Crag Law Center is representing five environmental organizations in a lawsuit that challenges a plan to log the old-growth forests of Mitkof Island, near the Southeast Alaska community of Petersburg. On behalf of the groups, today Crag filed suit in Alaska District Court to challenge the U.S. Forest Service’s approval of this major logging project. Crag filed the lawsuit on behalf of Greater Southeast Alaska Conservation Community, Greenpeace, the Center for Biological Diversity, Cascadia Wildlands and Alaska Wildlife Alliance.
The groups say the agency violated federal environmental laws by concluding that logging 4,117 acres of important old-growth deer, wolf and goshawk habitat would not have a “significant” impact, without first completing the standard environmental impact statement. Instead the Forest Service broke with past practices by requiring only an environmental assessment — an abbreviated review typically used on far less significant projects. “It is remarkable that, even in the face of huge controversy, the Forest Service stubbornly insists that thousands of acres of old-growth logging is without consequence,” said Dave Beebe with Greater Southeast Alaska Conservation Community. “This would set a terrible precedent for the management of public lands.” Contrary to the claim that the logging and associated road construction would have insignificant impacts on the 134,000-acre island, the environmental groups catalogued a number of significant impacts:
- Loss of winter habitat for deer, further stressing the local population;
- Harm to subsistence hunters, particularly low-income residents who cannot afford to travel to distant islands for deer;
- Threats to the Alexander Archipelago wolf, which is currently being considered for protection under the Endangered Species Act, from loss of deer habitat and the likelihood of increased trapping;
- Damage to the Queen Charlotte goshawk, a raptor that relies on old-growth forest.
“It’s baffling that this agency could overlook such obvious impacts to the environment, but I suppose that if you don’t look for problems then you’re not going to find them,” said Rebecca Noblin, the Center for Biological Diversity’s Alaska director.