WASHINGTON (CN) – A federal judge dismissed claims filed by the Alaskan timber and building industries that a 2008 forest plan reducing the amount of commercial forestland in the Tongass National Forest violated federal law.
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The Alaska Forest Association and the Southern Southeast Alaska Building Industries Association sued U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack and the U.S. Forest Service in 2008 over the Forest Service’s plan to reduce the amount of land available for commercial foresting from 2.4 million acres to 670,000. The revised plan also adopted an adaptive strategy for managing lands for timber sale that the industries said reduced the acreage capable of supporting financially feasible timber sales to approximately 103,000 acres.
But because of a previous challenge to the plan filed by the Southeast Conference and several other Alaskan cities and municipal organizations that failed in federal court, U.S. District Judge John Bates dismissed this challenge under the legal doctrine of Res judicata, which prohibits re-filing legal claims that could have been litigated in prior actions.
The Alaska Forest Association, as it turns out, is a part of the Southeast Conference, and supported its similar litigation against the Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Forest Service over the plan.
The Forest Association, or AFA, unsuccessfully argued that because the Southeast Conference wasn’t aware it was representing the AFA, the doctrine does not apply.
“Plaintiffs’ argument is dubious on these facts,” stated Judge Bates. “AFA submitted an affidavit supporting Southeast Conference’s standing argument … which should have alerted the Southeast Conference plaintiffs that they were representing AFA.”
Located in Alaska, the Tongass National Forest holds 17 million acres of woods making it the largest national forest in the United States.
According to the ruling, Congress passed the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act in 1980 directing the Forest Service to maintain the Tongass’ timber supply. The 1990 Tongass Timber Reform Act directs the Secretary of Agriculture to maintain a renewable timber source in the Tongass that also meets annual market demand.
The Forest Service must update its land-use plans every 15 years under the National Forest Management Act, which prompted the 2008 plan revision reducing the acreage available for the commercial timber industry.
Judge Bates dismissed this latest challenge of the rule, allowing the Department of Agriculture to determine the land management plan for the Tongass and not the Alaskan building and timber industries.