by Gabe Scott, Cascadia Wildlands House Counsel
Photos by Jacob Ritley, Tongass Groundtruth Expedition, 2016. Thanks to LUSH Foundation for their generous support.
Southeast Alaska's Alexander Archipelago is made up of thousands of islands large and small. Small boats and floatplanes are the dominant modes of transportation.
Old-growth clearcutting is ongoing this summer on the Big Thorne timber sale, Prince of Wales Island.
by Alaska Legal Director Gabe Scott [updated 9/8]
Tongass at the Crossroads
Wrangell Island – Scraping the barrel
Prince of Wales Island
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 29, 2016
Gabe Scott | Cascadia Wildlands | email@example.com | (907) 491-0856
Tom Waldo | Earthjustice | firstname.lastname@example.org | (907) 500‐7123
Niel Lawrence | Natural Resources Defense Council | email@example.com | (360) 534‐9900
Buck Lindekugel | Southeast Alaska Conservation Council | firstname.lastname@example.org | (907) 586‐6942
Catalina Tresky | Defenders of Wildlife | email@example.com | (202) 772‐0253
Virginia Cramer | Sierra Club | firstname.lastname@example.org | (804) 519‐8449
U.S. Supreme Court Denies Effort to Overturn Tongass National Forest Protections
Court leaves rules in place that protect Tongass rainforest
wildlands from damaging logging, road construction
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Supreme Court today declined to hear a last‐ditch effort by the State of Alaska to exempt America’s largest national forest from a national rule protecting undeveloped, road‐free national forest areas from logging and road construction. The State sought to overturn a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that kept the Roadless Area Conservation Rule in effect in the vast Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska. The Ninth Circuit agreed with a federal District Court in Alaska that the Bush administration improperly exempted the Tongass from that landmark conservation measure.
“The Tongass’ roadless rainforests are a national treasure, and the last, best intact wildlands in our bioregion,” said Gabriel Scott, Alaska legal director for Cascadia Wildlands. “We are pleased with the court’s decision and the recognition that it is a privilege, not a burden, to conserve these national treasures for future generations.”
A coalition including the Organized Village of Kake (a federally recognized Alaska Native tribe), tourism businesses, and conservationists joined the federal government in urging the Supreme Court to leave the lower court rulings intact.
“Today’s court order is great news for Southeast Alaska and for all those who visit this spectacular place,” said Earthjustice attorney Tom Waldo. “The remaining wild and undeveloped parts of the Tongass are important wildlife habitat and vital to local residents for hunting, fishing, recreation, and tourism, the driving forces of the local economy. The Supreme Court’s decision means that America’s biggest national forest—the Tongass—will continue to benefit from a common‐sense rule that applies nationwide.”
“It feels terrific to put this case to bed once and for all,” added Niel Lawrence, senior attorney and Alaska Director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Punching clearcuts and logging roads into America’s last great rainforest wildland produced nothing but controversy, conflict, and uncertainty. The region can now move ahead on a path that benefits from and sustains the fabulous natural values that attract people to the Tongass. And all Americans can celebrate, knowing that we’ll pass on the crown jewel of national forests to future generations as wild and wonderful as it is today.”
“Southeast Alaska has moved on,” said Buck Lindekugel, Grassroots Attorney for the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council. “Clearcutting old‐growth forests in the remote wildlands of our region, with expensive new logging roads no one can afford to maintain, is a thing of the past. We are pleased to see the Supreme Court put this issue to rest and call on the State of Alaska to do the same.”
“The Supreme Court’s decision today is a victory for wildlife in the Tongass National Forest, the state of Alaska, the region and the nation,” said Peter Nelson, senior policy advisor for federal lands for Defenders of Wildlife. “The Roadless Rule protects the wildlands that form the heart of America’s largest national forest within the most expansive temperate rainforest in the world. Future generations will now have the opportunity to experience the majesty of this ecosystem and the salmon, bears, wolves, birds and the myriad wildlife that depend on it.”
“The Roadless Rule protects our intact ancient forests that salmon, bears, and wolves depend upon. Alaska’s temperate rainforest is a treasure and today’s decision will help keep the Tongass protected from more logging and destruction,” said Marc Fink, Senior Attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity.
“We're pleased to see the Roadless Rule upheld again. Over the past decade we’ve seen that the rule works. It has protected millions of acres of forests across the country, ensuring that both wildlife and American families have space to live and explore. In the face of a rapidly changing climate, protecting forests like the Tongass is even more important," said Alli Harvey, with the Sierra Club's Our Wild America campaign in Alaska. "It's common sense to protect this wild national icon for future generations to enjoy."
The so‐called “Roadless Rule” was designed to protect “large, relatively undisturbed landscapes” in national forests from logging roads and clear‐cuts, while allowing other economic development — including hydropower projects, transmission lines, tourism, federally‐financed public roads, and even mining — to continue.
Today’s ruling is good news for the many residents of the region and local businesses who use and depend on the Tongass’ outstanding natural values, as well as visitors who come to see America’s last great rainforest, teeming with fish and wildlife that thrive in its undeveloped roadless areas. Little practical change is expected, however, since even when the Bush‐era exemption was in effect, cost and controversy kept almost all logging out of roadless areas. And last year, a federal advisory committee including representatives of the timber industry and the State formally and unanimously recommended against further logging of those wildlands.
