September 15, 2017

Secretary Sonny Perdue
United States Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Avenue SW
Washington, D.C. 20250

Re: Regulatory Reform Agenda and Executive Order 13777

Dear Secretary Purdue:

The Resource Development Council for Alaska, Inc. (RDC) appreciates the opportunity to provide comments on Executive Order 13777, “Enforcing the Regulatory Reform Agenda,” which established a federal policy to alleviate unnecessary regulatory burdens and directs federal agencies to establish a Regulatory Reform Task Force to evaluate existing regulations and make recommendations to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) regarding their repeal, replacement or modification.

RDC is a statewide non-profit business association comprised of individuals and companies from Alaska’s oil and gas, mining, forest products, fisheries and tourism industries.  RDC’s membership also includes Alaska Native corporations, local communities, organized labor and industry-support firms.  RDC’s purpose is to encourage a strong, diversified private sector in Alaska and expand the state’s economic base through the responsible development of our natural resources.


Because of the broad interests represented by RDC, we have wide ranging concerns regarding future management of Alaska’s two national forests – the nation’s largest. Our concerns can only be addressed through the continuation of the multiple-use mandate and adherence to the Congressional intent expressed in the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA). The multiple-use mandate has been a cornerstone of Forest Service policy and set national forests apart from parks and refuges. Our national forests were established under a working forest model. Unlike the national parks that were created for preservation, the national forests were established under the authority of the Organic Administration Act of 1897 to conserve water flows and to furnish a continuous supply of timber and other resources for the American people. The notion of the working forest has been with us for over a century.

A working forest is one that recognizes the human component of our forest, incentivizes workforce development and local jobs, while providing opportunities to enhance wildlife habitat, recreation, and subsistence activities. A working forest provides many benefits to local communities and is a cornerstone of some economies.

As our nation grew and demands on our forests increased, additional acts of Congress refined but did not supersede the Organic Act. The 1960 Multiple Use Sustained Yield Act added outdoor recreation, range, fish, and wildlife to the balance of national forest uses. The 1976 National Forest Management Act (NFMA) established a framework for forest planning, however, nowhere did Congress alter the fundamental mandate to balance water, timber, mining, recreation, range, fish, and wildlife.

Multiple use means more than recreation, subsistence, and wildlife habitat. These uses are all important, but must go hand-in-hand with responsible resource development. The Tongass and Chugach national forests must be managed for multiple uses, including recreation, commercial tourism, mining, timber harvesting, and other resources, especially given the fact Alaska contains 70 percent of the nation’s national park lands, 80 percent of its national wildlife refuge acreage, and 53 percent of federal Wilderness. These units, like most of Alaska, contain vast roadless and wild areas. Neither forest should be managed as a national park where preservation is an overriding management priority. RDC believes that true multiple uses as outlined above should be reflected in the future management of Alaska’s national forests if they are truly to be a land of many uses.

RDC’s comments address the ongoing land management planning process for Alaska’s two national forests and pertain to the need to streamline regulatory processes and reduce the regulatory burden. The National Forest Roadless Rule (Roadless Rule), the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and other laws have severely impacted the forest products industry in both Tongass and Chugach national forests. 

Tongass National Forest

Since the 1990s, much of Southeast Alaska has experienced a significant economic downturn due to the sharp reduction in and access to federal timber and the implementation of burdensome regulations, which have severely compromised the economics of timber sales. Any new economic activity that promises to bring in year-round, high-paying jobs should be actively encouraged by the Forest Service.

An important goal of RDC is to build a more diverse and vibrant economy in Southeast Alaska through the restoration of a fully integrated forest products industry and a vibrant mining sector. The economic benefits of a fully integrated forest industry and mining to Alaskan residents, local communities, and the State of Alaska is alone a good reason to reform federal regulations and laws that have blocked access to resources and compromised the economics of timber sales over the past 25 years. Robust forest and mining industries should be a major consideration of any regulatory reform effort, given the pressing economic needs of the region and local economies, and the fact that both industries have demonstrated coexistence with wildlife, fish, and the environment. Regulations should be reasonable and balanced to protect the environment while allowing access to and development of natural resources to encourage job creation and sustain local economies.

