Timber interests applaud judge's ruling on Tongass

Posted: Wednesday, September 19, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- A timber group is applauding an appeals court ruling that blocks efforts to reinstate a ban on logging in parts of the Tongass National Forest.

A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled Monday that the Sierra Club and other environmental groups could not appeal a May 23 decision by U.S. District Judge James Singleton. That judge had lifted his own ban on logging in roadless areas.

In March, Singleton had ordered that none of the 9.3 million acres of roadless area in the Tongass could be altered. That decision stopped 67 timber sales on 11,500 acres of the forest.

In his May ruling Singleton ordered that ban lifted. He plans to hold a hearing to decide just how much of the roadless area should be left untouched.

Owen Graham, executive director of the Alaska Forest Association, said the environmentalists' appeal was a ''distraction from the real issues that need to be decided.''

Environmental groups have disputed the 1997 revision of the Tongass Land Management Plan, the overall blueprint for the 16.9-million-acre forest.

Congress set aside 5.6 million acres of the forest as wilderness area that cannot be disturbed. In the 9.3 million roadless acres, the plan set aside 296,000 acres are set aside for timber harvesting, said Dennis Neill, Tongass spokesman.

Environmental groups want the Forest Service to expand the wilderness status to additional roadless areas.

Attorney Tom Waldo of the environmental law firm Earthjustice, said the ruling was a minor setback for environmental groups he represents in the suit.

''We will continue to prepare for trial in the district court,'' Waldo said.

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