Federal appeals court affirms decision in favor of Forest Service in Logjam lawsuit
October 31, 2011
In its decision Friday, the 9th Circuit found that the U.S. District Court properly granted summary judgment to the Forest Service. The 9th Circuit, summarily rejecting the plaintiffs’ arguments, held that the plaintiffs failed to show that the Final Environmental Impact Statement under the National Environmental Policy Act was flawed, or that the Forest Service failed to take the requisite “hard look” at the environmental consequences of the Logjam Project.
The Ninth Circuit held that the Logjam Project, which includes several timber sales, complied with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, which requires federal agencies to assess the impacts of activities on federal lands.
The court found that the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) that the Forest Service prepared took a “hard look” at the environmental impacts of the project, which provides for timber harvest on 3,422 acres of forestland and the construction of 22 miles of roads on Prince of Wales Island.
At stake was the future of the Viking Lumber Co., a family-owned small business that has been one of the largest year-round employers on Prince of Wales Island since 1994. More than 100 jobs in Alaska and Washington state were at risk. Without the “Logjam” timber sales that were given final approval under this ruling, Viking Lumber Co., the only mid-sized mill operating in Southeast, would not have had enough timber to continue operations and the economies of several Alaskan communities would have been negatively impacted.
Viking Lumber Company of Craig, which with the State of Alaska intervened in the case on behalf of the Forest Service, had already purchased the Diesel timber sale when the lawsuit began and subsequently purchased the Slake timber sale. Both sales are part of the Logjam Project. Several groups that brought the lawsuit (the Tongass Conservation Society, Greenpeace Inc., and Cascadia Wildlands) sought to stop the timber sales throughout the course of the suit but the court allowed the sales to continue during the suit.
Alaska Attorney General John Burns welcomed the news that the Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit affirmed Judge Timothy Burgess’s U.S. District Court decision upholding the “Logjam” timber project.
The State intervened in this lawsuit brought by Tongass Conservation Society, Greenpeace, and Cascadia Wildlands, seeking to stop U.S. Forest Service (“Forest Service”) timber sales associated with the “Logjam” project. The project authorized the logging of 3,422 acres of forest, and the construction of five miles of permanent roads and 17 miles of temporary roads in the Tongass National Forest on Prince of Wales Island in Southeast Alaska.
In a prepared statement U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski said, “I congratulate the U.S. Forest Service on coming up with a successful template for responsible timber sales in the Tongass National Forest.” She said. “Now that the Logjam sale has been cleared by the courts, the Forest Service should take this opportunity to help Southeast Alaska’s struggling economy by offering new timber areas for sale. Additional timber sales would also help bring the Forest Service closer to meeting the 224 million-board-feet goal agreed to under the Tongass Land Management Plan.”
Given the commitment on the part of the Tongass National Forest to enhance and diversify local economies in Southeast Alaska in support of the Transition Framework, Forest Service officials said they pleased with the outcome of the court case, which will allow Logjam timber sales to continue unimpeded.
Edited by Mary Kauffman
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