Trout Unlimited volunteers and Washington Conservation Corps members install 115 trees and shrubs along the North Fork Teanaway River on Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019.

Last year after a minimal public process, the outgoing Trump Administration finalized a plan to exempt Alaska’s Tongass National Forest from the 2001 National Forest Roadless Rule despite overwhelming public comment in support of the rule and its long-standing protections for fish and wildlife. If implemented, the rule change would repeal conservation measures for more than 9 million acres of the forest, making currently protected lands available for expanded industrial clear-cut logging of old-growth trees and construction of expensive and highly subsidized logging roads.

However, now President Biden has put forward an effort to reinstate National Forest Roadless Area Conservation Rule protections for the Tongass National Forest recognizing the overwhelming support for these protections. More than 600 hunters, anglers, recreationists, conservationists, faith leaders, local businesses and elected officials have weighed in supporting roadless area protections here in Washington state over the past two decades.

A common complaint I hear about our legislators in Washington, D.C., is that they don’t take into account what local people think and want. A statewide 2019 poll commissioned by Trout Unlimited found a majority of likely voters in Alaska opposed efforts to repeal the Roadless Rule and strongly supported efforts to protect salmon, the salmon industry and high-value salmon streams in the Tongass. Twenty-six percent of the people in the Tongass area derive their livelihoods from guiding, outfitting and fishing and have testified that they don’t want the changes.

The 17 million-acre Tongass areais America’s last true salmon forest. It produces more salmon than all other national forests combined.

So what does this have to do with Washington state? What happens in Alaska will matter here. If the plan to eliminate all 9 million acres of pristine old growth forests in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest is successful, you can be sure that Washington state’s 2 million acres of roadless areas will be under attack next. These include areas like the headwaters of the Teanaway River and currently protected roadless forests along the Cle Elum River in Kittitas County. Local members and volunteers from the Icicle, Yakima River Headwaters and Yakima River Flyfishers Chapters of Trout Unlimited know that we need to keep these roadless area protections intact. If we don’t, the result will cancel out the financial and boots-in-the-river investments that have been made to support recovery of our local salmon.

The 2001 Roadless Rule, created almost 20 years ago, was a balanced policy that over a two-year period garnered more than a million comments and hosted 600 public meetings. More than 1.6 million Americans weighed in to create the rule with 95 percent of them supporting it. The Roadless Rule keeps wild landscapes intact by prohibiting commercial logging and roads in undeveloped areas. In doing so, it saves taxpayers money and it preserves drinking water, fish and wildlife habitat and recreation areas.

We all understand how important our fish are to our economic livelihood, local communities, and culture. We need to defend our considerable investment in protecting and restoring our local salmon populations by guarding their habitat, including roadless areas. If we can’t save our last salmon forest in the nation’s largest and most intact national forest, how will we be able to save our own salmon?

Pat Hesselgesser is chair of the Washington Council of Trout Unlimited, which includes three local chapters in Kittitas, Chelan and Yakima counties.