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A Petersburg federal wildlife biologist and a national whistle-blower group have joined forces to challenge new roads built in the Tongass National Forest without environmental studies.
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Glenn Ith, a biologist for the Petersburg Ranger District, sued his bosses Tuesday over their decision to rebuild a 1970s-era logging road needed to access a proposed 5.1 million-board foot timber sale area on Mitkof Island, approximately 15 miles south of Petersburg.
"I could not believe what they were doing out there," Ith said Tuesday afternoon. Though Ith was working on a wildlife analysis for the timber sale, called the Overlook project, he said he didn't know the Forest Service was reconstructing the logging road until he got a tip about it.
Petersburg District Ranger Patty Grantham said the road-building is underway as part of normal maintenance and, as such, didn't require its own public notice or environmental analysis, she said.
The rebuilding was described in the environmental assessment for the proposed Overlook sale, Grantham said.
The Forest Service has withdrawn the environmental assessment for the Overlook sale so it can correct its language about the road work, Grantham said.
The Forest Service's new study of timber options is available for public review at: http://www.fs.fed.us/pnw/pubs/brackley/index.shtml.
"We could have done a better job describing the kinds of road work we were doing out there," Grantham said.
The lawsuit, filed by Ith and the Eugene, Ore.-based Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics at the Anchorage branch of U.S. District Court, alleges violations of the National Environmental Policy Act.
The lawsuit doesn't just target road work in the Overlook timber sale area.
The Forest Service is also unlawfully "pre-roading" a series of proposed timber sales in the Ketchikan Misty Fiords Ranger District, according to the Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics.
The lawsuit targets the rebuilding of three old logging roads, without public notice, within the Ketchikan district's proposed Traitors Cove 16 million-board-foot timber sale, about 25 miles north of Ketchikan.
The road projects illustrate a continuing policy issue on the Tongass, said Andy Stahl, executive director for the Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics.
"Is it worth spending tax dollars to build roads to timber that isn't worth very much to begin with?" Stahl asked. "No private landowner could do that and stay in business," he said.
Elizabeth Bluemink can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.