"Islands Wolf II" lawsuit filed in federal court

Greenpeace and two other environmental groups sue to stop Logjam timber project in Tongass National Forest

Feature story - January 11, 2010
Critical habitat for the rare Islands wolf (Canis lupus ligoni, commonly known as the Alexander Archipelago wolf) – a wolf subspecies unique to Alaska’s panhandle, which is mostly occupied by the Tongass National Forest – is again under attack by an ill-conceived logging operation approved by the U.S. Forest Service.

In July 2008, Greenpeace and Cascadia Wildlands Project filed a lawsuit alleging that the Forest Service had violated environmental laws in the planning of four logging projects in Alaska's Tongass National Forest. Today, the two groups, along with the Tongass Conservation Society, have again filed suit, this time to stop the Logjam timber project from moving forward.

Read the full Islands wolf II complaint

The Logjam project would allow logging of 3,422 acres on Prince of Wales Island, which has already been subject to heavy logging since the 1950s. In order to move an estimated 73 million more board feet of timber out of the area, 22 miles of new roads would be built, calling into question the sustainability of a key Islands wolf population that calls Prince of Wales Island home. The project would add to the road density on the island, which is already excessive, and greatly impact the wolves' primary prey, Sitka black-tailed deer. Salmon runs would be impacted as well.

The following series of images shows the character of the forest already impacted by previous logging (plus natural fragmentation and lower quality forest), followed by the same shots with logging unit boundaries. (Note: Logging unit boundaries have been drawn by hand as accurately as possible from project maps.)

Larger view of "Islands Wolf II: Affected forests"

Download images in PDF format

View reference map of affected area

U.S. Forest Service performed an inadequate, illegal impact assesment

The lawsuit claims the Forest Service has failed to adequately consider the project's toll on the Tongass region's wildlife as well as local subsistence and sport hunters, and asks the court to vacate the agency's decision to proceed with the Logjam project and its first sale, the Diesel Timber Sale, which has been bid on but not yet awarded.

"The Forest Service has not honestly confronted the project's impacts to deer and salmon," said Carol Cairnes, President of the Tongass Conservation Society. "I explored these groves this fall, and the forest they want to cut is largely the buffers that have previously been left. Those buffers are a must for wildlife, both for habitat and as migration corridors. Without this old-growth, the deer have little shelter in the winter. Then the wolves are short on prey, and people are short on subsistence meat."

The Forest Service has defended the sale by emphasizing the importance of the Logjam project to the timber industry. But in offering this justification, the agency has had to conceal or gloss over several substantial environmental impacts of the project. The regrettable fact of the matter is that the old-growth forest Prince of Wales Island has already been cut dangerously close to the bone, leaving no way to honestly justify the Logjam timber project.

In its push to approve the project anyway, the Forest Service had to violate multiple laws by preparing an environmental impact statement (EIS) that conceals key facts and impacts:

  • The Logjam EIS violates the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) because it does not honestly disclose the impacts of the project. For example, the EIS conceals the concerns of the Alaska Department of Fish & Game over wolf mortality. Under the Tongass Forest Plan, that concern should have triggered an intensive review during the EIS process, which, if properly performed, would have caused modification or cancellation of the project. Also, impacts to deer (wolves' primary prey and an important subsistence species) were done by a spurious method that has had no public or scientific review and underestimates impact.
  • The National Forest Management Act (NFMA), which requires that the viability of all native species be protected, has also been violated because sustainability of the wolf population has not been demonstrated in the EIS.

Approval of Logjam makes bad forests policy and bad economics

In order to make timber from the Logjam project attractive to a bidder, the Forest Service is allowing half of the timber volume to be exported to the continental US or Asia as unprocessed "round logs." Because of this, the Logjam project will offer a minimal number of jobs, providing disproportionately low economic benefits to the local region given the high amount of environmental degradation this large project will cause. There simply is no net benefit from the project.

"Salmon are more of an economic backbone than timber. Roads, especially badly maintained ones, are salmon killers," says Gabe Scott of Cascadia Wildlands. "There are 25 of what they call 'red culverts'-culverts that block salmon passage-that exclude 14 miles of upstream habitat in this specific project area. Rather than do the maintenance, they're spending the money to build even more roads. And they're $20 million in the hole already maintaining roads on Prince of Wales Island."

Larry Edwards of Greenpeace adds, "The region's most important wolf population is put at risk by the Logjam project's logging and road building. The project will both suppress the population of deer, the wolves' primary prey, and increase the density of roads beyond acknowledged danger levels. The Forest Service avoided an honest appraisal of that in its EIS."