Six conservation and native groups joined together to challenge a timber sale in Southeast Alaska’s Tongass National Forest that violates the roadless rule. The Threemile timber sale would cut roughly 19.5 million board feet of timber on northeast Kuiu Island. The groups are represented by Tom Waldo of Earthjustice’s Juneau office.
“Threemile is a classic example of the kind of logging that doesn’t make sense for the Tongass,” said Southeast Alaska Conservation Council conservation director Buck Lindekugel. “The Forest Service keeps pushing timber sales in roadless wild lands where logging hurts local communities instead of helping them.”
Portions of the Threemile timber sale would be the first Tongass wild lands to be logged that were formerly protected from roadbuilding and logging under the 2001 Roadless Rule. In late 2003 the Bush administration removed the Tongass from the protections of the roadless rule. In addition to SEACC, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity, The Wilderness Society, and the Organized Village of Kake, a federally recognized indian tribe, join in this legal challenge.
The Threemile project area is an important customary and traditional use area for the 550 inhabitants of nearby Kake. “Kuiu is the heart of our traditional lands,” said Scott Jackson, a Kake hunter and tribal member. “We’ve gotten deer, fish, shellfish, and greens from the island for generations.”
Jackson said that unsustainable logging on Kuiu and Kupreanof Islands over the last fifty years is one cause of the severe drop in the island’s deer population, which has forced villagers to travel farther to hunt.
“We’re forced to travel longer distances across more dangerous waters at a greater risk to life and property,” he said. “As a result, it’s gotten harder to provide food for our families and village elders.”
Last winter, Jackson’s uncle, cousin, and a family friend drowned after attempting the long open water crossing from Kupreanof Island to Admiralty Island to hunt deer.
In Kake, the timber sale would supply few, if any, jobs or economic benefits. The community saw the end of its own logging days when all the commercial logging equipment owned by Kake’s native corporation was barged south earlier this year.
“I’ve fished the waters off Kuiu Island for years, and I’ve seen first-hand the effects of logging on bays that used to provide phenomenal fish habitat,” said Dave Beebe, a commercial fisherman from Kupreanof. “The Forest Service just has to wake up and realize that you can’t have healthy fisheries without a healthy forest.” He also noted that further roadless logging could hurt the growing ecotourism industry in East Kuiu and Rocky Pass. Lindekugel said that timber sales in valuable habitat and community use areas such as Threemile are partly a result of flaws in the Tongass Land Management Plan, the policy document that guides the Forest Service’s decisions about logging in Southeast Alaska. The Threemile challenge follows a recent ruling from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on a related Tongass lawsuit, in which the court indicated the validity of conservationists’ claims that the Forest Service made a critical error in the Tongass plan by overestimating market demand for Tongass timber.
“Basically, the Forest Service massively overestimated how much wood local mills needed, and how much the world market could absorb,” said Tom Waldo of Earthjustice.
The Threemile complaint raises similar claims in part, pointing to this substantial error and the failure of the Tongass plan to meet its obligation to protect wildlife habitat or even consider a balanced alternative that could meet timber demand while protecting the remaining wild lands and other forest users on the Tongass.
“With this timber sale, fishermen, subsistence hunters, tourism operators, and other Southeast Alaskans would be paying for the Forest Service’s mistakes, and that’s just plain wrong,” said Lindekugel. He added that the Forest Service’s own numbers show that this deficit timber sale could end up costing the U.S. taxpayer nearly $800,000. “Given depressed markets for Tongass timber, the high cost associated with building logging roads on the Tongass, and the Forest Service’s unwillingness to identify accurately the full costs to U.S. taxpayers of the Tongass Timber Program, we expect taxpayer losses to be even higher than the Forest Service estimates,” said Lindekugel.
“A combination of science, indigenous knowledge, and economics all speak to the value of protecting Tongass roadless areas like Threemile,” said Emily Ferry, SEACC community organizer.