Attorney: Tongass old-growth logging "plain violation" of environmental law

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The U.S. Forest Service now faces a lawsuit from eight environmental non-profits claiming the agency failed to follow federal regulations in creating its environmental impact statement for a project that includes old-growth logging on Prince of Wales Island.

In March, Tongass National Forest Supervisor Earl Stewart signed a record of decision on the Prince of Wales Landscape Level Analysis project.

The project covers 1.8 million acres and includes management activities ranging from hundreds of miles of stream improvement, three new cabins, and a dozen shelters. The project would also allow logging up to 225 million board feet of old-growth timber over 15 years.

In March, Stewart told KTUU the project is a "holistic effort to recognize all resources and resource needs," and that it was formed with all communities on Prince of Wales.

The suit claims the Forest Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act, Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act and the National Forest Management Act.

"The agency is required to take a hard look at specific impacts of an action in specific places. So you can't just generalize across the whole island and say, 'well, we'll log somewhere.' You have to say we're going to log here and here, and this is what the impacts of logging those particular places are going to be," Tom Waldo, staff attorney with Earthjustice said. "This is a brazen attempt by the forest service to rewrite the rules for timber sales."

Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law organization, is representing 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.

Waldo says the problem with the environmental impact statement is that it provides neither specific location information nor the impacts to specific areas.

"It certainly doesn't provide any kind of analysis that the impact of those actions are going to have on people or the environment in the area," Waldo said. "And that's a plain violation of decades of settled environmental law."

Waldo says the nonprofits are seeking to stop any further logging or road construction in the project area until the forest service goes through a process that complies with the law.

"Our hope would be that the agency makes a much more rapid transition away from old-growth logging," Waldo said. "Prince of Wales Island has been one of the most heavily logged areas in the entire Tongass. It's had way too much logging already. There's already constrained habitat that has caused restrictions on subsistence hunting of deer, there are problems with the wolf populations due to inadequate prey from deer. So this island has had enough already and its time to end the old growth logging program there."

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