While the Tongass National Forest is well known for its timber resource base, it is also rich in other resources essential to society. Mineral wealth is currently being extracted from the Tongass at two operating mines – Greens Creek and Kensington. In addition, there are 52 areas totaling 589,000 acres within the Tongass containing identified mineral resources. Of the identified mineral tracts, 377,000 acres have high mineral potential. In addition, undiscovered mineral resources may exist beneath 6.6 million acres of the forest. Development of these resources would help diversify the economy and provide opportunities beyond forest products, fishing and tourism, especially when litigation often derails or delays timber sales.

The Tongass Timber Act of 1947 specifically authorized commercial timber harvests on the Southeast Alaska forest. The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) of 1971 directed how 50-year timber contracts on the forest would interact with the transfer of lands to Native corporations. ANILCA and the Tongass Timber Reform Act (TTRA) of 1990 specifically directed how the forest would be managed. In 2001, the Tongass was the only national forest in America for which there was specific consideration of impacts and a separate Record of Decision on the 2001 Roadless Rule.

These federal laws and actions clearly demonstrate Congress intended for the Tongass to be managed for multiple use and warrant special consideration.

Roadless Rule should not apply in Alaska and Road Access Issues

The Roadless Rule should not apply in Alaska because it violates the “no-more” clause of ANILCA and conflicts with other laws by preventing multiple-use management on vast acreage. Together with existing congressionally-designated Wilderness and monuments, the Roadless Rule prohibits timber harvest and most other development projects on 91 percent of the Tongass. It violates a settlement agreement between the State of Alaska and the Forest Service over inclusion of Alaska in the Roadless Rule. In 2003, the Forest Service agreed to exempt Alaska, but erred in performing the necessary paperwork, which led to a federal court invalidating the exemption, then the Forest Service declined to fix its error and thus broke the settlement agreement.

The Roadless Rule designated 9.6 million acres of the Tongass as Inventoried Roadless Areas (IRAs). This is in addition to the 5.6 million acres that Congress designated as Wilderness in ANILCA and TTRA. As a result, it has become extremely challenging to harvest timber economically from the forest and to explore for and develop new mineral prospects. Even though “reasonable access” to locatable minerals is provided for in Wilderness and IRAs, it is not practical as special use permits authorizing road access are very difficult to obtain. While the Roadless Rule allows reasonable access to locatable minerals, it denies access to new leases for minerals. For example on Prince of Wales Island, Roadless Rule prohibitions deny communities from accessing potential mines with roads – mines that would provide a new economic base and jobs to local communities.

In the 2003 exemption, the Forest Service stated:

The Department has concluded that the social and economic hardships to Southeast Alaska outweigh the potential long-term ecological benefits because the Tongass forest plan adequately provides for the ecological sustainability of the Tongass. Every facet of Southeast Alaska’s economy is important and the potential adverse impacts from application of the roadless rule are not warranted, given the abundance of roadless areas and protections already afforded in the Tongass Forest Plan. 

RDC urges the USDA to engage in rulemaking to rescind the Roadless Rule in Alaska. The Forest Service should remove or allow for removal of barriers to development that exist as a result of the Roadless Rule. The agency should consider and allow for further road access for timber, mineral and energy uses, as well as access to resources important to the residents of Southeast and Southcentral Alaska for subsistence, recreation, renewable energy development, and other community economic, cultural, and social activities.

Rescind Tongass Transition Plan to young-growth timber

RDC members have serious concerns regarding the supporting analysis and practical viability of the accelerated transition to predominant young-growth harvest and other elements of the 2017 Tongass Transition Plan. We are also concerned about the adequacy of the analysis in the plan’s Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) regarding young-growth timber inventory, Native corporation lands, other timber supply, economics, and communities.

Further, we are also concerned that the process was rushed to comply with a directive from the former Secretary of USDA to complete the Transition Plan according to a politically-driven timeline. The Transition Plan should not have been finalized until after completion of updated field inventory of all young-growth stands, updated yield/growth models and analysis, and public and agency comment of these. 

The Transition Plan was a late rule, which took effect on January 8, 2017, just 12 days before President Donald Trump’s inauguration. The midnight timeline was similar to President Clinton’s Roadless Rule, which became effective days before President Bush’s inauguration. The Transition Plan was the only forest plan that was put into effect after the 2016 election.

