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Court Ends Lawsuit Over Roadless Rule
Final judgment reinstates rule protecting intact forests while allowing hydropower, transmission lines, and mining to proceed


May 25, 2011

(SitNews) - Anchorage, Alaska – Tuesday the U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska entered a final judgment in a case involving intact, roadless areas of the Tongass National Forest.  The case was brought by a Native village, tourism businesses, and conservation groups.  The judgment reinstates the Roadless Area Conservation Rule in the Tongass.  The “roadless rule” blocks expensive and controversial new logging roads and clearcuts in intact forests while allowing other economic development—including hydropower, transmission lines, mining, and tourism projects—to proceed.

Plaintiffs in the case, 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 were represented by Earthjustice and the Natural Resources Defense Council in the case.

Commenting on the final rule, Mike Jackson with the Organized Village of Kake said, “The roadless rule strikes the right balance for our community and will help us move forward.  It protects our traditional uses while allowing new access to inexpensive, reliable hydropower." Jackson said, “The remaining intact forests around Kake 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.  The roadless rule will limit further losses of intact forest while allowing construction of the Kake-Petersburg intertie and future hydro projects we need to foster economic development.” The Organized Village of Kake is the tribal government for Kake, Alaska.

“The roadless rule also helps with the transition toward more economically viable and sustainable management in the Tongass,” Jackson added.  “In Kake, we have been working with the Forest Service to plan for stewardship projects and small-scale timber sales from the existing road system that would actually benefit our community.  The Forest Service has figured out that roadless area timber sales don’t work any more, because the roads are way too expensive.  That money is much better spent to restore streams and forests from past damage, and to maintain the existing roads.”

“The roadless rule will help small businesses like ours,” said Hunter McIntosh of The Boat Company, which operates a small tour business in the region.  “The natural values of intact watersheds are essential for the visitor industry in Southeast Alaska. Very few folks will pay to go see clearcuts and decaying logging roads.  There are more than 3,200 jobs in Southeast Alaska in recreation and tourism.  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.”

Earlier in a prepared statement U.S. Senator Mark Begich (D-AK) had commented on the proposed Alaska Roadless Rule Settlement Agreement. “Alaska’s timber industry has suffered its share of setbacks and the last thing it needs is more misguided federal regulation. The Roadless Rule is a bad fit for our state and nothing in this agreement to halt litigation improves conditions for this important industry."

Begich said earlier of the proposed agreement, “I appreciate that Secretary Vilsack and the plaintiffs recognize the importance of hydropower development, mining and personal use wood policies to the economy of Southeast Alaska. However, what I have read of the agreement doesn’t offer any certainty that there won’t be more challenges and delays. Our experience over the past decade suggests there will be."

“With lots of demands on the Tongass National Forest, the Forest Service needs greater flexibility to address these issues while crafting a reasonably-sized timber sale program that keeps the few existing mills alive and allows for modest growth into second growth markets. Instead of adding options, the Roadless Rule takes them away," said Begich.

Begich said on May 12th, “Over the next few days and weeks, I’ll be talking with the other members of Alaska’s congressional delegation and residents of Southeast Alaska about our options.”

U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) also recently questioned U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell on the potential consequences for the economy of Southeast Alaska of the proposed court settlement that would impose roadless protections on the Tongass National Forest.

“The court decision on the roadless rule holds the economy of Southeast Alaska hostage and it must be dealt with and I remain unconvinced that the settlement agreement proposed by the Forest Service resolves anything because other groups are still free to legally challenge individual project decisions,” Murkowski said.

In March, a federal judge reinstated a 2001 roadless rule prohibiting logging and road construction in the Tongass after environmental groups filed a lawsuit. That decision reversed an exemption provided to the Tongass by a previous administration. To resolve the lawsuit, the Forest Service proposed reinstating the roadless rule while allowing a small number of renewable energy projects to proceed. Murkowksi said this agreement offers no protection for 27 hydro project proposals currently being reviewed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission or 150 other potential hydro sites within the Tongass.

Murkowski said earlier the terms of the proposed settlement will further strangle Southeast communities by limiting their ability to lower their energy costs through the development of hydropower or to boost economic activity by developing mineral and timber resources in the Tongass.

“What this court decision means for the timber industry is very troubling. I don’t need to tell you that industry is hanging on by a thread,” Murkowski said.


Read the final judgment here:

05/24/11 Final Judgement United States District Court of Alaska (pdf)


Sources of News: 

Organized Village of Kake
The Boat Company
Southeast Alaska Conservation Council
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski
U.S. Sen. Mark Begich


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