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CONTACT: Center for Biological Diversity
Taylor McKinnon, Center for Biological Diversity, (928) 310-6713
Sweeping Forest Service Rollbacks Threaten Sky Island Biodiversity: Agency Seeks Massive Rollbacks for Protection of Arizona, New Mexico Wildlife
TUCSON, Ariz. - April 15 - The U.S. Forest Service has proposed a draft land and resource management plan for the Coronado National Forest that includes sweeping rollbacks for wildlife protection. The plan, which would govern all land management on the Sky Island forest for up to 15 years, would eliminate requirements in the current plan to maintain viable populations of wildlife species and would curtail or eliminate forest-wide restrictions on logging, livestock grazing, mining, road construction, and other industrial uses. With the Coronado acting as one of the first of the southwestern region's 11 national forests to begin updating its forest plan, this marks a first step in the Forest Service's efforts to roll back critical wildlife protections in all Arizona and New Mexico national forests.
"What the Coronado National Forest has proposed is a step backward for Sky Island forests and wildlife," said Taylor McKinnon with the Center for Biological Diversity. "While a new plan should provide a framework for conserving biodiversity in the face of climate change, this plan would replace current protections with dangerous doses of bureaucratic discretion.
"What the Forest Service seeks - which is freedom from both public accountability and requirements to protect wildlife and their habitat - has nothing to do with the actual needs of Sky Island biodiversity," McKinnon continued.
The Coronado National Forest is among the most biologically diverse national forests in the United States. Some of the more than 576 species of mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians that call the forest home are found on no other national forest. There are 175 threatened, endangered, or sensitive species in the Coronado National Forest. Of those, 28 are listed or proposed for listing under the federal Endangered Species Act. They include jaguar, Mexican gray wolf, Mexican spotted owl, cactus ferruginous pygmy owl, southwestern willow flycatcher, and desert pupfish. One hundred forty-seven species are designated as sensitive.
Despite this diversity of imperiled species, the Coronado's draft plan eliminates enforceable wildlife standards or replaces them with unenforceable guidelines or aspirational goals. Specifically, the draft plan:
- eliminates the longstanding requirement to maintain viable populations of wildlife species;
- eliminates forest-wide logging restrictions for old-growth trees and forests;
- eliminates forest-wide logging restrictions for tree-canopy retention;
- eliminates forest-wide habitat protections for northern goshawk and its prey;
- eliminates forest-wide habitat protections for Mexican spotted owl, a threatened species;
- eliminates requirements to survey for and monitor spotted owl populations and manage unoccupied habitat as replacement nesting habitat;
- eliminates forest-wide protections for riparian areas;
- eliminates forest-wide maximum road-density standards;
- proposes no forest-wide enforceable standards relating to commercial logging;
- proposes no forest-wide enforceable standards relating to mining or mine exploration;
- proposes no forest-wide enforceable standards relating to livestock grazing;
- proposes no forest-wide enforceable standards relating to exotic and invasive plants;
- mentions "climate change" only once and excludes climate adaptation strategies;
- consists of aspirational guidance and includes no contingency for failures thereof.
The National Forest Management Act of 1976 requires each national forest in the 193-million-acre national forest system to maintain and periodically update a "land and resource management plan" (often referred to as a "forest plan"). This plan dictates the location and intensity of allowable uses of each national forest. The Act also requires that all management actions are compliant with the applicable plan. The plans themselves must be developed according to nationwide regulations implementing the National Forest Management Act.
The Center for Biological Diversity successfully litigated the Bush administration's repeated attempts to weaken National Forest Management Act regulations promulgated by the Reagan administration in 1982. Common to these failed attempts and the Coronado's draft plan are the elimination of two proactive measures to prevent species imperilment: the requirement to maintain viable populations of wildlife on each national forest, and the elimination of forest-wide enforceable standards for land management. This year the Forest Service began its fourth attempt at drafting National Forest Management Act regulations.
"Being the first out of the gate, the Coronado National Forest's rollbacks signal the Forest Service's intentions for all of Arizona and New Mexico," said McKinnon. "It's clear that agency discretion - not ecosystem or biodiversity conservation - is the top priority for Forest Service leadership at southwestern region. That's the kind of leadership that southwestern forests would be better off without."
Background on the Plan's Failures:
Wildlife Protections Slashed The draft plan eliminates the requirement to maintain viable populations of native wildlife, fish, and plant species. It abandons logging restrictions in habitat for the northern goshawk and Mexican spotted owl and discards requirements for retaining tree canopy and old growth. In 1996, forest plans in all 11 national forests in Arizona and New Mexico were amended to include protections for goshawks and owls based in part on a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biological opinion that said that logging in owl habitat could jeopardize the owls' survival. The draft plan removes those protections.
Road Standards Tossed The draft plan attempts to maintain 300 miles annually, when current budgets cover fewer than 200 miles. The plan does offer one road standard - to prohibit motorized vehicles off designated roads - but it eliminates the maximum-density standard of one mile of road per square mile and allows road construction in wetlands and riparian areas.
Recreation Explosion The draft plan would increase recreational use beyond levels already exceeding carrying capacity. It would expand existing developed sites, encourage use at underutilized sites, and abandon standards for visual quality and scenic integrity.
Climate Change Ignored Though models predict dire impacts from climate change in the Southwest, the draft plan mentions it only once. It fails to comprehensively anticipate the impacts of climate change or address ecological stressors likely to compound those impacts. This omission, and its relationship to virtually all other plan aspects, is a fatal flaw.
Riparian Protections Abandoned The vast majority of bird, amphibian, and mammal species use riparian areas for all or part of their life cycles. About 90 percent of historical riparian ecosystems in Arizona and New Mexico have been lost. The draft plan abandons forest-wide standards and guidelines for riparian areas and proposes no new protections in their place.