Appeals Court Blocks U.S. Plan to Log Alaska Park

A federal appeals court in San Francisco blocks a federal plan to allow logging of backwoods areas of the Tongass national forest in southeastern Alaska. The Tongass, the largest U.S. national forest, is home to the largest unspoiled seasonal rainforest on Earth.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

A federal appeals court in San Francisco today blocked the government's plan to allow logging of backwoods areas of the Tongass National Forest in southeastern Alaska. The Tongass is the country's biggest national forest and is home to the largest unspoiled seasonal rain forest on earth. NPR's Elizabeth Shogren joins us to explain what the ruling means.

And, Elizabeth, what did the judges decide today?

ELIZABETH SHOGREN reporting:

They decided that the government's plan to log these virgin forests in the Tongass was illegal, and that's because the government in its plan overestimated the demand for this timber and they underestimated the harm to old-growth forests by logging the timber. And that means the balance between economics and environmental protection that's required by the law was spoiled by this plan.

BLOCK: So what's the upshot? What does that mean for logging in the Tongass Forest?

SHOGREN: Well, it means that for now, in these unlogged areas, there won't be any logging for a while. But that doesn't mean that timber harvests can't go ahead in areas that have already been logged in the past and aren't undeveloped.

BLOCK: This has been a contentious issue for some time about whether to allow logging in these backwoods areas of the Tongass Forest, no?

SHOGREN: Yes, that's right. In fact, the Clinton administration decided that logging in the Tongass and in other backwoods areas of national forests shouldn't be allowed, and they created what they called a roadless plan, a roadless rule that would have banned most logging in all of these areas, including the Tongass, at least after several years. But then the Bush administration came in and decided that that rule should not stand, and eventually they've overturned it, though it took some time for them to do that. And that's, in fact, why this case is in the courts at all. The environmentalists were angry that the Bush administration had reversed the Clinton's roadless rule, and that's why they brought this case to court.

BLOCK: What's been the reaction so far from the timber industry?

SHOGREN: Well, the timber industry says that this is just a temporary setback, that the government will go back to the drawing board and they'll come up with a plan that is legal, and then they'll go back to logging these virgin forests.

BLOCK: And on the other side, what about the environmentalists?

SHOGREN: Well, they're delighted. They think this is one of the biggest victories they could have to protect these forests, which they think should remain unspoiled because they're such a rare place in this world where there's so much old-growth timber all in one place.

BLOCK: But if it is just temporary, as the timber industry hopes, that can't be good news for the environmentalists.

SHOGREN: Well, what they're hoping is that, in fact, as the government tries to rationalize the plan, it will become very obvious that logging in the Tongass is not an economical proposition and that Congress will not provide the funds that are necessary to log in the Tongass. So they're hoping, and maybe it's hoping against hope, that time will tell and that, in fact, logging will be allowed in the future in the Tongass. But that remains to be seen.

BLOCK: NPR's Elizabeth Shogren, thanks a lot.

SHOGREN: Thank you.

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