Environmental groups sue over Tongass timber sale

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Three environmental groups are going to court to try and stop a particularly contentious timber sale of old-growth trees in the country’s largest national forest.

Greenpeace, Cascadia Wildlands and the Tongass Conservation Society filed the lawsuit Monday in U.S. District Court in Anchorage. It alleges that the U.S. Forest Service failed to comply with federal environmental laws in approving the Logjam timber sale last year in the Tongass National Forest.

The lawsuit alleges that the Forest Service failed to consider the Logjam timber sale’s impact on wolves, deer and salmon in that part of the Tongass. It asks the court to force the Forest Sercice and its contractors to stop work on the project on 3,422 acres and send it back to the agency to make it comply with federal laws.

Attorneys for the agency in Juneau were evaluating the lawsuit and it was too soon to comment, said Ray Massey, Forest Service spokesman for the Alaska region.

The Forest Service in December put about one-third of the Logjam timber targeted for harvest out for bid. Viking Lumber Co. was the only bidder. Critics maintain that the Logjam timber sale was designed to keep Viking, one of the few commercial timber mills still operating in southeast Alaska, in business.

“The ink is barely dry on the final offering and already these groups are chomping at the bit to destroy production and prosperity,” said Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska.

Young said the timber sale would provide between 251 and 356 jobs and he will work to ensure the project goes forward, despite the lawsuit.

The Forest Service last year approved the Logjam timber sale on Prince of Wales Island at 73 million board feet — near the high end of several options. The decision angered environmental groups that worked with the Forest Service and wanted half that amount.

The groups that filed the lawsuit were not among those that negotiated with the Forest Service on Logjam.

The area already is heavily logged, the groups said, and wildlife need the old-growth buffers that remain for shelter and safe travel.

Carol Cairnes, president of the Tongass Conservation Society, said she explored the groves last fall.

“Without this old-growth, the deer have little shelter in the winter. Then the wolves are short on prey, and people are short on subsistence meat,” she said.

Of concern to the groups is the impact on Sitka black-tailed deer, the primary food source for Alexander Archipelago wolves. The subspecies of gray wolf has been considered for listing under the Endangered Species Act. The lawsuit states that the Forest Service’s environmental work ignored how the loss of habitat will affect deer and wolves.

The groups also take issue with the miles of roads required for the project. According to the lawsuit, five miles of permanent roads and 17 miles of temporary roads will be needed.

Cascadia Wildland’s Gabe Scott said the logging roads on Prince of Wales Island are in disrepair and are killing salmon because of blocked culverts. The Logjam area already contains 125 to 151 miles of Forest Service roads, the lawsuit said.

“Roads, especially badly maintained ones, are salmon killers,” Scott said.