The 17 million‐acre Tongass spans 500 miles of coastal Southeast Alaska, encompassing alpine meadows, deep fjords, calving glaciers, dense old‐growth rainforest, and over 1,000 islands and islets. After much debate and hundreds of thousands of comments, in 2001, the Agriculture Department decided that the Roadless Rule should apply to the Tongass but included special measures to blunt the impact of the rule on Alaska’s timber industry. Not applying the rule, the department found, “would risk the loss of important roadless values” in the Tongass. When the Bush administration reversed course and tried to exempt the Tongass from the Roadless Rule, it relied on factual findings at odds with those that justified its original decision and ignored the economic mitigation package for the Tongass. It asserted, without support, that the rule was not needed to protect Tongass wildlands and would cause widespread economic hardship.
The Ninth Circuit’s ruling — and today’s decision by the Supreme Court not to review that ruling — reinforced the settled rule that federal agencies cannot arbitrarily change policies and ignore previous factual findings simply because a new president has taken office.
Attorneys from Earthjustice and the Natural Resources Defense Council represent the following groups in the case: Organized Village of Kake, The Boat Company, Alaska Wilderness Recreation and Tourism Association, Southeast Alaska Conservation Council,Natural Resources Defense Council, Tongass Conservation Society, Greenpeace, Wrangell Resource Council, Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, and Cascadia Wildlands.
Escaped fish interbreeding with wild salmon, trout or another species;
Health risks to humans;
Economic effects. Harming the domestic fishing industry;
Thursday, July 30, 2015
Liz Judge, Earthjustice, 415.217.2007, email@example.com
Court rejects attempts to exempt the Tongass from the Roadless Rule
by Leila Kheiry, Ketchikan Community Radio for Southern Southeast Alaska
Citing a state study that shows a sharp decline in the wolf population on Prince of Wales Island and surrounding islands, six conservation groups have asked state and federal officials to take steps to help preserve the remaining animals.
Specifically, the six organizations want the state to cancel the upcoming wolf trapping and hunting season on POW, the federal Office of Subsistence Management to cancel the subsistence wolf harvest, and the Forest Service to halt logging activity on the Big Thorne Timber Sale.
Gabriel Scott is the legal director with the Alaska office of Cascadia Wildlands. He said the population numbers for POW wolves has not been clearly known for a long time.
“There’s new data, just come out, with a reasonable population estimate. And it’s much, much lower than it ought to be,” he said. “So that’s the bottom line: The population appears to be crashing on the island, and we can’t afford to let that happen.”
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game last month released a report showing that the number of wolves in Game Management Unit 2 had dropped in a single year from 221 to 89. The numbers are estimates, based on a relatively small study area on Prince of Wales Island.
To get that estimate, the number of wolves in the study area is counted, and that number is expanded to the rest of the game management unit. The estimate of 89 wolves is the midpoint of a range. The population could be as low as 50, or as high as 159, according to Fish and Game.
Gabriel Scott said the only way to get those numbers up is to halt all hunting for the time being, and make sure adequate habitat is in place for the wolves and their main source of food, which is Sitka blacktail deer.
“One of the big pieces of this puzzle that often gets overlooked is the habitat component,” he said. “That’s where the rubber meets the road. The deer population is not high enough to support human hunters and wolves. And when that happens, the wolves are the ones who go.”
Habitat in this case means old-growth forest, which is why the groups want to stop logging on the Big Thorne Timber Sale.
Tongass National Forest Spokesman Kent Cummins confirms that the Forest Service has received the letter from the six conservation groups. He said officials will revisit the issue to see whether there is a need for a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, which is one of the requests in the letter.
“I think, with a sense of urgency, they’ll look at this information,” Cummins said. “If necessary, they’ll proceed with another supplement.”
He said the Forest Service takes its role as a steward of the land seriously. But, he said, it can be a delicate balancing act.
The Big Thorne Timber Sale is a critical project from an economic point of view, and it’s meant to help the timber industry stay afloat as it switches from old-growth to second-growth harvest.
“It gives a multi-year supply of timber there on Prince of Wales, and stability for jobs, and giving local businesses the opportunity to retool and seek new markets for the young growth trees,” Cummins said. “That’s the dilemma.”
He said logging is taking place now on the Big Thorne Timber Sale. Halting that activity immediately while the Forest Service looks into the wolf population report is unlikely without a court-ordered injunction.
And then there’s hunting and trapping.
Ryan Scott is Southeast Region Supervisor for Fish and Game. He said he hasn’t read the letter sent to the state asking for suspension of the coming wolf harvest on POW. However, he said that from the agency’s perspective, there isn’t a conservation concern about that wolf population.
“Even with the lower estimate, the number of animals there, and what we know about the animals there, suggests that they’re viable and they’re going to persist well into the future,” he said.
Ryan Scott said the state’s hunting and trapping season starts Dec. 1, which gives officials time to look into wolf numbers and options for the season. They’ve already reduced the maximum allowed harvest from 30 percent to 20 percent of the estimated population.
“Recognizing that we had such a decline in the estimates, I don’t think it’s very likely that we would open it to the maximum allowable harvest of 18 wolves,” he said. “Where that harvest quota would land, that’s undetermined at this point.”
Gabriel Scott of Cascadia said he doesn’t share the state’s confidence that POW wolves will be OK. He points to the fact that his organization is asking for a halt to the subsistence harvest as evidence of how serious they believe the situation has become.
“Asking to stop a subsistence hunt is a really extraordinary step for us to take,” he said. “It’s the absolute last thing that we would want to do.”
The subsistence harvest is set to start on Sept. 1. A call to the Federal Office of Subsistence Management in Anchorage wasn’t returned.
The six organizations that submitted the letters are Cascadia Wildlands, Center for Biological Diversity, Greater Southeast Alaska Conservation Community, the Boat Company, Alaska Wildlife Alliance and Greenpeace.
See the original article and listen to the radio interview here.