This past Wednesday, March 11th 2020, a federal judge in the District of Alaska sided with a coalition of conservation organizations, finding the Trump administration’s proposed timber sale in the Tongass National Forest illegal. This important decision comes after the US Forest Service announced plans to open up the Tongass to substantial logging activities, including clear cutting in old-growth forests. Tongass is the the largest US National Forest, the world’s largest intact temperate rainforest, and essential spawning habitat for one third of Alaska’s salmon harvests.
The lawsuit carried out by Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, Alaska Rainforest Defenders, Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, Alaska Wilderness League, National Audubon Society, and Natural Resources Defense Council challenged the legality of the US Forest Service’s logging plan in Prince of Wales Island. The plan would have allowed 23,269 acres of old-growth harvest and 19,366 acres of young-growth harvest; however, the Forest Service’s plan did not identify any specifics on where this harvest would have taken place.
The presiding Judge, Sharon L. Gleason, previously issued a temporary injunction on the timber sale back in September 2019, because the plan was lacking specifics. Well this week, Judge Gleason in the Court’s decision found that this plan violates three federal laws–the National Environmental Policy Act, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, and the National Forest Management Act. The plan violated the National Environmental Policy Act, which is binding on the agency, because it: “[defers] siting decisions to the future with no additional NEPA review.”
Patrick Lavin, Alaska policy advisor, Defenders of Wildlife, had this to say: “This decision protects thousands of acres of high quality fish and wildlife habitat and the sustainable industries that rely on it. It also upholds the public’s right to basic information about proposed uses of our national forests, and the impacts of those uses on our shared public resources.”
While this court decision only involves logging on Prince of Wales Island, the issue of the Trump administration’s proposal to exempt the Tongass National Forest from the Roadless Rule remains. However, this is a substantial win for the Tongass’ incredible ecosystem and all the wildlife it supports.
Photos curtesy of Brandon Hill, Trout Unlimited