Enviros Say Feds Bleeding Alaska Timber Dry

     (CN) – A finding by the U.S. Forest Service that a logging project in southeast Alaska poses no significant impact on animals lacks scientific credibility under government guidelines, environmentalists say in a federal lawsuit.
     A decision of notice and a finding of no significant impact authorizes the Mitkof Island Project, a logging operation slated for 4,117 acres, or 28.5 million board feet, on Mitkof Island in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. The project includes 6 miles of new and temporary road construction and 4.5 miles of road reconditioning.
     Lead plaintiff Greater Southeast Alaska Conservation Community says the area is already in rough shape from decades of logging and that yet another project would only result in more harm to animals and humans.
     “The Mitkof project is a large timber sale in an area that has already been heavily impacted by 60 years of commercial old-growth logging and road building,” according to the 43-page complaint. “The project will further degrade conditions by harvesting more old-growth trees and building more roads in an already fragmented landscape. The additive impact of the project will have cascading impacts on a host of old-growth dependant species, including the Queen Charlotte goshawk, the Alexander Archipelago wolf and the Sitka black-tailed deer.”
     Environmental groups say the Forest Service’s approval of the project is based on a 100-page environmental assessment that was never disclosed for public comment. They say more in-depth impact studies are needed to accurately assess environmental risks.
     “In the last 20 years, the Forest Service has never approved such a large Tongass timber sale without first preparing a more thorough and searching environmental impact statement,” the complaint states. “Under the National Environmental Policy Act, an impact statement, in contrast to an environmental assessment, more fully evaluates direct, indirect and cumulative impacts and is subject to public notice and comment.”
     The plaintiffs say the Forest Service’s study of the project is based, ironically, on a 2008 Tongass land and resource management plan that requires the agency ensure the future sustainability of affected species.
     In addition, any adverse affect on deer in particular affects hunters who rely on deer for food and are already hamstrung by “some of the most stringent hunting restrictions in all of southeast Alaska” based on low population numbers.
     “The Mitkof Project environmental assessment, decision of notice, and finding of no significant impact do not provide a comprehensive evaluation of the project’s impacts on top of degraded baseline conditions, do not qualify the additive impacts to deer, wolves and subsistence hunters, and do not even mention potentially significant impacts to the goshawk,” the complaint states.
     Greater Southeast Alaska, along with Greenpeace, the Center for Biological Diversity and Alaska Wildlife Alliance, sued the U.S. Forest Service, Tongass National Forest Supervisor Forrest Cole and Petersburg District Ranger Jason Anderson for violation of the National Environmental Policy Act, the National Forest Management Act and the Administrative Procedure Act.
     They want the court to set aside the Mitkof project’s environmental assessment finding of no significant impact and to issue a preliminary and permanent injunction preventing the project from moving forward until the Forest Service complies with federal law.
     The plaintiffs are represented by Christopher Winter and Oliver Stiefel of the Crag Law Center in Portland, Oregon and Gabriel Scott, in Cordova, Alaska.

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