, Sen. Murkowski chose to focus on ending the oil export ban in separate legislation and didn't include Alaska priorities such as offshore oil revenue sharing or drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
That's wise. The U.S. is in dire need of the improvements the bill will deliver, and getting many good things while leaving a few out is far better than shooting for the moon and ending up with nothing. Sen. Murkowski's bill deserves the support of her colleagues and constituents, as well as swift passage through Congress and approval by the President.