Judge won't allow new timber sales in roadless areas of Tongass

Posted: Wednesday, June 12, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A federal judge on Tuesday halted new timber sales in roadless areas of the Tongass National Forest until the U.S. Forest Service finishes work on a court-ordered environmental impact study.

Plaintiffs in the case, including the Sierra Club, asked for the hearing in U.S. District Court in Anchorage to get Judge James Singleton to clarify an order he issued on April 26.

Singleton decided in April that five pending timber sales, the Upper Carroll, South Lindy, Four Leaf, South Arm and King George, could proceed. The sales contain about 62 million board feet of timber in the Craig, Ketchikan and Wrangell areas.

But those were the only exceptions the judge made in an order that otherwise prohibited the Forest Service from permitting timber harvest or road building in roadless areas until 45 days after the study is completed.

Plaintiffs in the case -- which focused on 19 Tongass timber sales in remote areas -- wanted clarification on what the judge's order meant for future timber sales. Singleton found Tuesday that his April order did prohibit the Forest Service from allowing for additional timber sales in the roadless areas until the agency completes the study, said Jim Ustasiewski, an attorney for the Forest Service in Juneau.

Singleton ordered the study in March 2001. Ustasiewski said the study should be done by the end of the year. A draft study is undergoing public comment.

Deirdre McDonnell, a lawyer who argued the case for the group Earthjustice, said Tuesday's decision underscored the judge's wish to have ''a fair and full consideration of all the areas.''

A call to the Alaska Forest Association in Ketchikan was not immediately returned.

The Forest Service had argued that the agency was still revising the study and did not need to manage roadless areas as wilderness while it was still working on the plan.

The judge ruled last year that the Forest Service violated federal law when it failed to consider some areas for wilderness designation in issuing the 1997 Tongass Land Management Plan. He issued a temporary injunction that halted logging in the forest for nearly two months.

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