Protective Efforts Still Needed for CA Forest Plan

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Four government agencies must show care for endangered species as they fight California forest fires, a federal judge ruled.



     In a 2008 complaint, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club and two other environmental groups said four federal agencies had failed to issue Incidental Take Statements after studies showed that new forest-management plans for the Angeles, Cleveland, Los Padres and San Bernardino National Forests would jeopardize creatures listed on the Endangered Species Act, in violation of federal law.
     An Incidental Take Statement (ITS) is a projection required under the Endangered Species Act of how many creatures would be killed as the result of forest-management activities.
     A federal judge granted the nonprofits summary judgment in 2009 and issued a three-part injunction for the United State Fish and Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstration, National Marine Fisheries Service, and the U.S. Forest Service in June 2011.
     Those agencies petitioned for reconsideration of the injunction, which includes creating a program to monitor steelhead trout, filing a report on suction-dredge mining in Southern California’s San Gabriel River, and ensuring the protection of all endangered species and their habitats during fire-suppression activities.
     Though the case was transferred to U.S. District Judge Edward Chen, the court gave little heft to the agencies claims.
     “Accordingly, the Court finds that irreparable harm is likely, and that an injunction is warranted to prevent future harm to the species and to ensure compliance with the ESA’s procedural requirements,” Chen wrote.
     The agencies’ own biological opinion, issued as part of the forest management plan, recognized that fire suppression activities – including the construction of fire lines with bulldozers and the use of chemical fire retardants – affect endangered species, according to the court.
     “The fire suppression order is necessary to prevent irreparable harm …. but does not prevent defendants from engaging in fire suppression activities,” Chen wrote. “The order is simply a qualifier … that they make an effort to ensure that reasonably necessary protection of habitat and listed species is exercised.”
     Chen also ruled that the agencies must implement a monitoring and tracking program for steelhead trout, which are “perilously endangered” with less than 500 adult fish in each of two remaining populations in the affected forests.
     “The steelhead monitoring and tracking program is necessary to prevent irreparable harm to the species by insuring the adverse impact to the steelhead will not rise to the level of jeopardy,” he wrote Wednesday. “In requiring (the program), the court requires protections that the species would have been afforded but for the defendants’ failure to issue an ITS” with their original management plans as required, he added.
     Since suction-dredge mining in the San Gabriel River is now prohibited by California law, however, the judge agreed to remove required reporting of such.

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