In August 2023, the Resource Development Council for Alaska (RDC) joined 23 other parties (the Coalition) in litigation to challenge the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reimposition of the 2001 "Roadless Rule" on the Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska.  Please use this webpage as a resource for information and documents related to this litigation.  Links to relevant documents and information can be found at the bottom of this page.


The nationwide Roadless Rule was established in January 2001 as President Bill Clinton was leaving office. It set in place prohibitions on timber harvests and road construction within inventoried roadless areas of the national forest system, including the Tongass National Forest located in southeast Alaska. With limited exceptions based on need (as determined by USDA officials in their sole discretion), the roadless rule prohibits roadbuilding on 9.4 million acres of the 16.9-million-acre Tongass (an area the size of West Virginia). This sweeping rule effectively closes off access to most of southeast Alaska for any means – not just timber harvest, but also access to critical mineral resources, renewable energy sources including hydropower to offset high cost diesel fuel as a source for local electricity needs, and more.  

The federal government and the State of Alaska reached a settlement in 2003 exempting the Tongass from the Roadless Rule. In 2011, a federal court set aside the exemption and reinstated the rule. The court’s ruling was initially reversed, but the rule was once again reinstated by a 6-5 decision of the Ninth Circuit in 2015. Later, in 2020, the federal government and the State of Alaska once again reached an agreement to reinstate the exemption from the Roadless Rule in the Tongass. Alaska once again had meaningful and reasonable access to resources critical to the clean energy transition and more reliable, sustainable and lower cost renewable energy sources including hydropower facilities. However, in early 2023, the USDA unilaterally repealed the exemption with little notice and despite widespread objection.  This resulted in a sweeping reversal of policy and, consequently, renewed denial of reasonable access to important resources for Alaskans. The USDA's actions also ignores the multiple use mandate for our national forests that supports the access today’s lawsuit challenges.

The Coalition's legal challenge to the repeal of the Alaska exemption to the roadless rule is about the right of access to Alaska's resources.  The application of the one-size-fits-all 2001 Roadless Rule has severely impacted the social and economic fabric of Southeast Alaska communities. Alaska and Southeast Alaska are very different from other states under roadless rule designations.  The Alaska exemption that was approved by the federal government in 2003 and 2020 reflect the acknowledgement that Alaska is unique and limited road access is necessary not just as it relates to timber, but for tourism, mineral production, renewable energy, but also and importantly, providing access to residents for subsistence, recreation, and other important community, economic, cultural, and social activities.  Interestingly, due to a 2016 Tongass Forest Plan, timber harvest in this region is currently prohibited.  Reinstatement of the roadless rule exemption would not change that and this litigation does not seek to amend or reserve the 2016 Tongass Forest Plan.

The State of Alaska is also challenging the USDA's repeal of the Roadless Rule exemption for the Tongass.  RDC and the Business Coalition filed this complaint in support of the State's challenge.  Briefing on the matter is expected in 2024.

Who is the Coalition? The following statewide associations, Southeast communities, utilities, Alaskan businesses, and former Governor Frank Murkowski oppose the roadless rule because it blocks access for responsible resource development, including minerals necessary for a clean energy transition, and less costly, more sustainable energy from hydroelectric facilities. 

  • Alaska Chamber 
  • Alaska Electric Light & Power Company
  • Alaska Marine Lines, Inc.
  • Alaska Miners Association
  • Alaska Power & Telephone
  • Associated General Contactors of Alaska 
  • Boyer Towing Inc.
  • Coastal Helicopters, Inc. 
  • First Bank, Alaska
  • First Things First Alaska Foundation
  • (Former) Governor Frank H. Murkowski
  • Greater Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce
  • Hyak Mining Company 
  • Juneau Chamber of Commerce 
  • Resource Development Council of Alaska, Inc.
  • Samson Tug and Barge Company, Inc.
  • Southeast Alaska Power Agency 
  • Southeast Conference 
  • Southeast Stevedoring Corporation 
  • Temsco Helicopters, Inc.
  • The City of Craig, Alaska
  • The City of Ketchikan, Alaska
  • The Ketchikan Gateway Borough, Alaska 
  • Tyler Rental, Inc.

Documents and Related Links: 

For more information on Alaska's resource industries, please use the following links: