In Wrangell, there have been some heated and confusing meetings regarding changes to a federal rule in the Tongass National Forest. 

So the city asked the U.S. Forest Service to explain its existing management plan. The idea is to better inform the public about the environmental regulations already in place.

Carol Rushmore, Wrangell’s Economic Development Director, says without understanding the Tongass Plan, there’s no way for community members to have a grasp on what a full repeal of the Roadless Rule would mean.  

“In a lot of areas nothing would change because of the underlying LUD, land use designation, that the Forest Service had on it.  In other areas there were questions. Would this affect habitat? How would this affect watersheds?” Rushmore says.

The city did submit comments to the feds in support of a full repeal, in large part because it felt the Tongass Plan had enough protections on its own.

But it recognized some members of the community have outstanding questions about a whopping 500-page document that governs the Tongass National Forest. Even if you’re an active user of these forest lands, you probably don’t know the plan by heart. So the city requested a Forest Service-led workshop to make things clear. 

Clint Kolarich is the local district ranger. He doesn’t expect anyone to absorb the whole document. But he hopes the workshop will get folks acquainted with how to pick up and apply the existing plan.

“I want to make it like a scenario based workshop so that everyone can use the forest plan document to find the guidance for the scenario, so a little on the job experience so to speak,” Kolarich says.

One scenario could be building a new Forest Service cabin on the island. The participants would figure out, according to a number of factors, if that activity is permissible.

“Can we do that anywhere? Do we have to do NEPA planning to look at the environmental effects of what we would be doing to the ground before we can even build the cabin?” he says.

The Forest Service holds plenty of public meetings. It’s required by the National Environmental Policy Act to inform and get feedback from the public on any large scale changes within federal lands. 

But this workshop is giving an understanding of what’s already been written. Making the tough, well-informed decisions is down the road.

The workshop is in city chambers on January 23. The session starts at 6pm.