For Immediate Release, June 9, 2009
Ileene Anderson, Center for Biological Diversity, (323) 654-5943
Kim Delfino, Defenders of Wildlife, (916) 201-8277
Bill Corcoran, Sierra Club, (213) 387-6528 x 208
Jeff Kuyper, Los Padres ForestWatch, (805) 617-4610
Judge Requires Increased Protections for Endangered Species on
Southern California National Forests
LOS ANGELES— Monday a federal judge ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service violated the Endangered Species Act in preparing the biological opinions for the four Southern California forest plans. The ruling covers each of the four Southern California national forests – the Angeles, Cleveland, Los Padres, and San Bernardino, which cover more than 3.5 million acres of lands in Southern California. These forests are recognized as one of the most biologically rich areas on the planet, and were established to provide clean drinking water to the region.
“This ruling is a great victory for the rare and endangered species that call the Southern California forests home,” said Ileene Anderson, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “These rare plants and animals are all currently moving toward extinction, and they need help – help that the federal agencies should have provided but chose not to during the Bush administration. We can now start making sure they’re properly protected.”
The Forest Service revised the Forest Plans for these four national forests in 2005. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service provided “biological opinions” on the revised Forest Plans that failed to include required protective measures to minimize harm to the already endangered wildlife species. The agencies also failed to include any mechanism to track the level of harm to endangered species or establish limits on the amount of harm for each species to trigger the reinitiation of consultation on the plans if those limits were exceeded.
"National forests provide some of the biggest remaining chunks of wildlife habitat in Southern California," said Jeff Kuyper, executive director of Los Padres ForestWatch, a nonprofit conservation organization based in Santa Barbara, California. "For too long, federal land management agencies have emphasized development and resource extraction, exacting a heavy toll on our region's wildlife. Today's ruling recognizes the important role that our national forests play in the survival and recovery of endangered plants and animals, giving them the attention they so desperately deserve."
The decision will require greater protection for more than 40 plants and animals that are teetering on the brink of extinction. Species from the majestic California condor, rebounding from a low of only 28 birds in the mid 1980s, to the charming California gnatcatcher are threatened with declines based on the failure of the Forest Service to put in place the required safety nets to protect these irreplaceable species.
“Land-management plans have impacts on the wildlife that live on our forests and that’s what this opinion recognizes,” said Kim Delfino, California director of Defenders of Wildlife. “We hope this opinion will set a new tone for the Obama administration in recognizing this fact and providing wildlife on public lands the protections that they so desperately need.”
The judge gave the parties 21 days to provide additional briefing on the appropriate relief for the troubled species while the federal agencies prepare new biological opinions.
“The conservation community warned the Forest Service again and again that it was wrong in claiming that its forest plans do not affect our public lands. The plans are the Forest Service’s blueprint for how to manage our forests, and Judge Patel has held the federal government accountable for fulfilling its responsibilities to protect our imperiled natural heritage. The ruling is especially timely because the Forest Service is gearing up to revise forest-management plans throughout the Sierra Nevada,” said Bill Corcoran, senior regional representative of the Sierra Club.
Plaintiffs in the case are the Center for Biological Diversity, Los Padres ForestWatch, Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, and California Native Plant Society.
The plaintiffs were represented in the case by Marc Fink of the Center for Biological Diversity and Sierra Weaver of Defenders of Wildlife.