The Transition Plan further restricts old-growth timber harvests and impacts mining exploration and development. It prohibits harvests of old-growth in IRAs and phases out old-growth logging in roaded areas of the forest. With the current application of the Roadless Rule, it essentially creates 9.6 million acres of de facto Wilderness, in addition to the 5.6 million acres of federally-designated Wilderness. 

It will do virtually no good to rescind the Roadless Rule if the Tongass Transition Plan is not also rescinded. RDC joins the Alaska Miners Association (AMA) in urging the USDA to submit the 2017 Transition Plan to the Comptroller General as a rule pursuant to Section 801 of the Congressional Regulatory Review Act (See AMA comments, 9/15/17).

An adaptive management component should have been incorporated into the plan to assure that the transition timber base, schedule, and other components were economically and socially sustainable and would not result in the loss of the remaining forest industry and related community infrastructure over the next several years and beyond.

We have strong concerns about the supporting analysis, aggressive schedule, and other parameters of the transition to predominant young-growth harvest. The Transition Plan was not preceded by an inventory of young-growth on the Tongass to determine whether there would be sufficient timber to meet market demand as required by TTRA. The Forest Service should have reviewed and analyzed available market data and the economic outlook for young-growth forest products to assure that conclusions and any provisions of a new forest plan were based on a realistic assessment of needs and criteria for a market for Southeast Alaska young growth in competition with other sources. Experience dictates that there needs to be a mix of activities in both old-growth and young-growth stands to ensure a viable timber program, as well as to meet cultural and subsistence needs and ecological management objectives.

The Transition Plan substantially overestimates the timber supply from non-federal lands, which makes its conclusions about adequacy of supply erroneously low.  Moreover, the plan treats Tongass timber as a residual supply to supplement State, Native Corporation and other non-federal sources, and restrict the timber base to a very small portion of commercial forest lands. This is inconsistent with basic national forest multiple-use sustained-yield purposes, TTRA’s direction to meet market demand, and Southeast Alaska economic and sustainability needs.

There will be a continued need for old-growth harvest for various commercial needs as well as cultural and subsistence uses. The 2017 Transition Plan provides only a minimal amount that may not be enough (five mmbf per year limited to micro and small sales). Contrary to what the Transition Plan indicates, old-growth is a renewable resource. It can be managed for timber production as well as wildlife habitat and other benefits, using 150-year or longer rotations, thinning, and other best practices.

The Forest Service based its aggressive young-growth transition on incomplete and unreliable forest inventory data and other information in a rush to complete the amendment in response to political directives. The agency’s timber growth/yield model appears to significantly overstate young-growth timber yield and volumes. In reality, the industry will need to harvest an adequate volume of old-growth trees for about another 30 years or more to allow second-growth stands to fully mature, which takes at least 90 years for most trees in Southeast Alaska. Allowing old-growth stands to mature at least another 30 years to age 90 would roughly double the harvestable volume per acre for Alaska mills.

Provide access to minerals for mining

The 2017 Transition Plan does not recognize or discuss the adverse impacts to mining resulting from major federal government policy revisions overlain on the earlier amended forest plan since it was promulgated in January 2008.  These revisions severely curtailed access for mineral exploration and development.

Any new forest plan should include enforceable mechanisms designed to promote mineral and strategic mineral exploration and development and realistic access to mining claims and mining development. In addition, it should include alternatives that would make mining part of the multiple-use strategy for the Tongass. Clearly, mining is not adequately considered in current management plans for the forest. 

Rulemaking is needed to implement ANILCA’s “no-more” clause

RDC urges the USDA to engage in rulemaking to implement ANILCA’s “no-more” clause. Federal agencies are using restrictive land plans to permanently set aside areas on a de facto permanent basis despite requirement that only Congress can permanently set aside an area for a specific use. The set asides are simply rolled forward with each plan amendment.

Through Section 1326 (a) of ANILCA, Congress specifically limited the executive branch’s authority to withdraw more public lands in Alaska from multiple use, including development. Congress found:

“This Act provides sufficient protection for the national interest in the scenic, natural, cultural, and environmental values on the public lands in Alaska and at the same time provides adequate opportunity for satisfaction of the economic and social needs of the State of Alaska and its people; accordingly the designation and disposition of the public land in Alaska pursuant to this Act are found to represent a proper balance between the reservation of national conservation system units and those public lands necessary and appropriate for more intensive use and disposition; and thus Congress believes that the need for future legislation designating new conservation system units, new national conservation areas, or new national recreation areas, has been obviated thereby.” (ANILCA 101(d), 3101(d).

