FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: November 18, 2003
TUCSON, AZ--The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals today ruled in favor of the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Sierra Club in their lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service for its failure to protect the Northern goshawk, an imperiled raptor, from the negative effects of continued logging of old-growth and large trees in National Forests within Arizona and New Mexico. The unanimous opinion, written by Judge Donald J. Pogue, agreed with the plaintiffs that the Forest Service had failed to consider or disclose to the public extensive scientific evidence that the goshawk prefers old-growth and mature forest for breeding and foraging in its development of a regional goshawk management plan.
According to Michael Lozeau, an attorney with Earthjustice, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision requires the Forest Service to re-write the 1996 Final Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision for Eleven Forest Plans.
“The Court ruled that the Forest Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act by omitting important scientific evidence from its Environmental Impact analysis.” said Lozeau. “The Forest Service omitted information that refutes the agency’s contention that goshawks don’t like foraging in old growth forests and that it’s okay to cut them down.”
”This suit is an important milestone in the effort to protect declining goshawk populations and the increasingly rare old-growth forests that they depend upon,” stated Brian Segee, Southwest Public Lands Director with CBD. "This decision provides an opportunity for the Forest Service to develop new management direction which allows fuel reduction measures such as prescribed burning and thinning of small-diameter trees to go forward while ensuring that large trees and mature forests are preserved.”
Sierra Club Forest Issues Chair, Sharon Galbreath, agreed that the decision will promote better forest health management decisions, especially on the Kaibab National Forest just north of Grand Canyon National Park where conservationists have challenged old-growth logging. According to Forest Service data, 87 % of the trees on National Forest Lands in the Southwest are 12 inches in diameter or smaller. The greatest forest health and fire risks come from small diameter trees, not from the fire resistant old growth trees that the Forest Service continues to log under the guise of providing habitat for the northern goshawk.
“In light of the Court’s finding, we urge the Forest Service to vacate their decision to log 7400 large diameter old-growth trees in goshawk habitat less than three miles from the boundary of Grand Canyon National Park.” said Galbreath, speaking of the East Rim timber sale. “The Forest Service cannot continue to ignore solid science that says the goshawk needs old growth and mature forests to survive.”
The suit was filed in September 2000 in Federal District Court in Arizona. After the District Court upheld the Forest Service’s failure to disclose evidence that disagreed with the agency, plaintiffs appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
At stake in the case are 8 million acres of ponderosa pine habitat in Arizona and New Mexico. The Forest Service goshawk management plan guiding logging operations in these areas was first implemented in 1992 in response to concerns by environmentalists and researchers that goshawks were being harmed by the logging of mature and old-growth trees. Though the plan allowing continued old-growth logging was roundly criticized for by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Department of Interior, Arizona Game and Fish Department, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, U.S. Forest Service biologists, and academic biologists, it was formally adopted by the Forest Service as a permanent plan in 1996. In striking down the plan, the court found that the Forest Service’s analysis “completely failed" to “address or refute” these many objections.