A federal court in Alaska has set aside the Tongass Exemption and reinstated the “Roadless Rule’s” application to the Tongass National Forest (Tongass). Organized Vill. of Kake v. USDA, No. 09‑23 (D. Alaska 3/4/11). The lawsuit challenged a Forest Service rule exempting the Tongass from the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, which was designed to conserve pristine forests by protecting roadless areas from development. Plaintiffs claimed that by exempting the Tongass from the Roadless Rule, the Forest Service violated NEPA and that the decision was “arbitrary and capricious” under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).
The court agreed in part with plaintiffs, ruling that the Forest Service violated the APA by justifying the exemption with reasons that were “implausible, contrary to evidence of the record” and at odds with previous Ninth Circuit rulings. The Forest Service had argued that the rule could lead to the loss of 800 jobs and limit the ability of communities in southeast Alaska to access roads and utilities. According to the court, the government failed to provide evidence on how or why jobs would be lost or “any other potential negative economic impacts.” The court did not reach the NEPA issue and denied plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment to the extent that it sought an order vacating timber sales previously authorized under the Tongass Exemption.