In ANILCA, Congress directed:

“No new executive branch action which withdraws more than five thousand acres, in the aggregate, of public lands within the State of Alaska shall be effective except by compliance with this subsection. To the extent authorized by existing law, the President or the Secretary may withdraw public lands in the State of Alaska exceeding five thousand acres in the aggregate, which withdrawal shall not become effective until notice is provided in the Federal Register and to both Houses of Congress. Such withdrawal shall terminate unless Congress passes a joint resolution of approval within one year after the notice of withdrawal has been submitted to Congress. 

“No further studies of Federal lands in the State of Alaska for the single purpose of considering the establishment of a conservation system unit, national recreation area, national conservation area, or for related or similar purpose shall be conducted unless authorized by this Act or further Act of Congress.”

(ANICLA 1326, 16 U.S.C. 3213)

While the intent of Congress is clear, federal agencies have circumvented ANILCA 1326, the “no-more” clause, because there is no definition of “withdrawal” in ANILCA. As a result, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia determined that 1.22 million acres of “Old-Growth Reserves” set aside by the 2008 Amended Tongass Land Management Plan were not withdrawals but merely examples of the Forest Service’s responsibility to “provide for multiple use and sustained yield products and services of units of the National Forest System.”

Lacking a definition of withdrawal in ANILCA, other agencies have designated large swaths of land as  “Areas of Critical Environmental Concern” or other classifications, which prohibit development activities such as mining and oil and gas development. The lack of a formal definition of withdrawal is a major loophole that federal agencies have exploited to set aside millions of acres in Alaska in spite of what Congress intended under ANILCA.

RDC joins AMA in urging the USDA to close this loophole by amending national forest planning rules to add the following definition of “withdrawal” for national forests subject to ANILCA: 

Consistent with the Congressional intent expressed in Section 101 (d) and Section 1326 (a) of ANILCA, the terms “withdraw,” “withdraws” and “withdrawal” shall mean any agency action or inaction that has the effect of designating public land in Alaska as: a Wilderness Study Area; a Wild and Scenic River; an Endangered Species Act habitat area; or any land use designation, made pursuant to the Federal Land Policy Management Act or the National Forest Management Act or any other planning statute, that has the effect of prohibiting or limiting resource uses allowed before the day of passage of this Amendment or impeding access to or inhibiting the development of: renewable energy projects (including hydropower), mining (including exploration), oil and gas (including exploration), or timber harvest.

This definition would help ensure the “no-more” clause in ANLICA works as Congress intended. 

Chugach National Forest 

RDC is concerned the decision process for the Chugach Land Management Plan revision is predisposed to non-development, pro-wilderness designations. Decisions should be grounded in good science, balancing economic and environmental considerations. Forest managers should resist decision-making based on aesthetics, misguided public opinion, and perceived impacts to the forest.

One of the original mandates of the national forest system is to provide a reliable source of timber to a domestic forest products industry. Yet in its Forest Plan Revision Newsletters, the Forest Service does not even acknowledge timber harvests except for firewood as a multiple use. Timber harvesting is not discretionary, no more so than habitat preservation, ecosystem management, watershed protection, and recreation.

While we acknowledge there is a relatively small percentage of high quality commercial timber in the Chugach, the plan revision should allow for specific actions to restore forest health and reduce the risk of wild fire. The revised plan should include measures for ecological restoration on the Chugach, which has seen forest ecosystems convert to grass and sedge ecosystems in the wake of beetle outbreaks.  There should be an opportunity in the plan revision to introduce an annual sales quantity (ASQ) to aid in restoration work and possibly support biomass production or other commercial endeavors in the region. A program of scheduled timber sales should be provided to meet predetermined allowable sale quantity.

The revision should also provide for modern silviculture practices to encourage natural regeneration. Forested portions of the Chugach should be managed toward a varied species composition and different age classes to reduce the risk of large beetle infestations in the future and help restore long-term forest health. 

