Eight Southeast Alaska timber sales are getting much of the attention in a Juneau federal courtroom this week.
U.S. Forest Service officials, timber industry advocates, conservationists and Southeast community leaders were in court today for the second of three days of testimony about a possible Tongass logging injunction.
U.S. District Judge James Singleton ruled last year that the Forest Service violated federal law when it failed to consider some areas for wilderness designation when it issued its 1997 Tongass Land Management Plan. He issued a two-month injunction last year and is presiding over this week's hearing to determine the need for and possible scope of a new logging ban.
So far, much of the discussion has focused on eight timber sales in southern and central Southeast Alaska. Viking Lumber and Silver Bay Logging hope to use five of the sales to fuel sawmills in Wrangell and on Prince of Wales Island this year. Conservationists argue the sale areas are better off left alone.
The Forest Service is working on a supplemental environmental impact statement to evaluate areas for wilderness designation, as required by the court. The review should be complete this fall, according to Department of Justice attorney Bruce Landon, who is representing the Forest Service.
The timber industry hopes to cut wood at Upper Carroll near Ketchikan, King George on Etolin Island near Wrangell, South Arm on Prince of Wales Island, South Lindy near Petersburg and Four Leaf on southern Kupreanof Island this year. Testimony also has focused on the Crystal timber sale near Petersburg, Saook Bay on north Baranof Island and Canal Hoya near Wrangell.
Sitka Conservation Society Executive Director Pat Veesart testified Wednesday that timber harvest and road building would hurt wilderness values in the eight areas. The isolated sites provide wildlife habitat and opportunities for primitive recreation, he said.
"To me, wilderness is a place where one can experience a high degree of solitude," he said. "A place where one can see the Earth as created by its maker."
Alaska Forest Association attorney Jim Clark said the sites don't have the attributes required to be classified as wilderness. Roads already have been built and timber harvest has already occurred, he said.
"Each is a work in progress," he said. "None of the drainages is undeveloped."
Whether the Forest Service should continue planning timber sales as the wilderness review occurs also is an issue of dispute in the case. So is the Swan Lake-Lake Tyee electric intertie. The 57-mile power line would link Ketchikan and Wrangell.
The hearing continues Friday in Juneau.
Joanna Markell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.