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Old 04-10-2001, 03:14 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Wink Tongass roadless area

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Tongass roadless area closer to wilderness designation

Monday, April 9, 2001

The Tongass forest in Alaska may be expanded following the ruling of a federal court.

Wilderness areas in America's largest national forest, the Tongass in Alaska, may be expanded following the ruling of a federal court.
Judge James Singleton of the U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska has ruled that the U.S. Forest Service violated two federal laws when the agency refused to consider any new wilderness areas in the 1997 final environmental impact tatement for the Tongass Land Management Plan Revision. The management plan outlines land and resource management planning over the next decade.

The court order, handed down in a lawsuit brought by Earthjustice on behalf of four conservation groups, prevents the Forest Service from permitting any new roads or timber sales in roadless areas of the Tongass until the agency prepares an environmental impact statement considering wilderness.

Under federal law, only Congress can designate new wilderness areas, but the Forest Service is required to make recommendations on new wilderness proposals when preparing a land management plan.

The four plaintiff groups are the Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, Alaska Center for the Environment and Sitka Conservation Society.

"Finally, we will have a public forum to address whether some of the incredible remaining roadless areas of the Tongass should be designated as wilderness," said Allen Smith of The Wilderness Society.

"What a relief," said Pat Veesart of the Sitka Conservation Society, one of the plaintiffs in the case. "This order spares some of most prized roadless areas in the Tongass from the ax."

He cited timber sales planned for Cape Fanshaw, Cleveland Peninsula, Bradfield Canal, Gravina Island and Cholmondeley Sound as examples of sales the Forest Service will have to cancel to comply with the order.

The order also rejected nearly every challenge raised by the Ketchikan-based Alaska Forest Association, which represents more than 250 members of the Alaska timber products industry.

Tongass National Forest is home to brown bears.
Elizabeth West, director of communications for the Alaska Forest Association, voiced the views of the association May 31, 1996 at a hearing on the Tongass Land Management Plan in Ketchikan.

"What we are dealing with here is political science, not environmental science," said West. "With over 12 million acres of trees and 5.4 million acres in permanent wilderness, parks and monuments, and another 3.7 million acres in roadless conditions, stream and beach buffers, there should be plenty of old-growth reserves, habitat conservation areas and other pseudo-scientific set-asides to do all the research, protection and communing anyone would want."

"More studies and analysis have been done on every other aspect, for every other consideration of TLMP then for the people and communities," West added. "Wasn't anything learned when Alaska Pulp was forced to close its facilities in Sitka and Wrangell. People lost jobs, people lost homes, people had to move away, people lost! And now, where are the studies that show it won't happen again?"

The court order does not affect timber sales in the areas of the Tongass already on the road system.

"This ruling reaffirms our position from day one, that the Forest Service should concentrate on sales of timber in roaded areas and leave pristine roadless areas alone. There are 4,650 miles of existing roads and over 10 billion board feet of timber readily available," said Veesart.

"In Alaska and in the rest of the country, the public strongly supports protection of the remaining roadless areas of the Tongass," said Tom Waldo, an Earthjustice attorney representing the plaintiffs. "In the recent public process for the Forest Service roadless area protection rule, over a million people spoke out in favor of protecting these places from roads and clear-cuts."

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