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Environmental groups seeking wilderness protections for the Tongass National Forest have asked a federal judge to reinstate a ban on logging and road-building, pending appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
U.S. District Judge James Singleton on May 23 suspended a logging ban that lasted a month and a half and made plans for an evidentiary hearing on the issue.
Earlier this spring, Singleton ruled that the U.S. Forest Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Forest Management Act when it issued the Tongass Land Management Plan in 1997.
He also ruled subsequent revisions to the plan in 1999 that reduced land available for harvest violated the public review process.
The Sitka Conversation Society, the Sierra Club, the Alaska Center for the Environmental and the Wilderness Society also have asked Singleton to clarify that the injunction applies only to actual roadless areas eligible for wilderness consideration.
Mark Rorick, chairman of the Juneau group of the Sierra Club, said the groups have asked the injunction to be reinstated because logging has been resumed in roadless areas.
"You can build new roads, but you can't build new roadless areas. This logging causes irreparable harm," he said.
As an example, a timber sale in Upper Carroll Inlet near Ketchikan is of particular concern because it features salmon runs vital to commercial fishermen and black bear habitat, he said.
The timber industry can seek supply from roaded areas and private landowners, Rorick said.
Owen Graham, executive director of the Alaska Forest Association, said the court is planning to consider the issue this summer. He said re-imposing the injunction now would add to down time at Southeast Alaska mills and in the woods. A ban on logging interrupts the industry's supply pipeline, he said.
"It's that much more harm to the mills and the employees. The biggest losers are the people that work in the mills and in logging," he said.
Forest Service attorney Jim Ustasiewski said the agency wants the judge to hear evidence about the scope of an injunction.
"Our position is that there should be no injunction and we should continue to manage and administer the Tongass as further analysis is being prepared," he said.
Joanna Markell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.