9th Circuit Voids Four Timber Sales on Alaskan Tongass National Forest

As was pointed out in this post, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has invalidated four U.S. Forest Service (USFS) logging projects on the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, which would have clearcut 1,700 acres of old-growth rainforest and constructed about 14 miles of logging roads.

Jon and Andy have shared additional information about this issue over here, so please check that out.

Below is a press release I got from Larry Edwards of Greenpeace. A copy of the ruling is here.

ANCHORAGE – A unanimous verdict of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has invalidated four U.S. Forest Service (USFS) logging projects in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, the nation’s largest national forest, ending a ten year legal battle. Greenpeace USA and Cascadia Wildlands filed the suit in 2008.

The decision permanently stops four timber sales that would have clearcut 1,700 acres of old-growth rainforest — habitat that is critical to deer, which are the primary prey of the rare Alexander Archipelago wolf (or “Islands Wolf”), and vital to subsistence hunters. The lawsuit focused on all three — deer, wolves, and hunters.

“But the victory is for more than deer, wolves and hunters,” said Larry Edwards, a representative of Greenpeace and resident of Sitka, Alaska. “It also protects many other kinds of wildlife in those areas, diverse forest uses, and carbon that is stored in the soil, trees and vegetation. As a far-north coastal rainforest, fires are rare and very small here, and as a result the Tongass is world-renown for storing carbon in its soil, trees and vegetation.”
At issue in the litigation was how the Forest Service determined impacts of the logging projects on Sitka black-tailed deer, and consequently wolves and hunters.

The Court concluded that the agency’s modeling of deer winter habitat “does not accurately measure forest structure [and] was too unreliable to be used.” It also said the “USFS failed to explain why it was authorizing the projects despite lower-than-recommended deer habitat capabilities.” (The recommended minimum capability is specified in the Tongass Forest Plan.)
In voiding the agency’s approvals of its four projects, the court noted that in “over a decade of litigation … USFS has been given multiple opportunities to correct flaws in its project analysis and ignored the court’s guidance.”

“The Forest Service was handed a clear message today that it cannot fudge the science in order to give its projects an ‘easy pass’ and sell excessive amounts of timber from a planning area,” said Chris Winter of Crag Law Center, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys. “The Islands Wolf is a rare species in Alaska’s rainforest, and it’s vital that the agency follow the best science on how to protect it and how to provide for the needs of deer hunters.”
“The Forest Service has scheduled two of the projects in our lawsuit to be logged in 2019. The court’s verdict invalidating the decisions comes just in time.” said Gabriel Scott of Cascadia Wildlands.

“The Forest Service greatly overestimated the habitat available for deer, and consequently underestimated the impacts of logging, not just in the four projects in this case but in every one of its timber project decisions made between 1996 and 2008,” Edwards said. “This justified logging which should never have happened. Greenpeace and Cascadia have demonstrated, with the agency’s own documents, that its computer models were flawed. For recent projects the USFS has corrected those errors, but it refused to do so for the earlier ones,” he said.

Together, the four projects would have cut 33 million board feet of timber from 1,700 acres of old-growth forest, and about 14 miles of logging roads would have been constructed.

Attorneys representing the plaintiffs were Chris Winter and Oliver Stiefel of Crag Law Center based in Portland, Oregon, and Rene Voss of Mill Valley, Ca. Plaintiffs are grateful to the McIntosh Foundation for supporting the Islands Wolf litigation, from the beginning.

12 thoughts on “9th Circuit Voids Four Timber Sales on Alaskan Tongass National Forest”

  1. Well, maybe there will be a really dry summer on the Tongass and they could get a good “wildfire” started.. It is much better to burn our forest, especially old growth, than it is to see any logs going to any sawmill. We all know the timber industry is basically corrupt and evil. I can hardly wait for next summer so we can spend millions more burning up more of the last of the old growth. Once again, at least the timber industry didn’t get them. I know the smoke and all is bad for our health, recreation, and outdoor cultural events, but it is worth it when you look at the benefits of killing so many trees at once. No pesky NEPA documents needed either. And spending all that money, keeping the forest closed to the public, hey, what could be better.

    • Interesting comment Bob, especially as it relates to the temperate rainforest that makes up the Tongass National Forest. Here’s a map showing the location of the four timber sales. I’ll bet you a $100 that none of these areas burn in a wildfire next year, or in our lifetime.


  2. Deer populations in significant areas of the Tongass are declining indeed.

    Here’s some scary thoughts (but apparently only if you lived here on the Tongass for the last 3 and a half decades like me.)

    The Petersburg Ranger District (PRD) has long since distinguished itself for getting the cut out at all costs, including its retaliations against USFS biologist, Glen Ith, who successfully appealed the Scott Peak and Outlook timber sales.

    Glen died suddenly at the height of a protracted PRD campaign of intimidation harassment, and humiliation ON FALSE CHARGES. The District Ranger executing this campaign in violations of the Whistleblower Act was subsequently promoted to Forest Supervisor elsewhere. The Thorne Bay Ranger District also lost an otherwise healthy, and well loved biologist to sudden death while he was in the midst of retaliatory reassignment after he tried to raise habitat issues on his District..

