Last week GSACC sued the Forest Service over its Big Thorne logging project, on Prince of Wales Island. We are joined by four other organizations in the suit. Big Thorne is by far the largest logging project on the Tongass since the pulp mill era ended nearly two decades ago.
In a formal declaration in 2013, Dr. David Person – foremost expert on the Alexander Archipelago wolf – said, “The combined effect of Big Thorne and the other logging on wolves within the Prince of Wales Archipelago likely will be the collapse of a sustainable and resilient predator-prey ecological community” on the island. That community includes deer, wolves, black bears, and people.”
On the strength of Dr. Person’s declaration, the Forest Service’s Alaska Regional Forester put the Big Thorne project on hold, after we introduced the declaration as an exhibit to our August 2013 administrative appeal of Tongass Supervisor Forrest Cole’s decision to approve the immense logging project. The appeal decision ordered that a multi-agency Wolf Task Force (WTF) evaluate the declaration and that Cole then issue a “supplemental information report” (SIR) based on the WTF’s report. The purpose of a SIR is to evaluate whether new information necessitates preparing a supplemental EIS for reconsidering a decision.
Some Foxes on Guard
The six-person Wolf Task Force reached a split decision on Person’s declaration, which is unsurprising with the ordered makeup of the body. There were two members each from the Forest Service, the Alaska Dept. of Fish & Game (ADF&G), and the US Fish & Wildlife Service. ADF&G is largely responsible for Person’s professional opinions – strongly raised internally while he was employed at ADF&G – not being in the Big Thorne EIS in the first place. They were withheld from the Forest Service in execution of the State of Alaska’s “one-voice” policy, which buries troublesome science that may interfere with maximum logging. The Forest Service was equally deceptive. Our partner organization, Greenpeace, discovered ADF&G emails dating as far back as 2010 about Person’s concerns over Big Thorne, through a public records request.
Our alliance compiled that material into an exhibit to our 2012 comments on the project’s Draft EIS. The Forest Service, however, ignored the “thorny” issues the material raised in the Final EIS and decision. The agency was forced to recognize the issues by Person’s declaration, prepared shortly after he quit ADF&G and just in time for our appeal. Nonetheless, with all of its eggs in the massive Big Thorne basket, pressure to forge ahead with the project comes from the Forest Service’s Chief. On April 30, before the WTF report and the SIR were completed, Chief Tidwell testified to a US Senate committee that Big Thorne will go ahead with at most minor changes.
So, it is unsurprising that the Wolf Task Force issued a split opinion. The surprise is one of the Forest Service members, a biologist who has done recent wolf research on Prince of Wales Island, bravely sided with Person. An exact 50–50 split resulted. This June, GSACC and allies commented on the draft of SIR and the task force’s draft report. An exhibit to our comments included a rebuttal statement by Dr. Person to the task force report.
The final SIR and WTF report were issued on August 21, by the Forest Service. On August 26 we filed suit (see: complaint, press release) to (1) stop the project by forcing preparation of a Supplemental EIS and reconsideration of the project decision, and (2) force revision of the Tongass Forest Plan because its standards and guidelines are too weak to accomplish what the law requires – protection of the viability of the predator-prey community, including wolves, deer, and subsistence hunters.
Our co-plaintiffs are: Cascadia Wildlands, Greenpeace, the Center for Biological Diversity, and The Boat Company. We are represented by CRAG Law Center of Portland, Oregon.