Roadless Rule Reinstated
March 07, 2011
In reinstating the roadless rule in the Tongass, U.S. District Judge John W. Sedwick found the exemption was arbitrary and capricious; however, Sedwick didn't vacate three timber sales authorized under the exemption. He says that decision is left to the Agriculture secretary who at this time is Tom Vilsack.
Sedwick's decision in Organized Village of Kake v. U.S. Department of Agriculture strikes down the 2003, Bush-era decision to "temporarily" exempt the Tongass from the national Roadless Rule, which protects nearly 60 million acres of undeveloped backcountry throughout the national forest system. The court’s decision finds that the Tongass Exemption was illegally adopted and reinstates the Roadless Rule in the Tongass.
The plaintiffs, represented by Earthjustice and the Natural Resources Defense Council, include the Organized Village of Kake, Alaska Wilderness Recreation & Tourism Association, The Boat Company, Sierra Club, Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, Tongass Conservation Society, Greenpeace, Wrangell Resource Council, Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, and Cascadia Wildlands.
"We brought this lawsuit to protect customary and traditional uses from damaging logging proposed by the Bush administration,” said Mike Jackson, Organized Village of Kake. “For Tribal members, these lands are essential sources of food, medicine, clothing, and traditional items for artistic and spiritual use. Our deer hunting and other customary uses of the forest have suffered too much already from past logging,” he added.
The groups had sued the federal government in December 2009 challenging the Bush-era exemption of the Tongass National Forest from the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule. Tongass roadless areas are needed to maintain healthy populations of wolves, bears, goshawks, deer, marten, and five species of Pacific salmon, among other species, and to support jobs in the tourism and fishing industries.
The Associated Press reported that U.S. Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK) says Friday's decision means that the Tongass will be managed by a "cookie-cutter rule" imposed on all national forests and not one specific to the Tongass.
In a prepared statement released Saturday, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) said, “The decision further damages the economy in Southeas.” She said, "The roadless rule was never intended to apply to the Tongass because ANILCA already set logging limits for the forest, as did the Tongass Timber Reform Act. This will make it all the more difficult for the few remaining timber operations that depend on the Tongass and the Forest Service to survive. I intend to do every thing I can to limit this damage.”
However, the plaintiffs do not agree that the economy will be damaged saying the ruling is good news for the thousands of people in Southeast Alaska with jobs in tourism and fishing.
“There are more than 3,200 jobs in Southeast Alaska in recreation and tourism,” said Hunter McIntosh of The Boat Company, which operates a small tour business in the region. “And there are another 3,800 jobs in the seafood industry, which depends critically on salmon spawning streams in the old growth forests of the Tongass.”
Quoting a press release from the Defenders of Wildlife, while strongly supporting jobs in tourism and fishing, the court’s decision will not cause job losses in the timber industry or other economic sectors. The Forest Service is not currently planning to proceed with any roadless area timber sales, but is in the midst of a transition away from old growth logging in the Tongass. Nevertheless, the decision is extremely important to secure this transition and protect against any future backsliding.
The court’s decision specifically found no support for claims that the Roadless Rule hurt local communities and jobs. The rule allows for new highways and for power lines to connect communities in the region states the release.
There were numerous favorable comments from the plaintiffs about the ruling.
Carol Cairnes of the Ketchikan-based Tongass Conservation Society said, "The Tongass is an icon, the last fully functioning national forest ecosystem left, and the only one where wildlife and fish exist in something like the abundance they enjoyed in days gone by. The court’s decision will ensure the protection this ecosystem has always deserved."
"The natural values of these watersheds are essential for the survival of small businesses around Southeast," explained Kent John of the Alaska Wilderness Recreation & Tourism Association. "Very few folks will pay to go see clearcuts and decaying logging roads. This is a great decision for the local economy."
"Intact areas of the Tongass National Forest are the foundation of our unparalleled Southeast Alaska quality of life and of the fish and wildlife that make this forest a global treasure," explained Lindsey Ketchel of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council.
Mark Rorick of the Sierra Club's Juneau Group said, “The Bush administration had no business opening up Tongass roadless areas to destructive industrial logging. We are pleased that loophole has been closed for good.”
"The roadless areas on the Tongass National Forest are critical for providing habitat for wildlife species found only in America's rainforest, and are deserving of strong and permanent protection," said Marc Fink of the Center for Biological Diversity.
“There are so many beneficiaries of this wise decision by the judge, reflected in part by the diverse coalition of organizations that brought the case,” said Defenders of Wildlife Alaska Director Karla Dutton. “As with so many of Alaska's wild places, there is much more to be gained from protecting the Tongass than plundering it.”
Established in 1947 by the local native population, the Organized Village of Kake is a Federally Recognized Tribal Government. Located in the Petersburg's Census Area, Kake is located on the northwest coast of Kupreanof Island in the Alexander Archipelago in southeastern Alaska.
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