Decision puts the brakes on old-growth clear-cut logging, for now.
TONGASS NATIONAL FOREST, ALASKA—Today a federal judge issued a court ruling that halts the initial phase of the largest timber sale approved by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) in 30 years, at least until the court case is resolved. The USFS has a 15-year plan to log more than 42,500 acres of temperate rainforest on Prince of Wales Island in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. The plan also includes the construction of 164 miles of new roads through public lands. Most of the trees targeted for logging are old-growth, meaning they have been standing for hundreds of years.
Audubon, along with Earthjustice, Alaska Rainforest Defenders, Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, Defenders of Wildlife, Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, and Natural Resources Defense Council filed a lawsuit challenging the Prince of Wales project back in May. Today’s ruling grants a preliminary injunction that blocks the initial sale that would have auctioned off 1,156 acres of old-growth trees. The USFS would have opened timber industry bids on September 24 if it weren’t for this injunction, putting the old-growth trees on Prince of Wales and the wildlife that rely on them in imminent danger.
“The timber sale units are flagged and ready for logging. Without this preliminary injunction, we would not be able to stop the timber harvest, and we know from past activities that many of the ancient cedars and spruce would be logged before the court comes to a resolution,” said Natalie Dawson, executive director for Audubon Alaska. “We thank the courts for recognizing the need to protect the trees until the case is resolved. Otherwise, Viking Lumber and the Forest Service will push for timber sales and trees will be logged before we have our day in court.”
Old-growth forests on Prince of Wales Island support birds, deer, wolves, and salmon. This rich ecosystem contributes to three of the region’s major economic drivers: tourism, fishing, and recreation. Continued clearcutting here poses a risk to climate change and long-term economic stability. Southeast Alaska already supports a healthy tourism industry reliant on wildlife and intact habitats, and Prince of Wales offers plenty of room for sustainable growth.