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Logging Halt in Nation's Largest Forest Could Help Climate Change Fight

A timber harvest plan would have covered 1.8 million acres of land on Prince of Wales Island in the Tongass National Forest. (Steve Sadowski/Flickr)
A timber harvest plan would have covered 1.8 million acres of land on Prince of Wales Island in the Tongass National Forest. (Steve Sadowski/Flickr)
March 19, 2020

SEATTLE -- A federal judge has blocked a logging project in the nation's largest forest and conservation groups say that's a big win in the battle against climate change.

The judge put a temporary injunction in place against a project that would have opened logging on 1.8 million acres in Alaska's Tongass National Forest.

U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington is one of the forest's staunchest supporters.

Patrick Lavin, Alaska policy adviser for Defenders of Wildlife, says logging this old-growth forest would do great damage to the country's climate-action efforts.

"It's an important carbon sink, and approaches like this that remove that sink are going to make it all the worse for climate change," he points out. "So it's a disturbing proposal from a climate perspective."

The U.S. Forest Service originally approved the logging plan for the next 15 years, but only gave "vague" details on where logging would take place, according to the court.

The federal judge in this case found the Forest Service's approval of this project violated the National Environmental Policy Act, due to the lack of public engagement, and the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, which requires federal agencies to consider how public land uses will affect subsistence needs.

Earthjustice attorney Tom Waldo says the court exposed how poorly the Forest Service prepared for timber sales in this case.

The court will decide over the next several weeks what the permanent remedy should be, and Waldo says he'll argue that no timber sales should be allowed to go forward.

"Until the Forest Service does a proper environmental analysis that gives local residents and other users of the national forest a meaningful opportunity to participate in decisions about where the timber will actually be logged," he stresses.

Last year, Cantwell introduced in Congress the Roadless Area Conservation Act, largely to protect the Tongass National Forest from road building in projects such as this.

Disclosure: Defenders of Wildlife contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Endangered Species & Wildlife, Energy Policy, Environment, Public Lands/Wilderness. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA