Posted by Richard Conniff on September 28, 2014
Today’s New York Times reports on a U.S. Forest Service (USFS) plan to cut most of the remaining virgin forest on Prince of Wales Island Island in the Tongass National Forest on the Alaska coast. Conservationists say the proposed auction, called Big Thorne, threatens a wolf population that’s already in trouble:
In the island’s northern half, nearly 94 percent of the biggest stands of virgin forest have been cut down. Big Thorne will clean up some of what remains; the 9.7 square miles of woodlands marked for cutting are sprinkled over 360 square miles, much of it clear-cut in decades past.
The conservationists’ lawsuit argues that the Forest Service ignored the law and its own rules in choosing tracts of forest for logging in Big Thorne and five other sites. Example 1, they say, is the Alexander Archipelago wolf. [N.B., my link. The NY Times linked to the USFS site for the subspecies.]
The wolf, a smaller, many-colored cousin of the timber wolf, relies on the Sitka black-tailed deer for food. The deer winter in the island’s old-growth forests, where big trees and underbrush provide forage, shelter from snows and cover from the island’s hunters.Federal rules require the Forest Service “to maintain viable populations” of the wildlife on its lands. For the wolf, that means having enough deer
for itself and deer hunters, too — 18 per square mile, the Forest Service said in 2008. But at the same time, the lawsuit argues, the agency downgraded that 18-deer requirement to a guideline, one the suit claims it disregarded in Big Thorne and elsewhere by proposing to auction off prime deer habitat.
The lawsuit seeks only to enforce the deer habitat requirement on Forest Service lands. But it could tie up at least some auctions in court — and, should conservationists win, even send Big Thorne back to the drawing board.