Eight conservation groups, represented by EarthJustice, sued the U.S. Forest Service today to stop logging in the Tongass National Forest.
The lawsuit says the Forest Service, in deciding on a logging plan for Prince of Wales Island, has violated the National Environmental Policy Act and the federal timber management plan for the Tongass.
The Forest Service announced in mid-March that it would proceed with a large timber sales in Southeast. It will be one of the only significant sales that has taken place in decades, since the forest was shut down for most logging by the Tongass Land and Resource Management Plan. The Forest Serve plans to sell timber rights to some 67 square miles on Prince of Wales over the next 15 years.
The plan is a result of “a highly collaborative, public process that included significant input from an independently formed, broadly based group, as well as local tribes, youth and the general public,” according to the Forest Service, which says the purpose of the project is to improve forest ecosystem health and support community economies.
The plan includes up to 200 miles of stream restoration, up to three recreation cabins, 12 new three-sided shelters, 4,500 acres per year of pre-commercial and wildlife thinning treatments, and trail construction and maintenance.
Prince of Wales and the rest of the Tongass was mapped out in 1997 by the Forest Service to include timber sales, wild lands, protection of some areas of old-growth timber, and protect watersheds.
The area has been the subject of twists and turns of political and legal battles between loggers and environmentalists, including the 2001 “Roadless Rule.” In generally, logging has come to nearly a complete halt in Southeast Alaska’s federal lands, although some has proceeded on State- and Native-owned lands. Nearly every sawmill in Southeast has gone out of business, with the exception of Viking Lumber on Prince of Wales.
“This sale is the Forest Service’s end-game for Prince of Wales Island to complete, in combination with major forestland owners, the utter decimation of the island’s forests that it started in the pulp mill era,” said Larry Edwards, president of Alaska Rainforest Defenders and a Greenpeace activist.
“Tongass National Forest is the crown jewel of our nation’s forest system and it’s no place for logging,” said Alli Harvey, Alaska representative for Sierra Club’s Our Wild America campaign and a columnist for the Anchorage Daily News. “An accurate environmental review would have made it clear that this sale would be a threat to Alaska’s extraordinary environment and our tourism and recreation economy and should never take place.”
The lawsuit was filed by Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, Alaska Rainforest Defenders, Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, Alaska Wilderness League, Natural Resources Defense Council, National Audubon Society, and the Center for Biological Diversity.