U.S. judge issues 11th-hour halt to Tongass National Forest timber sale

A federal judge on Monday temporarily halted a Trump administration plan for logging in part of the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, barring a disputed lease sale a day before bids were to be opened.

U.S. District Judge Sharon Gleason issued an injunction that blocked the U.S. Forest Service from proceeding with a sale of old-growth spruce and hemlock on Prince of Wales Island at the southeastern tip of Alaska, saying an environmental impact report fell short of legal standards.

The Forest Service study failed to identify specific areas that would be logged, and “does not fully explain to the public how or where actual timber activities will affect localized habitats,” Gleason wrote in her ruling.

The failure to look at those specific impacts is at the heart of the lawsuit, said Buck Lindekugel of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, one of the environmental plaintiffs.

“This is the very type of bad decision-making that Congress tried to end when it passed the National Environmental Policy Act in 1971,” Lindekugel said. “The Forest Service should know how to do its job and not cut corners, and the court said that’s unacceptable.”

Dru Fenster, a Juneau-based spokeswoman for the Forest Service, declined to comment on the ruling. Fenster also said she could not offer details about any bids that might be pending.