A new rider introduced by Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) seeks to stymie legal challenges to timber sales in hundreds of thousands of acres of roadless areas of the Tongass National Forest in Alaska. The rider was introduced today at the Senate mark-up of the Interior Department appropriations bill.
If the rider became law, citizens would have just 30 days in which to challenge more than 40 outstanding timber sales, accounting for more than 350 million board feet of timber, before losing forever their chance to go to court over the sales.
“In just thirty days, ten years’ worth of logging on the Tongass could be placed off-limits to any efforts by the public to enforce the laws,” said Tom Waldo, Staff Attorney for Earthjustice in Juneau, Alaska. “The practical effect of this rider is to slam the courthouse doors in the public’s face.”
The Stevens rider would set a 30 day deadline for any court challenges to all timber sales in the Tongass and Chugach for which official USDA Forest Service “Records of Decision” were issued as of January 1, 2003. The 30-day countdown would begin on the day that the new law took effect, impacting at least 43 timber sales covering more than 350 million board-feet of timber.
For dozens of other pending timber sales, where “Notices of Intent” to plan timber sales have been filed as of January 1, 2003 but no Record of Decision has been issued, the 30-day clock would start on the day that the Forest Service decides any administrative appeals of those decisions. More than 476 million additional board-feet of timber is currently planned in such sales.
“Senator Stevens wants the public to decide whether to mount a court challenge to potentially devastating timber sales affecting thousands of acres of pristine old growth forests in just 30 days — the same grace period most of us get to pay our credit card bills,” said Marty Hayden, Legislative Director for Earthjustice.