Conservation Groups Appeal Big Thorne Ruling

Less than a week after losing a lawsuit in U.S. District Court, a coalition of conservation groups seeking to stop the Big Thorne Timber Sale has filed a Notice of Appeal with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, and asked for an injunction pending the outcome.

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Last Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Ralph Beistline granted summary judgment in favor of the U.S. Forest Service and other defendants, and rejected all of the arguments brought forward by environmental groups.

The Viking Lumber Mill on Prince of Wales Island was awarded a contract to log part of the Big Thorne timber sale. (Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska News)
The Viking Lumber Mill on Prince of Wales Island was awarded a contract to log part of the Big Thorne timber sale. (Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska News)

Holly Harris is the coalition’s attorney from Earthjustice, a legal team that represents environmental organizations. She said a timber sale the size of Big Thorne should go before a higher court.

“When you’re talking about cutting thousands of acres of old-growth forest, forest that will take at minimum 150-200 years to regain its old-growth characteristics, makes it important for the 9th Circuit to review what the Forest Service has done,” she said.

The lawsuit was filed last summer by national and regional conservation organizations after the Forest Service made a final decision to move forward with the timber sale on Prince of Wales Island.

The Big Thorne Timber Sale includes about 6,000 acres of old-growth rainforest, which environmentalists say is critical habitat for deer and wolves. The groups argue that the Forest Service didn’t adequately consider the impact on wolves before approving the sale.

Big Thorne Map
Big Thorne Map

Harris said the lawsuit aims to protect the region’s economy, along with the old-growth habitat.

“Tourists don’t come from across the world to see a clear-cut. They come to fish, they come to see the majesty of Southeast Alaska,” she said. “So what these groups are hoping to accomplish, is that those trees will be left to stand, and the habitat they provide for the deer, the salmon, for what really drives the economy in Southeast Alaska, will be allowed to survive and thrive.”

In an interview last week with CoastAlaska’s Ed Schoenfeld, Regional Forester Beth Pendleton said it was critical to have some old-growth harvest to keep the remaining mills alive while the Forest Service transitions to a second-growth timber model.

About two-thirds of the Big Thorne Timber Sale has been awarded to Viking Lumber in Klawock on Prince of Wales Island, which had hoped to start logging this spring.

The co-plaintiffs in the lawsuit are the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, Alaska Wilderness League, National Audubon Society, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Cascadia Wildlands, Center for Biological Diversity, the Greater Southeast Alaska Conservation Community, Greenpeace and The Boat Company.

The named defendants are the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Regional Forester Beth Pendleton and Tongass National Forester Forrest Cole.

The State of Alaska, Alaska Forest Association, Cities of Craig and Ketchikan and Viking Lumber signed on as friends of the court, on the side of the defendants.