Tongass National Forest, Alaska. The Orion North timber sale would have clearcut the heart of the last major roadless watershed in Thorne Arm, part of the Tongass National Forest. (Chris Waltrip)
The Orion North timber sale would have clearcut the heart of the last major roadless watershed in Thorne Arm, on Revillagigedo Island near Ketchikan in the Tongass National Forest. The watershed provides important old-growth habitat connecting Misty Fjords National Monument with the valuable coastal habitat along Thorne Arm.
The Forest Service attempted to proceed with the timber sale on the basis of a ten-year old environmental impact statement. In the preceding decade, prices for Tongass timber had plummeted while the costs skyrocketed. At the same time, significant new information and research related to deer and wolves, yellow cedar decline and climate change, endemic species, and invasive species shows the impacts of the timber sale may be more significant than the Forest Service previously anticipated. The Forest Service refused to consider this information and proceeded to offer the timber sale anyway.
In March 2009, Earthjustice asked the court to put a halt to the timber sale and road construction until the Forest Service takes the new information into account. On July 13, 2009, Secretary Tom Vilsack approved the award of a contract for this timber sale, making it the first roadless timber sale authorized since the Secretary issued an interim directive providing that he would review all decisions allowing logging in roadless areas of our national forests.
In December 2009, a U.S. District Court judge issued an injunction blocking the sale and ordering the Forest Service to reevaluate the project in light of rising costs and diminished revenues. Rather than fight this decision on appeal, the Forest Service abandoned the project and canceled the timber sale and road contracts, effectively safeguarding the Sea Level Creek watershed for the foreseeable future.