(CN) – A federal judge in Alaska blocked the Trump administration’s plans to open the nation’s largest national forest to logging operations due to oversight in the federal government’s plans for the proposed 1.8 million-acre project.
“The Forest Service’s evaluation of the project’s maximum impacts does not evaluate the project’s actual expected impacts,” U.S. District Judge Sharon Gleason wrote in a 50-page ruling Wednesday.
Located in southeast Alaska on Prince of Wales Island, the pristine Tongass National Forest runs the gamut of scenic characteristics including the Alexander Archipelago’s coastal mountains, glaciers and a long history of timber operations.
In October 2019, the federal government announced plans to roll back federal protections for the national forest. The plans included a proposal to designate approximately 185,000 acres as suitable for timber production, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The project would also have included the construction of 640 miles road network through the forest, sidestepping a 2001 rule that prevents logging by stopping any road construction.
Republican lawmakers in Alaska supported the proposed rollbacks, citing the move as a means to grow the state’s economy.
But Gleason found the U.S. Forest Service proposal did not fully consider the consequences of the logging project under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
While the proposed project included four option including a no-action alternative, Gleason faulted the agency for making assumptions to capture the “maximum effects” of the project, including that the clear-cutting method would be used. She noted none of the plans identify where the timber would be harvested or where the roadways would be constructed.
Instead, the Forest Service said those locations and methods “will be determined during implementation” over the project’s 15-year lifespan and would not be given any additional review under NEPA.
“By not developing actual site-specific information, the Forest Service limited its ability to make informed decisions regarding impacts to subsistence uses and presented local communities with vague, hypothetical, and over-inclusive representations of the project’s effects over a 15-year period,” Gleason wrote.
Plaintiffs include the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, Alaska Rainforest Defenders, Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, National Audubon Society and Natural Resources Defense Council.
“This is a victory for wildlife, for our precious public forest lands, and for the rule of law,” said Patrick Lavin, Alaska policy advisor for Defenders of Wildlife, in a statement. “This decision protects thousands of acres of high quality fish and wildlife habitat and the sustainable industries that rely on it. It also upholds the public’s right to basic information about proposed uses of our national forests, and the impacts of those uses on our shared public resources.”
An email to the Forest Service for comment was not immediately answered.