Conservation groups sue Forest Service

Groups take issue with 10-year timber sale on Prince of Wales Island

Posted: Friday, October 24, 2003

Conservation groups that have vocally opposed timber sales in the Tongass National Forest are filing suit against the U.S. Forest Service over a 10-year timber contract being offered for bid on Prince of Wales Island.

The lawsuit was due to be filed Thursday in federal District Court in Juneau, said Aurah Landau, spokeswoman for the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council. Earthjustice was filing the suit for SEACC, the Sitka Conservation Society, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club, Greenpeace and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Landau said conservationists are concerned that the Fusion timber sale has not been analyzed properly to determine whether it meets guidelines set out in the Tongass Land Management Plan. The Forest Service composed the 10-year, 38-million-board-foot sale using several smaller sales approved up to eight years ago, she said.

"Since those sales were last analyzed, there have been new forest plans with new standards and guidelines, and the state of the forest and the timber industry has changed," Landau said.

The lawsuit asks that the Forest Service re-analyze the impact of the sale on wildlife and existing uses of the area, she said.

But the Forest Service maintains the sales meet its standards, said Ray Massey, agency spokesman for the Alaska region.

The 10-year sales are a new development. The Forest Service typically offers three-to-five-year sales, but decided to start offering longer-term contracts because they are more economically attractive to mills, officials have said. The Forest Service has argued that a longer contract offers the winning bidder economic stability in an industry just barely surviving in Southeast Alaska.

"Even though it's a larger sale, they are going to have that wood available to them over a longer period of time, so they can take their time, use it as they need it," Massey said.

Landau complained that the trees are being sold at very low prices - $2 for a hemlock, $10 for a spruce and $24 for a yellow cedar.

"There's plenty of timber, but the question is whether it's economical. The whole goal of this thing is to allow the big mills to buy at today's bargain basement prices," Landau.

But Massey said the few mills around Southeast hardly can be classified as large.

Bids on the sale are due Monday. The Forest Service hasn't received any offers yet. Staff at the Alaska Forest Association, a timber industry group, were at a convention Thursday and unavailable for comment.

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