Crag Saves Old-Growth and Wildlife in the Tongass Rainforest
On November 28, 2018, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the Forest Service’s plan to log in the Tongass rainforest once and for all. Crag’s clients Greenpeace and Cascadia Wildlands finally won this decade-long case to preserve the unique old-growth and native wildlife of the spectacular rainforest.
In a plan based on faulty science, the Forest Service sought to clear-cut nearly 2,000 acres of irreplaceable old-growth forests, threatening countless species including rare Alexander Archipelago wolves and their primary prey, Sitka black-tailed deer. The Ninth Circuit voided the Forest Service’s plan because of numerous violations of federal environmental law.
At issue in the case was how the Forest Service measured winter habitat for deer. Deer habitat can reach a tipping point when too much old-growth forest is logged. At that point, any further loss of habitat can have dramatic consequences for local deer populations, in turn causing cascading impacts to wolves and subsistence hunters. The Forest Service tried to model the amount of deer winter habitat both before and after logging, but its model was deeply flawed. If modeled correctly, the logging areas fail to provide sufficient deer habitat even before logging begins, which is out-of-step with the Forest Service’s own management plan.
Over the course of the litigation, courts gave the Forest Service two opportunities to fix its modeling errors, but each time the agency refused to rely on the best available science. The Ninth Circuit finally said, “three strikes and you’re out.”
“The next several years will be critical to the future of the Tongass; the forest and the diverse ecosystem it supports have reached a tipping point. We have the opportunity to protect a critical mass of what’s left before it’s too late to reverse the trend. We must demand a better future for our forests, wildlife, and people. The Tongass is worth fighting for.”
-Staff Attorney, Oliver Stiefel
For years, Crag has represented local and regional organizations to protect the imperiled forests of the Tongass from clear-cut logging. Victories like this one go a long way in protecting the nation’s last swath of contiguous old-growth temperate rainforest, but there is still work to be done. The next decade is critical for ensuring the environmental protection of the Tongass rainforest. The fight against deforestation will not stop with one decision, it is the persistent fight for environmental justice that leads to long term success.