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Great news on the Tongass August 05, 2005 11:29 PM

The Tongass

Photo: Katerina Zelena
 The Tongass is the largest forest in the National Forest System and contains the largest expanse of temperate rainforest in the United States. Together the forests, shorelines, streams, and rivers provide habitat for more than 300 species of animals, including brown and black bear, Sitka black-tailed deer, wolf, mountain goat, beaver, otter, marten, and five species of Pacific salmon.



To: Earthjustice Supporters
From: Buck Parker, Executive Director
Re: Great news on the Tongass!

Dear Pat,

We had some spectacular news from the Ninth Circuit today that I wanted you to know about right away.

In a case that's been active for nearly eight years, the Ninth Circuit ruled that the Forest Service must correct serious problems in the 1997 Tongass National Forest Land Management Plan. The challenge to the plan centers on the impact of a Forest Service error that doubled its projections of market demand for Tongass timber.  Market demand projections were used to determine the maximum logging level allowed in the 1997 Forest Plan.  The overall effect of this error was to exaggerate Tongass logging levels, and put much more land in logging designations than the agency's own economists found was necessary to supply local mills.

The court's decision states, "Common sense ... tells us that the Forest Service's assessment of market demand was important for its determination ... of how much timber is allowed to be cut.  Given the competing goals to be accommodated under NFMA, it is clear that trees are not to be cut nor forests leveled for no purpose."

Between 1998 and 2004, the Forest Service offered 104 new timber sales; almost 50 percent of the sales did not sell and 70 percent of those that did had only a single bidder.  Furthermore, after Senator Stevens passed an appropriation rider allowing timber operators to return "unprofitable" sales to the Forest Service, 20 sales were returned. Together, the returned sales total 120 million board feet, or enough timber to supply the industry for 2.5 years at recent cutting rates.

According to the Forest Service's latest data, there is enough timber in the existing roaded areas of the Tongass to log up to 96 million board-feet per year in perpetuity. This is more than double the logging levels that have prevailed over the last four years. It is not necessary to sell timber in roadless areas to provide a sufficient supply to the existing mills. Logging also continues on land owned by the State of Alaska, Mental Health Land Trust, University of Alaska, Native corporations and others; however, most of this wood is exported for manufacturing, along with the associated jobs, to other countries. 

The Forest Service's own data indicate that a tree is worth approximately 30 times more if left standing than cut.

The Ninth Circuit sent the case back to the Alaska District Court to decide what specific injunctive relief will be provided pending Forest Service correction of the Forest Plan to determine an appropriate amount of suitable timber lands that is consistent with reasonable estimates of market demand for Tongass timber.  

Earthjustice has been battling to save the best of the Tongass since we began as an organization. This is a great moment, and we send thanks and congratulations to Eric Jorgensen, Tom Waldo, and the rest of the wonderful crew in Juneau. And, as always, we're grateful for your continued support.


Vawter "Buck" Parker
Executive Director

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