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Groups Seek Reinstatement of Protections for Sierra Bellwether Species

Bighorn sheep, California condor, and Northern goshawk habitat all threatened
September 9, 2008

Bighorn Sheep
U.S. Bureau of Land Management
San Francisco, CA — 
A coalition of conservation groups is taking the Bush administration to court because of weak management plans that threaten wildlife in 10 Sierra Nevada national forests.

The groups are striving to restore safeguards for a variety of Sierra wildlife, including bighorn sheep, the endangered California condor, and the Northern goshawk, following the removal of their protections by the Bush administration.

In December 2007, the Bush administration removed specific monitoring requirements for indicator species, plants and animals that must be studied before the U.S. Forest Service can approve logging, road building and other forest-related projects that could destroy sensitive habitat for threatened or endangered species.

"The Bush administration eliminated an important safety net for Sierra forests and wildlife," said Craig Thomas of Sierra Forest Legacy. "We want the court to reinstate these vital protections that have been a critical component of forest management plans for decades."

Indicator species are studied because their well-being reflects the overall health of a forest. If the Forest Service finds that logging, road building and other forest projects could harm these bellwether species, it must take action to ensure that such species and their habitat are protected before revving up the chainsaws or bulldozing new roads into the forest.

Under the new provisions, the Forest Service is only required to collect monitoring data for a fraction of the species previously covered by the plans. The Forest Service cut the number of management indicator species from approximately 60 to just 13.

"By eliminating these common sense monitoring requirements for imperiled species, the Bush Administration continues its assault on our national forests," said Marc Fink, attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. "We are hopeful the courts will once again find that the Forest Service has violated the law through its weakening of long-standing environmental protections."

"The National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act require the public to be informed of projects that may have significant impacts on Sierra Nevada wildlife and their habitats," said Erin Tobin of Earthjustice. "Federal agencies are supposed to look before they leap, not dismiss the tools needed to protect species on the brink of extinction."

Forest management plans govern most activities that occur in our national forests. Provisions to monitor the health of important wildlife and its forest habitat are the cornerstone of such plans because the monitoring information improves forest planning and decision making that otherwise could jeopardize species and habitat. Forest plans managing that habitat must comply with the National Forest Management Act and the Endangered Species Act, which require the Forest Service to protect the diversity of fish and wildlife in our national forests.

The Forest Service adopted forest plans for the 10 national forests in the Sierra Nevada in the 1980s and early 1990s. These forest plans established clear forest-wide monitoring requirements for certain management indicator species to ensure well-distributed and healthy populations of all plant and animal communities within each forest and throughout the entire Sierra Nevada. Additionally, in 2001, the Forest Service adopted a comprehensive Sierra-wide monitoring plan to improve its ability to protect these and other at-risk species.

"Based on the Forest Service's past practices, it's not clear what, if any, wildlife monitoring will occur under the new provisions," said Sierra Weaver, an attorney with Defenders of Wildlife. "The Forest Service must be explicit on how it will monitor California's unique wildlife."

"This is another attempt by the Bush administration to gut the management plan adopted by the Clinton administration to protect America's treasured Sierra Nevada mountains," said Sierra Club representative Aaron Isherwood. "It represents another effort, devoid of any scientific basis, to increase logging of ancient forests and other wildlands at the expense of wildlife."

Earthjustice represents coalition members Sierra Forest Legacy, Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, and Defenders of Wildlife.

Read the lawsuit (PDF)


Contact:

Erin Tobin, Earthjustice, (510) 550-6725
Craig Thomas, Sierra Forest Legacy, (916) 708-9409
James Navarro, Defenders of Wildlife, (202) 772-0247
Marc Fink, Center for Biological Diversity, (218) 525-3884
Kristina Johnson, Sierra Club (415) 977-5619