Greens Go to Bat for Threatened Woodpecker

SACRAMENTO (CN) – A rushed logging project clearing 5,000 acres in a burned Northern California forest could hurt the threatened black-backed woodpecker, a “keystone species,” environmentalists claim in court.
     The Center for Biological Diversity sued the U.S. Forest Service on July 30 in Federal Court, claiming it violated the National Environmental Policy Act by approving a logging project without enough research on its environmental impact.
     The Center says the Forest Service fast-tracked the Bald Project without conducting an Environmental Impact Statement and the logging could have severe impacts on the threatened black-backed woodpecker.
     A keystone species has a disproportionately large effect on its environment relative to its abundance. Carnivorous predators may be keystone species, for instance, or insects that are the sole pollinators of a species of plant, upon which other creatures may depend, or a plant that provides the sole source of food for an animal during a season.
     The Center claims that four significant Lassen County fires in 2014 created “high-quality black-backed woodpecker habitat” and that the Forest Service’s proposed salvage-logging project would eliminate 67 percent of the birds in the area.
     It claims the Forest Service misstated the impacts on the species by focusing on the broader population, which includes Canada and Alaska, not the Northern California population.
     “This resulted in the Forest Service minimizing impacts to the species by not focusing their analysis on the appropriate scale,” the complaint states. “Impacts to an isolated distinct population will be much more severe than to a broader population.”
     The center settled a lawsuit with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2014, forcing the federal government to consider listing the black-backed woodpecker as an endangered species and rule on it by 2017.
     The Center says the Forest Service views the woodpeckers as pests that get in the way of post-fire logging.
     Black-backed woodpeckers are a keystone species because they are one of the first to return after a major forest fire. They drill nesting holes in the burned trees and other species then use them for nesting and roosting.
     The Bald Project in Lassen County calls for salvage logging of more than 5,000 acres. Lassen County, in northeastern California, is sparsely populated, with just 35,000 residents.
     The Bald Project also violates the Forest Service’s conservation strategy, which recommends “avoiding harvesting fire-killed forest stands during the nesting season,” according to the complaint.
     The Forest Service told Courthouse News it has “nothing additional to offer” and could not respond to the allegations in the complaint.
     The Center wants the Forest Service and the supervisor of Lassen County National Forest enjoined from allowing the logging until they comply with NEPA and the Administrative Procedure Act.
     It is represented by staff attorney Justin Augustine, in Oakland.

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