Enviros Fight Uncle Sam for Desert Critters

TUCSON (CN) – Environmentalists say the U.S. Forest Service is failing to protect and monitor the welfare of seven threatened or endangered species in Southwest National Forests, according to a federal lawsuit. Logging and grazing continue to devastate habitats of the Chiricahua leopard frog, Apache trout, loach minnow, Mexican spotted owl and the spikedace, a small fish that lives in desert streams, The Center for Biological Diversity claims in Federal Court.

     The environmental group blames the U.S. Forest Service’s Land and Resource Management Plans for Arizona and New Mexico’s 11 National Forests, and the implementation of it.
     The federal agency issued a “biological opinion” in 2005, allegedly to guide the Forest Service in monitoring endangered species while it drafted and implemented new forest plans. The plans, which take years to complete and implement, direct logging, livestock grazing, road building, mining and recreation projects in National Forests for up to 15 years.
     But the Forest Service acknowledged in a 2008 report that it has not properly monitored the region’s endangered fish, snakes and birds. It asked the Fish and Wildlife Service to write a new biological opinion, according to the complaint.
     While it’s waiting, the Forest Service continues to violate the Endangered Species Act by approving logging and grazing projects that hurt endangered wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity says.
     “The Forest Service has not issued any restrictions on the use of national forests in the Southwest Region in response to the agency’s substantial monitoring and reporting deficiencies for threatened and endangered species,” according to the complaint.
     The Center for Biological Diversity wants the Forest Service ordered to comply with the terms of the 2005 opinion, and to consult with Fish and Wildlife “regarding the impacts of the continued implementation of forest plans in the Southwest Region.”
     “Subsequent to the 2005 Biological Opinion, there has been significant new information revealing potential affects of the continued implementation of forest plans in the Southwest Region on listed species and their critical habitat that has not been considered through consultation between the Forest Service and FWS,” the complaint states. “This new information includes, but is not limited to, the ongoing drought in the southwest, the impacts and implications of climate change, the increased threat of invasive species, severe wildfires and the increased threat of additional severe wildfires, and the recent sighting of a critically endangered ocelot in southern Arizona.”
     The Center for Biological Diversity is represented by Marc Fink of Duluth, Minn.

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