The suit made its way to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which found that the Forest Service grossly exaggerated demand for Tongass timber and failed to explore options for cutting trees outside of the forest's pristine roadless areas. The court ordered the agency to rewrite the management plan.
"The Forest Service should be cutting taxpayer losses instead of cutting roadless areas," said Tom Waldo, the Earthjustice attorney who represented the plaintiffs. "The settlement agreement protects the roadless areas of the Tongass until the Forest Service completes the new forest plan, so the trees will still be standing in the places that are most important for hunting, fishing, wildlife, recreation, and tourism. That makes it possible to adopt a new plan that will protect the remaining wild, natural areas of the forest, that will recognize the greatly reduced demand for logging on the Tongass, and that cuts the huge taxpayer losses that the Tongass suffers every year."
Waldo also sounded a note of caution about the future: "Unfortunately, the Forest Service has now proposed a new draft plan that would allow logging at a level about six times the current demand, located overwhelmingly in roadless areas. We can hope that public outrage will persuade the agency to reject this misguided proposal, but if the agency continues in this direction, we will be there to defend the roadless areas of America's premier rainforest."
The Forest Service is accepting public comment on its new management plan until April 30, 2007.
The Tongass National Forest spans 17 million acres in southeastern Alaska and is the world's largest temperate rainforest. The forest is home to old growth spruce, hemlock, and cedar forests, wolves, bears, salmon, moose, bald eagles and many other plants and animals. The forest also provides fish and game for subsistence use by Alaska natives.
Most roadless areas in the Tongass were protected by the Clinton era roadless rule until the Bush administration came into office and reopened the areas to logging at the insistence of the timber industry and Alaska's two senators and single congressman.
The Tongass is also home to the biggest timber subsidies in the nation, with American citizens losing roughly $45 million a year to subsidize logging companies in the area -- mostly by building new, unneeded roads. Since 1982 Congressional handouts for logging in the Tongass National Forest have cost taxpayers nearly $1 billion.
The lawsuit was brought by the Organized Village of Kake, Natural Resources Defense Council, Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, National Audubon Society, Center for Biological Diversity, Tongass Conservation Society, and Sitka Conservation Society, all represented by Earthjustice and NRDC.
Tom Waldo, Earthjustice, (907) 586-2751