Groups Seek Reinstatement of Protections for Sierra Bellwether Species

For Immediate Release

Environmental Groups
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

Groups Seek Reinstatement of Protections for Sierra Bellwether Species

Bighorn sheep, California condor and Northern goshawk habitat all threatened

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. - 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 here:
http://www.earthjustice.org/library/legal_docs/mis-amendment-complaint.pdf

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