    The PRD’s timber program has utterly decimated high volume old growth essential to winter deer survival. The population crashes on previously prime habitat long-famous for producing trophy bucks began in the late 60s and early 70s and continues in both the central and southern Tongass to this day.

    Immediately after “getting the cut out” during the infamous 50 year Pulp contracts the entirety of Mitkof Island was closed in the early 70s to hunting.

    17 years later, it finally reopened, but to this day, Mitkof island retains the most restrictive deer season in the entirety of the Tongass National Forest (2weeks w/ limit of 1 buck). This of course, has been used to implement “intensive management” on decimated wolf populations.

    Not being satisfied with that unnatural disaster of rank mismanagement, the PRD then heavily logged Lindenberg Peninsula on the adjoining island of Kupreanof. The most recent timber sale known as “Tonka”, subsequently registered the coup de grace there too, resulting in the entirety of Lindenberg peninsula also being reduced and restricted to a two week/1buck hunting season.

    When a ten member investigation team of the Washington Office reviewed the PRD’s execution of the Tonka Timber sale, they found rampant maladministration and failures to prevent timber theft. That timber sale resulted in, among many other gross violations, nearly $2 million in lost revenues to the Petersburg borough through failures to enforce the contract terms.

    Remarkably, the corruption remains in place with zero evidence of personal or professional accountability to the perpetrator line officers signing off on these environmental and professional high crimes.

    There’s nothing left to speculate about such a history as that.

    And there’s nothing more disheartening and disgusting than reading the vacuous, bloviating, and transparently ignorant agency apologists’ opinions here regarding what happens in our backyards on the Tongass in this “New Century of Forest Planning”. There’s nothing “new” about this century of forest planning, other than an acceleration of our collective descent into oblivion — abetted by denialists.

    It’s all I can bear sometimes to return to this site (same as it ever was, deny, deflect, degrade). But I do this in defense of the public trust and the many honored public servants within the agency who sacrificed their careers and retirements and /or literally died in defense of the public trust.

    These are irrefutable, historically documented truths. We’re recounting personal, social, environmental, and economic tragedies propagated by an utterly corrupt and captured agency.

    • I am kind of curious. Any ideas where that “stolen” timber went.
      Yes, I think we all get discouraged by the paths our forest management has taken. But it is good to keep your sense of humor too.
      One other point I am kind of curious about. Deer are browsers. Often old growth forests really don’t offer much to browse on. (I don’t know the Tongass). Often open spaces, clearcuts, can. (If herbicides aren’t used post harvest.)

  3. Here’s what the Alaska Department of Fish and Game says:

    “Clearcut logging has and will continue to further reduce deer carrying capacity in some areas…

    Of more concern, habitat capability and deer numbers are expected to decline in some areas as large tracts of previously logged areas reach the closed canopy stem exclusion stage and become extremely poor deer habitat.”

    (And are there “some areas” where everything is “just right?” I’m wondering what the natural range of variation is for young forest and deer numbers.)

    • Better get a screen shot of that ADFG admission of the truth of the matter because it’s likely to be disappeared into oblivion with the incoming new governor.

      Alaska’s constitution gives extraordinary power to the executive branch, and underwhelming lip service to “sustained yield” of wildlife, fish, forests and grasslands. There are lots of inferences to the public trust doctrine but zero verbiage to go to court with as landscapes are reduced to rubble and scrub.

      Most importantly, AK’s constitution is steeped in ‘50s-era extractivism, like there was no tomorrow and no finite limits of resources or atmosphere long before climate change ever showed up on any legislative radar.

      Extractivism maintains raw resource export colony status for all who live on the plantation.

      “Just right” is all about what it takes for Sitka blacktail deer to thrive, which is all about how they’ve adapted to a specific set of natural conditions of coastal temperate rainforests. Change those conditions of structure, function, and composition and the deer along with many other old growth dependent species will no longer thrive. Plant, and animal diversity matters — a great deal.

      Those natural conditions involve the structure of multi-layered UNEVEN AGED (“coarse”) canopy structure— a primary component being large old growth trees (and understory) of specific composition and diversity. Multi layered coarse canopy provides essential interception functions of both rain and snow. In most areas of the Tongass, many FEET of rain (not a typo) and snow are usual.

      Sitka blacktail are not large deer and can’t handle large stretches of even shin-high snow without sacrificing huge energy reserves as well as becoming much easier prey for wolves. This means there needs to be a high level of elevational and lateral connectivity to high value habitat in order to survive. Even age management is antithetical to natural conditions of OG.

      Under natural conditions of OG, the primary disturbance regime is dominated by wind throw and to a lesser extent landslides. These disturbances result in limited, relatively small patch sizes across the archipelago averaging 1-10 acres.

      Any large area interruption of the canopy such as roads and clear cuts creates impassable stretches in deep snow, which then add to an already naturally fragmented mosaic landscape of waterways and muskegs and alpine meadows.

      As ADFG notes, even aged clear cuts even when thinned over regular 20year intervals, cannot support old growth dependent species due to successive stem exclusion. Biologists estimate 2-3 centuries may (If at all) allow for the full restoration of structure, function, and composition of OG.

      The agency knows this. The PRD knows this. Most of the public doesn’t know this, because the elected power structures in place and their lapdog press propagate extractivism at all social, environmental, and economic costs.


Leave a Comment