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Alaska judge stalls logging in Tongass National Forest

Alaska judge stalls logging in Tongass National Forest
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A U.S. District Court judge in Alaska ruled against the Trump administration late Wednesday, sidelining its plans to open logging in part of the state’s Tongass National Forest.

The decision delays U.S. Forest Service plans to open logging in more than 1.8 million acres over the next 15 years, a project that would have also green-lit the construction of 164 miles of road through the forest.

Judge Sharon Gleason wrote that the agency failed to fully consider the environmental impacts of the project as required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), agreeing with the environmental groups that sued the Forest Service that its analysis had “serious shortcomings.” 

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The decision affects logging only on Prince of Wales Island, which is part of the national forest.

"What the court has cut short is flagrant attempts by the Forest Service to trample not only the remaining old-growth forest on Southeast Alaska's most heavily-logged major island, but also NEPA, which is America's bedrock law for protecting the environment from contrived decision-making," Larry Edwards, with Alaska Rainforest Defenders, said in a statement.

The Forest Service did not immediately respond to request for comment.

The Trump administration has tried to expand access to logging within the Tongass National Forest, which at 16.7 million acres is the nation’s largest.

The administration announced in October that it would work to exempt the Tongass from the 2001 “Roadless Rule” which prevents logging by prohibiting road construction and timber harvesting in federal forests.

Alaska’s use of federal grant funds to help lobby on changes to the Roadless Rule is now under investigation by the inspector general at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the Forest Service.

Democrats in the House and Senate asked for the investigation in November after reports in Alaska media that a $2 million federal grant to help prepare for potential changes in forest protections was, in part, funneled to the Alaska Forest Association, a timber industry group.