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Old-Growth Logging Project Near Grand Canyon Halted in Victory for Conservation and Goshawks
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - May 26 - For the second time in a decade, the Center for Biological Diversity and Sierra Club have halted a U.S. Forest Service plan to log old-growth forests north of Grand Canyon. The Kaibab National Forest reversed its approval of the 26,000-acre Jacob Ryan timber sale, first planned in 1998, admitting in a letter received by the Center this weekend that, "The decision and analysis do not demonstrate compliance with direction in the Kaibab Forest Plan, agency policy, direction and supporting information regarding cumulative effects, and 1996 northern goshawk requirements."
The Forest Service letter responds to, and agrees with, a March 30 appeal filed by the Center and Sierra Club that asserted the project would violate forest plan requirements to maintain goshawk habitat where large and old trees predominate. The decision, now reversed, included mitigation measures to retain trees larger than 18 inches in diameter and older than 130 years, regardless of size. But independent tree-age coring conducted by the Center verified that the Forest Service had planned to violate those measures by marking trees up to 200 years old to be cut.
"This is a victory for wildlife and old-growth at the gateway to Grand Canyon National Park," said Jay Lininger, an ecologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. "But there remains a need to safely restore natural fire to the forests at Jacob Ryan."
While the groups welcome the reversal, they question why the Forest Service abandoned the entire project rather than agreeing to thin only smaller trees. The groups' appeal explicitly supported and encouraged thinning young trees smaller than 12 inches in diameter and returning natural fire to the forest, recognizing that such measures are necessary to restore "some of the last, best old-growth ponderosa pine forests in the Southwest," according to Lininger.
"I cored trees 200 years old marked for cutting at Jacob Ryan, and that's not acceptable," he said. "But there's no reason we can't thin young, small trees and restore fire while also protecting wildlife."
This was the agency's third attempt to implement the project since planning began in 1998. The first attempt was also halted by a Center for Biological Diversity administrative appeal; the second attempt was voluntarily withdrawn by the Forest Service. The latest iteration was a smaller than the previous one, and the first of the three to voluntarily limit the size or age of trees to be removed.
"We are pleased the Forest Service recognizes that they are on the wrong track with this timber sale," said Stacey Hamburg, Grand Canyon campaign coordinator for the Sierra Club's Grand Canyon Chapter. "It is time for a project that focuses on restoration, protection of wildlife, and preserving the limited old growth that remains. By reversing its decision the Forest Service now has an opportunity to do that."
The Kaibab Plateau hosts the largest breeding goshawk population in the lower 48 states, but past logging in the forest removed large areas of habitat. In 1996, the Forest Service adopted protective measures for the raptor to prevent its listing under the Endangered Species Act.
The Forest Service's reversal occurred on the same day that the Center and Sierra Club filed a separate appeal challenging plans to log more than 9,000 acres of forest burned by the 2006 Warm Fire, immediately southeast of the Jacob Ryan project area, including critical recovery habitat for the threatened Mexican spotted owl.
Photos of the Jacob Ryan project area, including old-growth trees aged by the Center and marked for logging by the Forest Service, can be downloaded here.