The Alaska District Court approved a settlement Wednesday in a series of lawsuits over timber sales on the Tongass National Forest.
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The agreement among conservation groups, mill owners and representatives of the state and the U.S. Forest Service is effective until Tongass officials complete the amendment of the 1997 Tongass Land Management Plan, which is expected in the fall, said Erin Uloth, a public affairs officer for the Forest Service.
The amendment was mandated in August 2005 by the 9th District Court of Appeals because a previous plan severely overestimated how much logging could be done on the forest.
In the agreement, the Forest Service agreed to withdraw documents allowing nine timber sales in roadless areas. In return, conservation groups said they would discontinue litigation on several purchased sales.
The settlement aims to provide enough timber to keep people employed until the final management plan is implemented, while ensuring that wildlife and habitat are kept safe, Tongass officials said in a press release.
"We're happy to be able to keep working. Our existing wood products industry is dependent on timber from the national forest, so it's great to have some wood available for the next year or more," said Kirk Dahlstrom, owner of Viking Lumber, based in Klawock.
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To read the settlement agreement concerning lawsuits over timber sales on the Tongass National Forest, see Global Settlement Signed in PDF format.
A spokesman for the plaintiffs said he also was pleased with the agreement. The plaintiff groups include the Organized Village of Kake, Sitka Conservation Society, the Tongass Conservation Society, the National Audubon Society, the Natural Resources Defense Council, The Wilderness Society, Southeast Alaska Conservation Council and the Center for Biological Diversity.
"This settlement is very practical. For the duration of the agreement, it safeguards important community use areas and wildlife habitat ... while ensuring local mills have the timber they need until the Forest Service completes the forest planning process," said Russell Heath, SEACC's executive director.
Uloth said talks on the agreement began in earnest last fall and were largely aided by concurrent meetings of the Tongass Futures Roundtable.
Not all parties to the settlement were members of the group, but Uloth said that the meetings helped solve controversial issues.
"Collaboration and negotiation are pretty key tools in land management," she said. "That forum has provided an opportunity for them to find some common ground."
Brittany Retherford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog, the Muskegger online.