(CN) - A federal judge in Washington, D.C., struck down a challenge brought by Alaska towns and regional nonprofit organizations, who argued that the Forest Service's management plan for the Tongass National Forest should have set aside more land for logging.
Southeast Conference, a regional social and economic development organization, joined several Alaska towns and nonprofit groups in a lawsuit claiming that the U.S. Forest Service's 2008 management plan improperly reduced the land available for logging in the Tongass National Forest.
The 2008 plan provided for 2.67 billion board feet of timber to be sold over the next 10 years, for an average of 267 million board feet per year.
The plaintiffs argued that the designation of 5,000 acres of the 16.8 million acre forest as "old-growth reserves," which are not allowed to be harvested, is illegal under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act under a provision barring executive branch withdrawals.
But U.S. District Judge John Bates ruled that the old-growth designation was not a withdrawal, but part of the agency's responsibility to plan for multiple uses.
The plaintiffs also said the Forest Service withdrew so much land that it "effectively destroy[ed]" its ability to meet the market demand for an integrated timber industry," as obligated under the Tongass Timber Reform Act (TTRA).
Judge Bates disagreed, saying the agency has no obligation to meet market demand for an integrated industry, which doesn't even exist yet in southeast Alaska. An integrated timber industry would involve developing regional businesses to cover everything from harvesting timber to making woodchips, he said.
"The TTRA says nothing at all about an integrated timber industry," Bates wrote. "Plaintiffs' challenge seeks to hold the Forest Service to a standard it is not required to fulfill."
He said the Forest Service is only required to ensure that there is an adequate supply of timber for annual market demand and for each planning cycle.
The plaintiffs could have argued that the timber sale adaptive management strategy prevented the Forest Service from meeting its obligation to provide for projected market demand, but Bates said "the court will not rewrite plaintiffs' complaint and briefs to assert the proper claim."