JUNEAU -- A federal court has blocked a Tongass timber sale, the biggest in a generation, that was scheduled to have begun to be logged as soon as April 1.
The Big Thorne sale on Prince of Wales Island is about 8,000 acres, including 6,000 acres of valuable and controversial old-growth forest. An Alaska-based federal judge had earlier rejected legal challenges to the sale from 10 environmental groups.
But the groups, represented by the Earthjustice law firm and others, appealed the U.S. Forest Service sale to the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.
The injunction was ordered Tuesday by U.S District Court Judge Ralph Beistline, who heard the earlier case, to give the appeals court time to decide on a longer stay sought by the groups.
Earthjustice attorney Holly Harris said the groups were pleased with the injunction but noted that it was only temporary to give the court two weeks to decide whether to enjoin the sale while hearing the appeal.
One of the plaintiffs in the case, Greenpeace, said the injunction was needed. Without it, logging could begin Wednesday, causing "irreversible loss of old-growth habitat that is vital to wildlife, hunters and other forest users and businesses," said Larry Edwards, a Sitka-based campaigner for Greenpeace.
Representatives of Viking Lumber Co., the Tongass National Forest, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Department of Justice and the Alaska Department of Law, all defendants or intervenors in the case supporting the sale, were unavailable for comment Tuesday afternoon.
The Forest Service said previously that between 12 and 30 workers could have begun cutting timber in the sale this week.
The sale was expected to provide a multi-year supply of timber for Viking Lumber, and also included forest stewardship projects. The legal challenge covers only the old growth, not the 2,000 acres of second growth or the stewardship projects, the groups said.