On Tuesday, July 12, the U.S. District Court for Alaska ordered the Forest Service to halt logging operations under the Yakutat II Timber Salvage Sale until the Forest Service prepares a full environmental impact statement addressing the effects of the project on the Situk River watershed.
“We are very pleased with the court’s decision,” said Bert Adams, Sr., President of the Yakutat Tlingit Tribe. “The Situk River watershed is the Tribe’s lifeblood. For centuries, tribal members have depended on these waters and the area surrounding them for subsistence fishing and hunting. The area has been, and remains, an extremely important part of our culture and way of life. We are very concerned that this project will affect water quality and fish habitat.” Mr. Adams explained.
The watershed is an exceptionally productive river system. It supports a variety of fish species, including five species of salmon, cutthroat trout, and Dolly Varden char. It also contains Alaska’s largest steelhead trout runs, attracting anglers from around the world. The watershed represents over 70 percent of the base economy of Yakutat, supporting strong commercial and sport fishing industries. “Trench” roads in the watershed have diverted water from salmon streams and caused some portions of the streams to run dry. The court’s decision requires the Forest Service to take a hard look at the impacts of building these roads and other impacts of the project.
“The court correctly concluded that the Forest Service cannot sweep important issues under the rug,” said Demian Schane, an attorney with Earthjustice, the law firm that represented the Tribe. “The inexpensive ‘trench’ roads the Forest Service authorized here threaten water quality, stream flow, and ultimately the salmon that are the lifeblood of the region.”