Federal Judge Blocks Logging in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest

September 26, 2019 Updated: September 27, 2019

For the second time this year, a federal judge in Alaska has blocked the Trump administration’s resource development plans in the far north, this time halting a move to make thousands of acres in America’s largest national forest available for logging.

U.S. District Judge Sharon L. Gleason of Anchorage issued an injunction Sept. 23 that temporarily stops the administration from allowing tree-harvesting on 42,500 acres of temperate rainforest in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest.

The restraining order came the day before the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) was scheduled to begin reviewing bids on an initial offering of 1,156 acres of trees. In March, the USFS said it intended to make 2.2 million acres of forest available for logging and to allow road construction on the remaining acreage. Two months later, environmentalists sued to prevent the policy from moving forward.

Environmentalists were delighted to learn of the court decision.

“Today’s preliminary ruling is a victory for wildlife and proper management of our nation’s irreplaceable forests,” Patrick Lavin, senior Alaska representative at the Defenders of Wildlife said, according to The Hill newspaper.

“Moving forward with this initial sale would have ignited 15 years of clearcutting that would further destroy and fragment the remaining ancient forest habitat on Prince of Wales Island,” Lavin said. At more than 2,500 square miles in size, Prince of Wales Island, located in the Alexander Archipelago in the Alaska Panhandle, is the fourth-largest island that is U.S. sovereign territory, when Puerto Rico is included.

“In a victory for the Tongass National Forest, today’s court ruling has spared nearly 1,200 acres of irreplaceable old-growth rainforest from chainsaws and roads—at least for now,” Olivia Glasscock, an attorney with Earthjustice, which represented the successful plaintiffs in the case, said in a statement. Earthjustice is a San Francisco-based environmentalist public-interest law firm whose motto is: “Because the earth needs a good lawyer.”

“This is only the beginning,” she said. “A total of 42,500 acres of temperate rainforest still hangs in the balance and we will continue working on behalf of our clients to defend these irreplaceable public lands, which safeguard our climate, provide habitat for wildlife and offer enjoyment for all.”

Commentator Donny Ferguson, who supports the Trump administration’s logging policies, wasn’t pleased.

“Science shows allowing timber harvesting makes forests healthier,” Ferguson, president of Americans for a Better Economy, an Alexandria, Virginia-based nonprofit organization, told The Epoch Times.

“It removes diseased trees and dead wood fire fuel,” he said.

“Opponents of timber harvesting are largely rich urban coastal elites who donate millions to the socialist groups who file these lawsuits. This hurts the ecosystem in a drive to kill jobs, downsize the economy, and advance socialism. They’re making our forests sicker, spreading disease, and fueling wildfires. Once again, we have to ask ‘Who will save the Earth from environmentalists?’”

The ruling also came after Gleason decided in a separate case on March 29 to invalidate President Donald Trump’s Executive Order 13795, removing then-President Barack Obama’s bans on oil and natural gas exploration in the Arctic Ocean and on the North Atlantic coast. In League of Conservation Voters v. Trump, Gleason, appointed in 2011 by then-President Barack Obama, found that Trump violated the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) of 1953.

In the current case, cited as Southeast Alaska Conservation Council v. U.S. Forest Service, Gleason ruled that the plaintiffs “have demonstrated that they are very likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary injunctive relief.”

On an interim basis, the court blocked the USFS from allowing the “cutting of trees, road construction, or other ground-disturbing activities” in the affected areas. The court also ordered USFS not to move forward with taking and reviewing bids for logging rights in the forest.

“Based on the foregoing, Plaintiffs have established that they will suffer irreparable harm if the harvest—particularly of old growth trees—authorized by the Twin Mountain Timber Sale occurs,” Gleason wrote.

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