Appeals court strikes down logging plan for Alaska's Tongass
A federal appeals court today struck down a management plan that allows logging on roadless areas in Alaska's Tongass National Forest, handing environmentalists...
Los Angeles Times
A federal appeals court today struck down a management plan that allows logging on roadless areas in Alaska's Tongass National Forest, handing environmentalists a victory in a long-running battle over wild lands in the world's largest intact temperate rain forest.
In a wide-ranging decision, the 9th circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that a 1997 plan adopted by the U.S. Forest Service under the Clinton Administration exaggerated the demand for Tongass timber, failed to take into account the impact on wildlife and didn't adequately consider options that called for timber-cutting in fewer roadless areas.
"This is a huge win," said Niel Lawrence, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the conservation groups that challenged the plan in court. "It stops in its tracks what many people think is the most expensive, shameful and unjustified use of public lands in the country."
A Forest Service spokesman said the agency was reviewing the decision, which temporarily blocks a pending logging project and requires managers to develop a new plan for the Tongass. "We're going to spend the next couple of weeks assessing all our options," said Tongass spokesman Dennis Neill. "We're going to be deeply engaged in it, but fortunately we don't have to have answers to all the 1/8issues3/8 today."
The largest national forest in the United States, the Tongass covers 17 million acres in southeast Alaska, of which more than 9 million acres are without roads. About half the roadless areas are forested, and the Tongass has been at the forefront of battles over the preservation of roadless wildlands. The Tongass fight helped inspire a 2001 Clinton administration order barring timber-cutting and other development on roadless national forest lands across the country.
The Bush administration in 2003 exempted the Tongass from those protections. This year, it tossed out the rest of the Clinton road ban in favor of a still-evolving program that gives states a greater say over the fate of roadless areas in national forests.
The 1997 management plan for the Tongass allowed logging on 3.9 million acres, 60 percent of it roadless -- although the Forest Service says logging was slated for only 330,000 of those acres. When the Bush administration withdrew the Tongass protections, the 1997 plan came back into play and a coalition of conservation groups filed suit to block timber-cutting in the roadless areas.
A federal district court in Alaska ruled against them, upholding the Forest Service plan. Today's opinion by the 9th Circuit reverses that decision and sends the case back to the lower court.
The appeals panel concluded that environmental documents prepared by the Forest Service for the 1997 plan were "misleading" because they wrongly interpreted an analysis of the market for Tongass timber, saying it was twice the actual estimate.
The Forest Service had admitted the error but argued the market data was not that important in shaping the 1997 plan -- a contention the appeals court rejected.
"Common sense, as well as the record, tells us that the Forest Service's assessment of market demand was important for its determination of how much timber is allowed to be cut It is clear that trees are not to be cut nor forests leveled for no purpose," the judges wrote.
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