ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.— Today the Center for Biological Diversity formally notified the U.S. Forest Service that it will sue the agency for failing to protect endangered species in Arizona and New Mexico national forests, where it continues to approve projects that destroy endangered species habitat without carrying out legally required monitoring of the species and their habitat. The lawsuit will involve at least nine threatened and endangered species, including the Mexican spotted owl, southwestern willow flycatcher, New Mexico ridge-nosed rattlesnake, Chiricahua leopard frog, Apache trout, Chihuahua chub, loach minnow, spikedace, and ocelot.
“The Forest Service’s refusal to honor its responsibility to monitor and protect endangered species is not only illegal but potentially devastating to wildlife,” said Taylor McKinnon at the Center for Biological Diversity.
On June 10, 2005, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency charged with enforcing the Endangered Species Act, issued a formal “biological opinion” on the impacts of implementation of forest plans for Arizona and New Mexico’s 11 national forests on threatened and endangered species. The document requires the Forest Service to monitor populations and habitats for the species that occur on the forests.
In October 2008 the Forest Service issued a report admitting that it had not done the monitoring. It also conceded that it might have exceeded the amount of harm, or “incidental take,” allowed by the biological opinion. On April 17, 2009, it requested that the Fish and Wildlife Service redo the opinion.
The Forest Service stated that it “[w]ill likely soon exceed the amount of take issued for at least one species, the Mexican spotted owl,” and that “it has become apparent that [we are] unable to fully implement and comply with the monitoring requirements associated with the Reasonable and Prudent Measures for several species (including MSO) in the [Biological Opinion].” The Fish and Wildlife Service has not responded to this letter or reinitiated formal consultation on the forest plans. Despite that, and despite its admitted failures, the Forest Service has continued to authorize forest-management activities that adversely affect the species in question.
“By refusing to monitor endangered species or ensure against their harm, the Forest Service is violating the Endangered Species Act and risks doing irreversible harm to species that are struggling to survive,” said McKinnon.
Today’s notice of intent to sue also requests that the Forest Service consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service about new information affecting endangered species. The new information includes impacts of climate change, increased threat of invasive species, severe wildfires, recent sighting of a critically endangered ocelot in southern Arizona, and new critical habitat designations for the Gila chub, southwestern willow flycatcher, loach minnow, and spikedace.
Meanwhile, the Forest Service has begun writing new forest plans for Arizona and New Mexico that roll back protections for threatened, endangered, and other species. A new draft forest plan released for the Coronado National Forest in southeastern Arizona eliminates virtually all forest-wide protective standards for wildlife and their habitat – including the requirement to maintain viable populations of species in the forest.
“The big picture for endangered species recovery in southwestern national forests has become pretty bleak,” said McKinnon. “The Forest Service is adding insult to injury by not only refusing to monitor threatened and endangered species, as already required under the law, but also rolling back species protections in new forest plans.”