Forest Service announces plans to withdraw destructive Tongass old- growth timber sale

[Below is a press release from the Greater Southeast Alaska Conservation Community, Cascadia Wildlands, Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace, the Alaska Wildlife Alliance and Crag Law Center dated October 12, 2015. – mk]

PETERSBURG, Alaska – In a federal court filing last Friday the U.S. Forest Service announced it will withdraw its decision on the Mitkof Island Project, a large 35 million board foot timber sale. The project is in the center of the Tongass National Forest, near the communities of Petersburg and Kupreanof.

Petersburg District Ranger Jason Anderson signed the Forest Service’s decision in March. In May five environmental organizations filed the lawsuit, GSACC v. Anderson. They are the Greater Southeast Alaska Conservation Community, Cascadia Wildlands, Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace, and the Alaska Wildlife Alliance. The organizations are represented by Chris Winter and Oliver Stiefel of Crag Law Center (Portland) and Gabriel Scott.

“Faced with the realities brought forth in our lawsuit, the Forest Service is withdrawing its authorization of the Mitkof project rather than defend it in court. This is a victory for old growth, wildlife, and subsistence hunters, although we don’t yet know whether the agency will attempt resurrecting the project with future planning,” said Cordova-based Gabriel Scott of Cascadia Wildlands.

At issue in the lawsuit is the harm caused by logging old-growth and to the species dependent on old growth forests including Sitka black-tailed deer-an essential resource for subsistence hunters-the Alexander Archipelago wolf, and the Queen Charlotte goshawk. Petersburg resident Becky Knight of GSACC said: “Mitkof Island has been hard hit by 60 years of industrial logging. Subsistence hunters from the community rely on deer as a primary source of protein, but for years have been faced with critically low deer populations and severe harvest restrictions. This area of the Tongass needs a long period of recovery, but this sale targeted some of the few remaining stands of important winter deer habitat.”

Randi Spivak with the Center for Biological Diversity said, “During the planning process for this sale, the Forest Service tried to downplay and hide from the public the full scope of the damage this logging would cause.” Spivak added: “The agency initially told the public this was a ‘small sale’ involving only a local logging opportunities, but the project ballooned to a major timber sale designed for a large regional or out-of-state timber operator.”

“The Forest Service must take a hard look at the environmental consequences of its actions, especially with respect to species like the deer and the goshawk that depend on old-growth forests,” said Oliver Stiefel of Crag Law Center. “In a rush to approve yet another major old-growth timber sale, the Tongass National Forest brushed aside these environmental concerns and fast-tracked the project.”

In the court filing, the Forest Service asked for an extension of the briefing schedule in the case to give the agency time to formalize its withdrawal notice. The extension request is for 60 days.

7 Comments

  1. Well, here’s one way of not having to admit defeat in court and avoiding the messy outcome of case law around “Integrated Resource Timber Contracts.” The deregulators’ irrational exuberance is only matched by their line officers’ penchant for overreach.

    Then again why not? Break the law and never be held personally or professionally accountable? Besides, it’s a quicker and more assured path up the career ladder of a captured agency.

    Shame on the “deciders” and their claims of “caring for the land and serving people.”

  2. “Break the law? Proof?”

    That’s what the courts are for; that’s what the taxpayer-paid agency’s taxpayer-paid, legal defense counsel counseled: withdrawal of decision, precluding a judicial finding of wrongdoing.

    Instead, we have a captured agency allowing the profligate waste of millions of our tax dollars in the wrongful pursuit of attempting to circumvent NEPA, NFMA, and APA, to name a few laws, and which will likely spend millions more…

    As is evident in comments by agency apologists on this blog, and whom rarely cite the legal costs of federal lawbreakers, this will occur while blaming NEPA for unnecessary, expensive, and time consuming analyses while operating in utter disregard of past, present and future socio-economic and environmental consequences to nearby rural communities.

    A cursory review of the agency maltreatment, intimidation, and harassment of its whistleblowers, and the hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer-paid reparations to those whistleblowers will provide yet more evidence of the captured state of this agency, and the utterly ineffectual, if not overtly negligent oversight of the supposedly independent agencies of OIG, etc.

  3. “Captured agency”? by who? The environmental community?
    “Disregard of past, present and future socio-economic and environmental consequences to nearby rural communities”, are you talking about the result of ending access to our public resources by our local rural communities? The devastation that was brought about by the Northwest Forest Plan and the endanger species act?

    • “Captured agency”? by who? The environmental community?”

      You’re close.
      More accurately these days, the answer is: captured by select foundation funders of the Gang Green wing of the environmental movement itself.

      These well paid grantees leverage their name brands in order to get a cut of the action by greenwashing and functioning as foundation lobbyists and agency PR shills protecting business as usual pitched to the public variously as, “stewardship and restoration,” “market based solutions,” etc. etc.

      Foundation Trustees balance their fiduciary obligations to protect and grow the foundation coffers with “win-win solutions” (sic) handily championed by their grantees.

      More often than not, these foundation coffers are fed by investments in environmentally destructive industries, and indeed, feature CEO alumni of recidivist corporate criminals among the trustee ranks.

      For instance, the “environmental” multibillionaire, Gordon and Betty Moore foundation (GBMF) launched out of its starting blocks with John “Mick” Seidl as its environmental programs director. Seidl was former president and CEO of Enron; member of the board of governors of The Nature Conservancy; and chairman of Pacific Lumber; and president of its parent company, Maxxam. (remember the Headwaters?) The first GBMF President himself was former chairman of Banc of America Securities, having already held top management positions in Wells Fargo and another “too big to fail” collaborator in the Great Recession of 2008, Bank of America.

      So it should come as no surprise then, that GBMF is quite fond of collaborationists such as Trout Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy, and other “pragmatists” protecting business as usual and foundation investments, while simultaneously abandoning the foundation of environmental principles and integrity. That’s the substance of agency capture I’m invoking here, besides the obvious: the timber industry itself.

      Now, the outcome known as the Northwest Forest Plan (1994) predates most of these previously mentioned scandals. but its worth remembering, NEPA, and the ESA were signed by Republican President Richard Nixon — which serves as an important benchmark for just how radical the ideological shift of the Republican party has veered these days.

    • Bob your example is a couple thousand miles south of where we are. There are no endangered species in the Tongass to speak of, so if the ESA is the devastating thing then all the more reason to avoid a wolf listing. Rural access to resources was front and center in our suit– the important resource here is access to subsistence deer. That access is severely curtailed by loss of deer habitat. If a guy wants to cut and mill a tree, then he has ample opportunity to do so. If a guy wants to make money doing that, well then that’s a different story: he needs a big federal subsidy because the markets aren’t there.

      Some were asking for proof the agency broke the law. Without a decision by a court we’ll never have an answer to that. But on the ground, the proof is a collapsing wolf population, collapsed deer population, and almost total restriction on deer hunting on the island. Facts on the ground absolutely bear out the underlying truth that the Forest Service has not done a good job managing forests to accommodate rural access to resources.

  4. It’s possible that fresh eyes in the form of Earl Stewart, who replaced Forrest Cole as Tongass Supv, saw things differently — ie why pursue yet another contentious, costly OG sale when Tongass is trying to accomplish transition to second-growth?

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