Court ruling offers lifeline to rare Alaskan wolf

US Forest Service must reanalyze four logging sales, consider impacts to the “Islands Wolf” & deer hunters

Media release - August 3, 2011
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned four decisions by the US Forest Service to allow logging in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, the nation’s largest national forest. At issue was the assessment of deer habitat, the primary prey of the rare Alexander Archipelago wolf, or “Islands Wolf.”

(Credit: John Hyde / WildThings Photography ©)


3 August 2011                     

***** FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE *****

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned four decisions by the US Forest Service to allow logging in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, the nation’s largest national forest. At issue was the assessment of deer habitat, the primary prey of the rare Alexander Archipelago wolf, or “Islands Wolf.”

The lawsuit was brought by the environmental groups Greenpeace and Cascadia Wildlands, to protect the wolf subspecies’ viability as well as subsistence deer hunting by local residents.

The case, Greenpeace v. Cole (Forrest Cole is the Tongass Forest Supervisor), concerned a computer model the Forest Service used which, as the court heard, greatly underestimated the impact of logging on the deer's winter habitat as well as overestimating the habitat that presently exists.

In a unanimous decision, the three-judge panel ruled that the Forest Service had ignored the best available science and failed to follow its own Forest Plan.
The judges concluded, “We cannot follow the reasoning USFS used to approve the projects … 'The agency is obligated to articulate a rational connection between the facts found and the choices made,’ which the agency has not done here.”

The ruling affirms the environmental organizations’ allegation that the best available science shows the forest’s highest quality winter habitat to have a carrying capacity of 100 deer per square mile, while the Forest Service’s analysis method used a figure 30% higher.

“That was plain error,” said Greenpeace Forest Campaigner Larry Edwards.  “The result is, the agency overestimated the carrying capacity for deer and underestimated the impacts of logging on their habitat in every Tongass timber project decision from 1996 to 2008. We actively asked the Forest Service to correct its error for several years, but we were consistently ignored. Finally, the only option left was this lawsuit.”

Gabe Scott, Alaska representative for Cascadia Wildlands said, “This was not a case of difference of opinion, but a conflict between science and politics. This was the Forest Service saying two plus two equals five, and hiding its bad math behind complex computer models. We knew if the judges looked behind the curtain they’d see it’s a mirage, and that’s what happened.  The Forest Service wasn’t even able to meet the low legal bar of having a rational explanation for its decisions.”

“Getting the science straight is crucial, to provide enough deer habitat to assure that wolf populations will be sustained and that the needs of subsistence hunters are met,” he said.

The circuit court’s verdict reverses a district court ruling and remands the matter to that court, also requiring fresh analysis and decisions by the Forest Service if it wishes to continue to pursue the four logging projects.

Edwards, a long-time southeastern Alaska resident, said further: “The Forest Service was handed a clear message today that it cannot fudge the science in order to give its projects an ‘easy pass’ and sell excessive amounts of timber from a planning area.  The Islands Wolf is a species unique to Alaska’s rainforest, and it’s vital that the agency follow the best science on how to protect it and how to provide for the needs of deer hunters.”

Together, the four projects would have cut 33 million board feet of timber from 1,700 acres of old-growth forest and constructed 13.7 miles of logging roads, in areas where habitat has already been highly fragmented by past logging.  “While not pristine, these are ecosystems in peril,” Edwards said.

Chris Winter with the Crag Law Center based in Portland, Oregon represented the plaintiffs in the litigation.  Winter said, “the Forest Service ignored the best available science on the impacts of clearcutting old-growth forest in the Tongass.  The Court issued a common sense decision requiring more from our federal government.”

ENDS

___________________________________________________________________

For more information, the full ruling, as well as images please contact:

James Turner, Greenpeace Media team, 415-812-1142

Gabe Scott, Cascadia Wildlands, 907-491-0856

________________________________________________________________________

The four timber projects, named from north to south, are listed below. For more information and maps please visit the Greenpeace website.

Two of the timber projects are in the Petersburg Ranger District:  Scott Peak (on Kupreanof Island) and Overlook (on Mitkof Island).

One project is in the Ketchikan/Misty Fiords Ranger District:  Traitors  Cove (on  Revillagigedo  Island).

One project is in the Craig Ranger District:  Soda Nick (on Prince of Wales Island).