Road ban halted, but SE logging still at standstill

Judge rules that road ban must be amended to prevent harm

Posted: Friday, May 11, 2001

An injunction from a federal court in Idaho stopping a road-building ban on sections of national forest land won't be felt in Southeast Alaska immediately, but could have ramifications here, according to environmental and timber industry groups.

U.S. District Judge Edward J. Lodge ruled Thursday that a Clinton administration rule banning new roads and logging on unroaded portions of national forests needed to be amended or it would cause "irreparable harm."

The Roadless Area Conservation Rule was to have taken effect Saturday with the Bush administration planning revisions in June.

In Southeast Alaska, separate litigation over the Tongass Land Management Plan resulted in U.S. District Judge James Singleton Jr. blocking actions that would alter wilderness areas of the Tongass. In response, the U.S. Forest Service halted logging operations regionwide this spring.

Attorney Tom Waldo of the environmental law firm Earthjustice said Thursday's injunction from Idaho was not a surprise and Bush administration lawyers did not vigorously defend the rule in court. The Idaho ruling will be felt in Alaska if Singleton's injunction on the Tongass is lifted, he said.

"Between the two we'd have no remaining protections on roadless areas of the Tongass," he said.

George Woodbury, acting executive director of the timber industry's Alaska Forest Association, said Lodge's decision is a step toward "a more rational roadless policy" that includes community input.

The AFA hopes Singleton will modify the Tongass injunction so people can go back to work, he said.

"Mills are down and people are on the verge of going down because they're running out of wood. A lot of timber sales are tied up with the Singleton decision," he said.

The state of Idaho's case was one of six lawsuits filed against the roadless policy. Alaska also filed suit. Gov. Tony Knowles spokesman Bob King said the Department of Law will review how the decision will affect the state's case.

"We have steadfastly maintained that (the Tongass plan) is where decisions should be made, in a process that includes communities, the timber industry and environmentalists sitting down at the table and hashing through the issues and basing a decision on science," he said.

Environmentalists said Thursday they plan to appeal Lodge's decision.

The Justice Department is reviewing the order and has not made a decision yet on how to proceed, said spokeswoman Cristine Romano. The department could accept the order or appeal it within two months to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Roadless Area Conservation Rule covers 58.5 million acres of national forest land across the country, including 9.3 million acres in the Tongass and 5.4 million acres in the Chugach National Forest.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Joanna Markell can be reached at joannam@juneauempire.com.



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