Peter Segall | Juneau Empire                                 Earthjustice attorney Tom Waldo speaks with reporters at the Robert Boochever U.S. Courthouse at the Hurff Ackerman Saunders Federal Building in downtown Juneau on Friday.

Peter Segall | Juneau Empire Earthjustice attorney Tom Waldo speaks with reporters at the Robert Boochever U.S. Courthouse at the Hurff Ackerman Saunders Federal Building in downtown Juneau on Friday.

Prince of Wales timber sale goes to court

Environmental review doesn’t meet standards, conservation groups say

The Environmental Impact Statement for potential timber sales on U.S. Forest Service land on Prince of Wales Island fails to meet environmental standards under federal law, a case heard Friday alleges.

The case was brought against the U.S. Forest Service by the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, a Juneau-based environmental group being represented by lawyers from the environmental law firm Earthjustice.

SEACC argued the EIS drafted by the Forest Service failed to meet the standards established under the National Environmental Protection Act, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act and the National Forest Management Act.

Lawyers for SEACC claim that because the exact areas meant to be harvested for timber are not specified, the EIS doesn’t meet the standards for site specific analysis under NEPA.

“The EIS identified which areas within the roughly 1.8-million-acre project area could potentially be harvested over the Project’s 15-year period, but expressly left site-specific determinations for the future,” SEACC’s complaint alleges.

In arguments heard at the Robert Boochever U.S. Courthouse at the Hurff Ackerman Saunders Federal Building in downtown Juneau, Earthjustice lawyer Tom Waldo argued that approving of the EIS would mark a substantial and unwarranted change in how NEPA had been applied in the past.

“The EIS doesn’t disclose the location of any timber sale or any roads to be logged over the next 15 years on Prince of Wales Island, and that is completely inadequate for an EIS. No court has ever upheld an EIS with so little detail,” Waldo told reporters after the hearing.

Arguing on behalf of the Forest Service was Erika Norman, trial attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice. The Forest Service’s methodology in the EIS was sound, Norman told the judge, and said the draft EIS contains maps and specific areas for timber sale. The Forest Service created what it calls “Activity Cards” which detail the various actions that might take place in a certain area.

“Resource concerns are often mitigated by design criteria, as well as adherence to 2016 Tongass Land and Resource Management Plan,” according to Forest Service documents concerning the cards. “All Forest Plan direction and best management practices will be implemented. All other applicable laws and regulations will be followed.”

Norman also said the sales were an effort to bring much economic activity to many of the small mills located in the area which rely on timber harvest for their livelihood.

“The Forest Service has analyzed the overall plan for the project, they have analyzed every logging scenario that could be implemented,” Norman told the court.

But SEACC alleges that timber harvest could harm local subsistence lifestyles on the island, and the fact that it’s not yet clear where the eventual timber harvest will take place adds uncertainty to local people’s lives.

A timber harvest, “might be right next door to you or they might be a hundred miles away,” Waldo said.

SEACC is requesting a preliminary injunction against any timber sales or contracts for harvest. Friday’s hearing was the first oral arguments in the case and it is not yet clear when the judge will call for further hearings.

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at 523-2228 or psegall@juneauempire.com.

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