Provide access to minerals for mining

There are many areas within the Chugach that contain valid, active mining claims, and many more that may have moderate to high mineral potential. Areas with known mineralization or moderate to high mineral potential should be given a minerals prescription, and areas with valid mining claims should remain available for the prescribed use. It is important that access to these areas is not restricted. Moreover, no areas should be withdrawn from mineral entry unless they are in a specifically designated conservation system unit where mining is considered incompatible. Areas that are merely being considered for inclusion into a conservation system unit should not be closed to mineral entry. Much of the forest has yet to be adequately explored for its mineral values. Closing an area to mineral entry forecloses future exploration and development opportunities, even if the specific area is later found to be mineralized.


Currently more than 90 percent of the Chugach is roadless. Roadless areas, as well as Wilderness and Wild and Scenic River designations, make access permits more difficult, thereby resulting in greater restrictions. Despite future needs, Wilderness designations would prevent the Forest Service from providing additional access, whether for resource extraction, forest health, recreation, or tourism.  Less access to the public lands essentially means less multiple uses for the public and industries that provide products for consumers.

Access to timber, mining, recreation, and inholdings should not be precluded in the Chugach. The revised plan for the forest must explicitly acknowledge congressionally guaranteed rights of access to surface and subsurface lands conveyed to Alaska Native corporations within the forest boundaries.  The revised plan should be abundantly clear that ANCSA and ANILCA guarantee access to these lands to achieve the goals of ANCSA, a fair and just land settlement that addresses the real economic and social needs of Alaska Natives.

Moreover, improved access for destination tourism opportunities must be provided for in the plan revision. The plan should place a growing emphasis on how to accommodate a larger number of visitors, not just on how to limit or block access.

Since much of the forest is roadless, helicopter overflights and landings should be allowed in a variety of areas. Statistics show helicopter flightseeing and landings are among the most popular and highest-rated activities for Alaska visitors. Helicopters often afford the only viable access to remote areas. It is often the only way for the physically impaired, aged or a traveler on a tight time schedule to experience remote, rugged lands up close.

Reject Wild & Scenic Rivers and Wilderness Designations

RDC opposes new Wild and Scenic River designations as they are overly restrictive and would diminish multiple use, access, and potential mining activity in the forest. These single-purpose designations are not needed in the Chugach and could very well be used as a tool to block economic development, including activity on Native corporation land.

RDC also opposes Wilderness designations in the Chugach and believes strict management for Wilderness is neither appropriate or necessary. ANILCA was intended to resolve the issue of what lands in Alaska should be designated Wilderness. Beyond the Nelle Juan – College Fjord Wilderness Study Area, additional wilderness suitability studies and recommendations are not allowed in Alaska under ANILCA.

As stated earlier, Alaska already contains 57 million acres of federally-designated Wilderness – 53 percent of all federal Wilderness in the U.S. Together with its vast national park, refuge lands and vast acreage of state parks, Alaska is at the top of the list for acreage preserved under conservation units.

Further, consideration of federal conservation system units, including Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers, is not consistent with ANILCA. As pointed out earlier in this letter, Section 101(d) states that the need for future conservation system units in Alaska has been obviated by the ANILCA withdrawals and Section 102(4) includes Wilderness in the definition of a CSU. In addition, Congress recognized that for Alaska to “satisfy the economic and social needs of the State of Alaska and its people,” access is essential. This point is acknowledged in Section 1326(a), which states that administrative closures, including the Antiquities Act, of more than 5,000 acres cannot be used in Alaska. Section 1326(b) adds emphasis to the “no more” clause in noting that federal agencies must first seek the permission of Congress before even studying lands in Alaska for Wilderness consideration.

The Forest Service should not proceed in revising the plan as if no Wilderness, national parks, or refuges exist in Alaska. The areas of the Chugach that are currently being managed as Wilderness should be re-evaluated and a more flexible management regime applied. Wilderness designations severely limit recreational and multiple use opportunities, impair access, and prohibit resource development. They would also hinder access for future generations and restrict tourism. These designations represent an economic opportunity cost. It is important that the cumulative effects of such lost opportunity be studied before each new Wilderness designation is proposed.

