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Federal judge upholds rule limiting logging in Alaska forest

[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] granted summary judgment [opinion, PDF] for the National Forest Service (NFS) [official website] Wednesday, upholding an agreement limiting the amount of timber that can be harvested in Alaska's Tongass National Forest [official website]. Several Alaska towns and companies challenged the 2008 Tongass National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan (TLMP) [text, PDF], which, among other things, designated parts of the forest "old growth reserves," limiting the amount of timber that could be harvested. Under the TLMP, timber production is allowed in approximately 3.4 million acres [AP report] of the 17 million acre forest. The plaintiffs argued that by designating a portion of the forest "old growth reserves," the NFS withdrew the land from public use without congressional approval in violation of federal law [16 USC § 3213 text]. The court ruled, however, that the TLMP, in designating a portion "old growth reserves" did not "withdraw" that section of the forest under the meaning of the statute. The court also dismissed arguments that TLMP would not allow the Tongass to produce meet the market demand for timber as required by federal law [16 USC § 539d text].

In August, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld [JURIST report] a rule preventing the building of roads or the use of roadless land for timber production in national forests. In 2008, an en-banc panel of the Ninth Circuit granted broad deference [JURIST report] to the NFS when making decisions regarding the impact of logging on national forests. Earlier in the year, the same court ruled [opinion, PDF] that the NFS generally has the prerogative to determine which trees are candidates for clearing after after a forest fire, but directed the agency to more thoroughly consider whether any logging should be done in certain wilderness areas. The court previously reversed [JURIST report] a lower court order denying an injunction against a NFS plan to allow commercial logging in another forest to help pay for a wildfire prevention program. In 2005, the Ninth Circuit rejected a government plan [JURIST report] that would have opened large portions of the Tongass to logging.

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