Six local and national conservation groups, represented by Earthjustice, today filed suit against the Forest Service in US district court in Juneau challenging the Forest Service’s newly proposed ten year timber contracts in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. The groups are concerned that the move toward long-term contracts will give the timber industry an unprecedented opportunity to speculate on forest resources, continue the Forest Service’s history of losing millions of dollars on Tongass timber sales; and give one special interest, timber, long term control over public lands. The Forest Service foresees offering several long-term Tongass timber contracts, a strategy not pursued elsewhere in the country.
The Tongass was managed from the 1950s through the 1990s under a virtual monopoly due to the Forest Service’s obligation to fulfill costly, long-term contracts held by two pulp mills. This era proved disastrous for the environment, as the timber industry logged the most sensitive habitats.
“Now the Forest Service is trying to go back to the days when its hands were tied by long-term contracts without analyzing the environmental effects. The National Environmental Policy Act requires the Forest Service to disclose the environmental costs of this decision and consider public comments before committing public resources out to the year 2013,” noted Earthjustice attorney Deirdre McDonnell.
The Tongass National Forest loses more money on its timber program than any other national forest in the U.S., with recent losses at $35 million per year. Under the proposed long-term sales, the timber industry could bid on contracts now when timber prices are low and hold onto the timber for up to ten years in hopes that prices will increase.
“These timber contracts allow robust timber companies to speculate on a taxpayer-owned resource. Public lands should not be managed as a betting ground for special interests,” said Shannon Collier of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan federal budget watchdog organization.
“Past long-term Tongass contracts left the public with huge deficits, a tattered landscape, and a busted timber industry. The proposed ten year contracts are a disappointing step backwards,” noted Tim Bristol of the Alaska Coalition.
“All forest values deserve equal consideration, including fish and wildlife as well as other businesses that depend upon a healthy forest,” added Corrie Bosman of the Alaska Office of the Center for Biological Diversity, “Plenty of timber is already available to the industry. The Forest Service doesn’t need to offer special deals at the expense of other forest uses.”
Alaska’s Tongass National Forest is the world’s most intact, remaining temperate rainforest. The forest’s centuries-old trees provide critical habitat for wolves, grizzly bears, wild salmon, bald eagles and other wildlife that have disappeared from many other parts of the country. During the last 45 years, the Alaska timber industry has logged over 1 million acres of old-growth forest and built more than 5,000 miles of logging roads in the Tongass.