In a significant victory for public forests, eight conservation groups, plus the Alaska Forest Association, Viking Lumber Company, and the United States Forest Service, agreed yesterday to throw out a proposed ten-year contract for the Fusion timber sale in Alaska's Tongass National Forest. The pretrial settlement establishes that long-term contracts are unnecessary and excessive. The parties agreed to shorten the contract duration from ten to five years and to drop the parts of the sale that would have built roads and made clearcuts in an untouched, intact roadless area. The settlement also gives Viking the green light to log the sale's remaining 32 million board feet from areas near existing roads.
"This settlement stops the Forest Service from giving the timber industry a sweetheart deal of a decade-long exclusive claim to public forest land. Shrinking contract lengths down to five years is the right thing to do for other folks who live and work in the Tongass," said Aurah Landau, Southeast Alaska Conservation Council grassroots organizer.
Conservationists also questioned the sense of offering ten-year contracts at a time when operators are canceling many existing contracts due to lack of market demand.
"Locking up the forest with ten-year contracts at the same time operators are canceling many timber contracts violates multiple use principles and is irresponsible. This settlement demonstrates that it is possible for the Forest Service to supply timber to the industry by planning conventional short-term sales on existing roads," said Deirdre McDonnell, an attorney with Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law firm representing the conservation groups in the case.
Conservation groups also contested portions of the Fusion sale that would have logged valuable wildlife habitat in some of the last remaining roadless areas on east Prince of Wales Island.
"Removing the roadless units from this sale is a significant move in the right direction; however, this temporarily spares only one of dozens of Tongass roadless areas under threat by the Bush administration right now, all of which we'll continue to defend," said Kenyon Fields, Sitka Conservation Society executive director.
"This settlement agreement achieves the purposes for which we filed the case and lets us focus our efforts on fighting the continuing onslaught of roadless area timber sales coming out of the Forest Service," added McDonnell.
The Fusion timber sale was a repackaged group of units from east Prince of Wales timber sales that failed to find buyers in years past.
"The Fusion sale, even after this settlement, was sold to a single bidder for pennies per board foot. This is another example of the Forest Service spending large amounts of taxpayer dollars while receiving back only a fraction of the cost from the sale purchaser," noted Landau.
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Tom Waldo or Deirdre McDonnell, Earthjustice (907) 586-2751
Aurah Landau, Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (907) 209-4725
Kenyon Fields, Sitka Conservation Society (907) 747-7509
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