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Forest Service’s Decision to Clear‐Cut Thousands of Acres of Old Growth Forest is Upheld

Judge approves Big Thorne, the largest old growth timber sale in decades, and the Tongass Forest Plan
Tongass National Forest.

Bears hunt for salmon in the Tongass National Forest.

U.S. Forest Service Photo
March 24, 2015
Juneau, AK —

Today the U.S. District Court in Alaska ruled the Forest Service complied with the law when it approved the Big Thorne timber sale, allowing logging from approximately 6,200 acres of old growth forest, and when it adopted the Tongass Land Management Plan. The decision stems from two lawsuits filed by conservation organizations. In the first case, Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, Sierra Club, Alaska Wilderness League, and Audubon Alaska challenged the Big Thorne timber sale. In the second lawsuit, Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, Sierra Club, Alaska Wilderness League, and Natural Resources Defense Council challenged the Tongass Land Management Plan. Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law firm, represented the organizations in both lawsuits.

The organizations issue the following statement:

The Tongass’ stands of 700‐year‐old trees provide vital habitat for salmon, bears, Sitka black‐tailed deer, goshawks, and the Alexander Archipelago wolf. Abundant fish and wildlife form the basis of the Tongass’ $2 billion fishing and tourism industries. Conservation groups, represented by Earthjustice, challenged the U.S. Forest Service decision to manage Alaska’s Tongass National Forest in a way that allows projects like the Big Thorne timber sale, the largest clear‐cutting project on the Tongass since the 1990s, when two huge mills turned old growth forests into pulp.

Big Thorne is not only the largest old growth timber sale in more than twenty years it was also approved despite the fact that the Tongass timber program operates at an economic loss for American taxpayers. The resulting lawsuits reflect the continued mismanagement of the Tongass and its remaining old growth forests. The Forest Service’s ongoing decision to downplay the harms that sales like Big Thorne have on the Tongass and the region’s vital fishing and tourism industries is not the way to manage the forest.

The district court’s decision today is a setback, but we will continue to push for sustainable forest management that ensures the future of fishing, hunting, and tourism on the Tongass.

QUOTES FROM GROUPS:

“Clear‐cutting thousands of acres of old growth forest is a wasteful and wanton practice that cannot continue,” said Holly Harris, Earthjustice attorney. “The Tongass is a national treasure, but it is also an economic powerhouse for sustainable industries such as commercial fishing and tourism. This kind of large‐scale industrial old growth logging hurts Southeast Alaskans and compromises the environmental and economic viability of the Tongass.”

“The rainforest of the Tongass should be safeguarded for future generations, not given up for unnecessary clear‐cutting. The best path forward, for both the wildlife and the people who depend on the Tongass, is to protect the rainforest and its old growth trees. Moving ahead with plans to log this amazing wild place is incompatible with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s plan to transition away from old growth logging,” said Alli Harvey, Alaska Representative for Sierra Club’s Our Wild America campaign.

“Export based industrial‐scale clearcuts just don’t make sense on the Tongass, where our thriving fishing and tourism economy is based on healthy streams and abundant wildlife,” said Malena Marvin with Southeast Alaska Conservation Council. “Local people would rather see a small, sustainable wood industry that keeps money circulating in our communities while protecting the resources that support our Tongass jobs, fishing, and hunting.”

“Today’s rulings are yet another punch to the gut for the Tongass National Forest and southeast Alaska,” said Kristen Miller, Conservation Director at Alaska Wilderness League. “Continuing to subsidize sales like Big Thorne threatens the viability of the wildlife and scenery that bring one million people to hike, hunt, fish, kayak and tour America’s Tongass each year. Southeast Alaska’s economy has moved on from timber. Instead of continuing to pour money into massive old growth giveaways like Big Thorne, the Forest Service should be investing in the region’s true economic powerhouses of tourism, recreation and fishing.”

“This decision is disappointing for Southeast Alaska,” said Jim Adams, Policy Director for Audubon Alaska. “The Big Thorne sale bulldozed right over the Forest Service’s own guidelines for protecting deer and goshawk habitat. Selling off old growth trees and destroying important habitat for wildlife while losing millions of taxpayer dollars a year is shortsighted and foolish.” 

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