The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Taylor McKinnon, Center for Biological Diversity, (928) 310-6713

Lawsuit to Be Launched to Protect Endangered Species in Arizona and New Mexico National Forests


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
" 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."

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.

(520) 623-5252