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Enviros Sue Feds to Protect Tongass Forest

(CN) - A native village and 11 environmental groups say the U.S. Forest Service is threatening pristine, old-growth areas in the Tongass National Forest in southeastern Alaska. The Village of Kake seeks removal of a George W. Bush-era exemption from the Roadless Area Conservation Rule. The rule, signed into law by President Bill Clinton, was intended to protect pristine areas in national forests from commercial logging.

The plaintiffs also seek to set aside all Forest Service decisions that are not consistent with the 2001 rule.

The 9.3 million-acre Tongass, the country's largest national forest, contains approximately 29 percent of the world's remaining unlogged coastal temperate rainforests, the complaint states. Since 2003, when the exemption was granted, the forest has been protected by a separate rule on road construction under an agreement with then-Gov. Frank Murkowski.

But the plaintiffs say the exemption was a temporary measure, and that the Forest service continues to operate on the premise that the Roadless Rule does not apply to the Tongass as shown by two timber sales authorized in 2008 requiring road construction in roadless areas.

Mike Jackson, a spokesman for the Village of Kake, said in a statement that the forest needs protection because it has suffered too much from logging already.

"We must not lose more roadless areas here," Jackson said. "For tribal members, these lands are essential sources of food, medicine, clothing and traditional items for artistic and spiritual use."

The U.S. Forest Service plan for the Tongass designates 2 percent of the forest for timber harvest, the complaint states.

Other plaintiffs include the Alaska Wilderness Recreation and Tourism Association, The Boat Company, Sierra Club, Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, Tongass Conservation Society, Greenpeace, Wrangell Resource Council, Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife and Cascadia Wildlands.

They Forest Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are accused of violating the National Environmental Policy Act, the Organic Administration Act, the Multiple-Use Sustained Yield Act, and the National Forest Management Act.

The plaintiffs are represented by Thomas Waldo and Eric Jorgensen of EarthJustice in Juneau, and Nathaniel Lawrence with the Natural Resources Defense Council in Olympia, Wash.

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