What RDC finds particularly troubling in the Wilderness Area Inventory and Evaluation for the Chugach is that the Forest Service has included land with existing valid mining claims, approved mining activities, and legal access routes to valid mining claims within areas that it concludes are suitable for Wilderness designation. These lands are not suitable for Wilderness and such a designation would preclude future mining and other multiple use activities that are not compatible with the Wilderness Act. The Forest Service has essentially ignored mining as an allowed use in the forest’s multiple use lands in making its Wilderness suitability determinations. All forest lands that are open to mineral location and entry under the federal mining law should not be considered suitable for Wilderness.

The cumulative socio-economic impacts of numerous withdrawals and proposed withdrawals of land from multiple use management must be addressed in the revised plan. There should be a no-net loss in the economic resource base.

Reform the National Environmental Policy Act

Legislation to reform NEPA is sorely needed to streamline the permitting process and eliminate conflicting orders and requirements from various federal agencies. Such action would provide more certainty in the permitting process, helping industry justify investments worth billions of dollars.

NEPA regulations imposed by the Forest Service are unnecessarily costly to comply with, extremely time consuming, and unnecessarily limit most development projects. NEPA regulations are misused by anti-development groups to appeal, litigate, and otherwise hinder most projects and timber sales.

EISs averaged 300 pages in the early years of the law, and now run more than 2,000 pages each, with a much broader scope than originally intended. The legal system is partly to blame, given rulings on the adequacy of environmental rules.

Reform the Endangered Species Act

The ESA has been expanded far beyond its original intent. The splitting of species into small and smaller subgroups or semi-distinct populations of species has expanded the scope of the ESA far beyond what Congress intended. As with NEPA, the ESA has been abused by anti-development groups to delay, halt or impose unnecessary costly constraints on many legitimate development projects. The law has also resulted in endless litigation by non-development activists to derail projects and is used to limit access to areas even before a species is listed as endangered.

The listing of a species as threatened when it is currently healthy and exists in abundance – based solely on projections that it may suffer from speculative habitat loss in 100 years due to climate change – removes all meaningful barriers to listing under the ESA. Recent court decisions applying to listings outside the Tongass and Chugach have laid the groundwork for hundreds of future ESA climate change listings based only on projections of events many decades in the future. These future listings are likely to include species inside Alaska’s national forests and those across the Lower 48 states, inflicting serious economic harm across America.

Once a species is listed under the ESA, significant regulatory consequences follow. The ESA tasks agencies with developing a recovery plan and designating critical habitat for listed species. The Act requires that all projects with federal funding or that require any federal approval must not jeopardize the continued existence of any threatened species or result in the destruction or adverse modification of a species critical habitat. The Section 7 consultation process injects uncertainty into projects in that federal agencies have wide leeway to modify or prohibit a proposed action or project.

Resource development projects across Alaska, its national forests, and the Lower 48 are already subject to rigorous permitting and oversight from the State of Alaska and federal agencies, which implement robust environmental permitting processes through the Clean Water Act, NEPA, the Alaska Forest Management Practices Act, and other laws. The Section 7 consultation process, stacked upon these existing regulatory hurdles, is redundant at best. The delay and added cost triggered by additional listings may prove insurmountable for many projects within America’s national forests and beyond.


With immense natural resources, the Tongass and Chugach national forests have the potential to be a cornerstone of their respective regional economies, providing jobs and economic opportunities to local communities. Both the mining and forest products industry have proven they can coexist with the fishing and tourism industries. However, overly burdensome, conflicting, and redundant environmental laws, standards, and management prescriptions are discouraging new investment, undercutting the multiple-use mandate in national forests, and hindering sustainable and responsible resource development. We object to the extent forest management plans prioritize protection of resources and ecosystems over striking a balance with economic and social sustainability of local communities.

The need to reform NEPA and the ESA is vital to the U.S. and Alaska economies. Such action will encourage the responsible development of the natural resources needed to strengthen and sustain the economy while providing thousands of new jobs across the nation.

RDC endorses the September 15, 2017 comments of the Alaska Miners Association to the USDA regarding Proposed Rule 13777. We appreciate this opportunity to comment on the need for regulatory reform and express our position on the Proposed Rule. We look forward to participating in the process as it evolves.

Resource Development Council for Alaska, Inc.