The Tongass National Forest on Prince of Wales Island is America’s largest national forest. The land is home to critical old-growth trees as well as vulnerable species such as the bald eagle. Fortunately, this area will continue to be protected as a judge ruled last week to prevent logging of the forest’s 1.8 million acres.
U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason ruled that the plan, proposed by the current administration, violates the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Eight environmental groups advocated for the forest’s protection including Earthjustice, National Audubon Society, Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, Alaska Rainforest Defenders, Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, Alaska Wilderness League, and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
One key point for rejection of the plan was that it did not specify where the logging would take place, making it impossible for local groups, who rely on the land for subsistence hunting and fishing, to ensure their livelihoods would not be impacted. The plan also violated the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act which requires projects to assess how they will impact local communities.
It is not only habitats, species, and individuals who rely on the land for subsistence that will be protected with this ruling. Alaska relies heavily on tourism and fishing industries that would have been negatively impacted by the proposed plan, which would have built 164 miles of new roads and cleared an area of forest three times the size of Manhattan.
The ruling is an important win for the preservation of natural spaces and demonstrates the importance of the judicial system and NEPA in protecting these vital wild spaces.