Sweeping Forest Service Rollbacks Threaten Sky Island Biodiversity: Agency Seeks Massive Rollbacks for Protection of Arizona, New Mexico Wildlife

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

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. - 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.

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At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature - to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.

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