Lawsuit challenges Tongass timber sale

Conservation groups allege NEPA violations

Eight conservation groups sued the U.S. Forest Service in federal district court in Anchorage on May 7 to halt a massive timber sale that includes acres of old growth timber in Tongass National Forest, contending violations of the National Environmental Policy Act.

The litigation also accuses the Forest Service of failure to comply with the agency’s own management plan for the Tongass, and that the massive old-growth and second-growth logging project in the nation’s largest and wildest national forest would harm habitat and wildlife, harm the region’s tourism industry and reduce opportunities for outdoor recreation.

Forest Service spokesperson Dru Fenster said declined comment, saying that the federal agency does not comment on pending legal action.

The Forest Service has approved logging of 67 square miles on Prince of Wales Island to be accessed by 164 miles of new roads over a period of 15 years. While the agency has yet to determine specific locations for any of these activities, the forest supervisor signed off on the final environmental review for the project in March.

Plaintiffs in the case, which has been assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason, include the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, Alaska Rainforest Defenders, Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, Alaska Wilderness League, National Audubon Society and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Defendants, in addition to the Forest Service, include Region 10 Regional Forester David Schmid and Earl Stewart, forest supervisor for the Tongass.


“This is a brazen attempt by the Forest Service to rewrite the rules for timber sales and it comes at the expense of a vast amount of habitat on Prince of Wales Island,” said Thomas S. Waldo, a staff attorney in Juneau for Earthjustice, which is representing the plaintiffs. It is important to people and communities in the area for hunting and fishing, recreation and tourism.”

“It’s the biggest timber sale project anywhere in the national forest system anywhere in the last 30 years,” Waldo said. “They did that with one thin volume of an impact statement. They did that because they didn’t disclose where they are going to cut the trees and they didn’t disclose where they are going to build the road, and they sure didn’t disclose what the impacts would be, nor did they give people a chance to comment.

Waldo said plaintiffs’ attorneys planned to talk with the Forest Service, but if they want to proceed with a timber sale before the court issues a final judgement that a preliminary injunction would be sought.