Another on the Big Thorne Timber Sale by E&E News…
This seems to me a “clearcut” case of the Forest Service following the law, based on what the judge says. I agree with Senator Murkowski that protracted litigation and appeals are a suboptimal approach to forest policy. At the end of the day, many times, the FS just does more work (as per Colt Summit) and unsurprisingly, no ecosystems have unraveled yet.
Environmental groups are “very likely” to appeal a judge’s decision last Friday to uphold a Forest Service plan to allow more than 6,000 acres of old-growth logging in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, according to the groups’ attorney.
Tom Waldo of Earthjustice said plaintiffs are still evaluating whether to seek an emergency halt to the Big Thorne timber sale pending appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Earthjustice represented the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, Alaska Wilderness League, Sierra Club, National Audubon Society and Natural Resources Defense Council in two lawsuits in the U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska that were consolidated into one.
U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline ruled the Forest Service broke no laws in crafting its 2008 Tongass land-use plan and approving Big Thorne, which allows the harvest of about 150 million board feet of trees, most of them old growth, while also mandating significant restoration and recreation improvements (E&ENews PM, March 23).
The Forest Service and a local mill have previously said they will not start ground-disturbing activities until April 1 at the earliest.
Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) has long supported the Big Thorne sale and cheered Beistline’s decision. But yesterday at an ENR hearing to discuss forestry reform, she warned that “the lawsuit isn’t necessarily over.”
She said she’s fearful that even if the Forest Service prevails on appeal, it could delay logging long enough to put southeast Alaska’s only remaining medium-sized timber mill out of business.
“Some would argue that that’s been the plan here all along,” she said. “Not to just cut it off, but to delay enough that those in the industry just give up. That’s not what forest policy should look like.”