Feds settle with environmentalists over Tongass lawsuit costs

An aerial shot of Prince of Wales Island. (Photo courtesy KRBD)
An aerial shot of Prince of Wales Island. (Photo courtesy KRBD)

The federal government has agreed to pay $210,000 in legal fees to Alaska environmentalists that last year sued to halt a massive timber sale on the Tongass National Forest.

coalition of eight conservation groups — including the Juneau-based Southeast Alaska Conservation Council — took the U.S. Forest Service to court in 2019 over its controversial plan to clear cut about 23,000 acres of old growth forest on Prince of Wales Island.

Industry groups and the federal agency argued that the project was key to keeping Southeast’s last mills running over the next decade.

But a federal judge agreed with the plaintiffs who argued that the federal agency didn’t follow the law when it approved the timber sales. That’s because it hadn’t provided site-specific information on areas that could be logged.

The court found that the Prince of Wales analysis was flawed and ordered the agency to restart its review before bringing the timber to market.

The Department of Justice agreed this week to pay the funds into an account held by Earthjustice’s Alaska office. That’s the environmental law firm that litigated the case. Lead attorney Tom Waldo says the actual costs were about $301,000 in fees and other costs. But the parties settled to avoid bringing the matter back to the judge.