Environmental orgs sue Forest Service over ‘mammoth’ Southeast timber sale

Agency moving too quickly with too little information, lawsuit asserts

Eight conservation groups filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service this week in an attempt to stop a record-breaking timber project from starting up in Southeast Alaska.

The Forest Service has been working to offer more than 200 million board feet of Tongass old-growth timber over the next 15 years, and the process is nearing completion. The lawsuit, filed Tuesday, asserts that the Forest Service is violating the National Environmental Policy Act and failing to comply with the Forest Service’s own Tongass Management Plan by moving so quickly.

On its website, the Forest Service has described the project — called the Prince of Wales Landscape Level Analysis Project (POW LLA) — as aiming to “improve forest ecosystem health” and to “provide economic development through an integrated approach to meet multiple resource objectives.”

[Congress attempts to strengthen Roadless Rule]

Environmental groups have been skeptical of this explanation, saying that the sale would pave the way for old-growth logging and road-building throughout the region. Conservation advocates have said this would be the largest timber sale in the United States in decades. The Forest Service has approved 67 square miles of logging on Prince of Wales Island, according to a release from conservation groups Tuesday, but has not decided where exactly the logging will take place.

Without a specific plan in place, Earthjustice attorney Tom Waldo said in the release, it’s impossible for the Forest Service to adequately assess the project’s impact.

“The uninformed approach by the Forest Service — approving this mammoth sale before even figuring out the details — is blatantly unlawful,” Waldo said in the release. “This throwback to an old way of doing business is unacceptable and contrary to decades of court decisions.”

Forest Service spokespeople did not comment on the lawsuit. The Forest Service is currently accepting public comment on the project until May 13. People can upload comments to the Forest Service’s website at https://cara.ecosystem-management.org/Public/entInput?project=50337.

Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law organization, is representing 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 in this lawsuit.

Earthjustice has been fighting this sale for a while, having filed a formal objection to the project in December. Environmentalists have argued that large-scale logging and road-building would damage wildlife habitat, impact sport and subsistence hunters and recreational use of the forests.

The proposed sale has earned the attention of organizations throughout the country. Alli Harvey, from the California-based environmental organization Sierra Club, said the Tongass has national importance.

“Tongass National Forest is the crown jewel of our nation’s forest system and it’s no place for logging,” Harvey, Alaska representative for Sierra Club’s Our Wild America campaign, said in the release. “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.”

[Polluting paradise? New sensors will show if Juneau’s air is safe]

Conservation advocates have also argued that logging is not the economic driver that some think it might be. The timber industry currently accounts for less than 1 percent of jobs in the region, according to the annual Southeast by the Numbers report from Southeast Conference and Rain Coast Data.

This project comes at a time when state and federal officials are looking to change regulations relating to construction in Alaska’s forests. The 2001 Roadless Rule blocks construction of new roads on areas including millions of acres of the Tongass, and the State of Alaska and the Forest Service have been in talks about adapting the rule since this summer.

Environmental groups recently scored a win in a decadelong legal battle with the Forest Service. In early December, a federal court invalidated four logging projects in the Tongass that would have cut about 33 million board feet of timber from old-growth forest.


• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at amccarthy@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.


More in News

The badge for the Kenai Police Department
3 charged after Kenai beach assault

Video evidence of the incident and multiple calls from concerned citizens led to the arrests.

A sign announcing the closure of Kenai Peninsula Borough School District schools at K-Beach Elementary can be seen on March 26, 2020, near Soldotna, Alaska. (Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)
School board to vote on 1st day for students

Smart Start plan for KPBSD will be sent to Department of Education by the end of this month

Shawn Dick of Talkneetna carries a fresh catch out of the water while dipnetting on the Kenai Beach on July 10, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)
Dipnetting opens in Kenai

Dipnetters see quiet 1st day, with moderate catch

COVID-19. (Image courtesy the CDC)
49 new COVID-19 cases reported

Seven of the new resident cases reported Thursday were identified on the Kenai Peninsula.

Skylar Giordano cuts Ryan Huerta’s hair at RD’s Barber Shop in Kenai, Alaska on Thursday, July 9, 2020. RD’s is one of the 186 local businesses and nonprofits in Kenai that already received financial assistance through the City of Kenai’s Grant Program. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai boosts local economy with grants

The city has distributed $1.9 million in grants to 186 businesses and nonprofits.

Hospital adds new COVID-19 rooms

The hospital has made several changes or modifications to its facilities.

Salmon Run Series returns

Running races now feature masks, pods and elbow taps

A Homer Volunteer Fire Department emergency medical technician, left, assists a person who was involved in a boat capsizing, center, as they walk up the load-launch ramp on Wednesday, July 8, 2020, at the Homer Harbor in Homer, Alaska. The crew of the F/V Captain Cook helped rescue the person. The crew of the F/V Casino rescued the other two people who were aboard the 14-foot skiff when it capsized near the entrance of China Poot Bay. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)
1 dead, 2 rescued after boat capsizes near China Poot Bay

A 14-foot skiff carrying three people overturned near Gull Island in the mouth of China Poot Bay.

Most Read