Federal court hearing on Tongass scheduled to start Wednesday

Posted: Wednesday, February 13, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- A federal court hearing will be held this week to look at the impact of an injunction against logging in the Tongass National Forest.

U.S. District Judge James Singleton last month was leaning toward issuing a narrowly-tailored injunction to protect wilderness, but decided an evidentiary hearing was needed first. The three-day hearing is scheduled to start Wednesday.

At issue is whether and how the court should enjoin some timber sales in the Tongass as a court-ordered wilderness review moves forward.

Last year Singleton ruled that the Forest Service violated federal law in 1997 as it updated the Tongass Land Management Plan by failing to consider some roadless area eligible for wilderness designation by Congress. The judge then issued a temporary injunction that halted logging on the Tongass for nearly two months.

Environmental groups are asking the judge for a time-out as the Forest Service completes an analysis of wilderness areas this year, according to attorney Tom Waldo of Earthjustice. Waldo said three of five mills in Southeast have sufficient timber to operate under an injunction.

The Juneau-based environmental law firm is representing the Sierra Club, the Sitka Conservation Society, the Wilderness Society and the Alaska Center for the Environment in the suit against the Forest Service.

''The impacts of the roadless timber sales to wildlife and forest diversity are significant and permanent,'' Waldo said. ''We hope to also show that these areas have high value for solitude and primitive recreation, and also show the economic impacts of what we're requesting will be very small.''

Alaska Forest Association Executive Director Owen Graham said testimony that focuses on five Tongass timber sales will be important for his organization.

''The point is they are desperately needed by the industry to keep the mills open. We were willing to stay out of other areas as a compromise,'' he said. ''An injunction on those five sales would hurt Viking Lumber on Prince of Wales Island and Silver Bay Logging in Wrangell.''

Under court order, the Forest Service is working on a supplemental environmental impact statement that will evaluate roadless areas for wilderness designation. The agency expects to issue a recommendation this fall, according to agency spokesman Dennis Neill.

The environmental groups would like to see a moratorium on timber-sale planning in sensitive areas until the Forest Services wilderness analysis is finished, Waldo said.

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