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For Immediate Release, July 20, 2010

Contact:  Taylor McKinnon, (928) 310-6713

Suit Filed to Protect Endangered Species in Arizona, New Mexico National Forests

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.— Today the Center for Biological Diversity sued the U.S. Forest Service for failing to monitor and protect endangered species and habitat in Arizona and New Mexico national forests. At issue are at least seven threatened or endangered species, including the southwestern willow flycatcher, New Mexico ridge-nosed rattlesnake, Chiricahua leopard frog, Apache trout, loach minnow, Mexican spotted owl and spikedace. 

“In order to ensure that its land management isn’t pushing endangered species closer to extinction, the Forest Service is required to monitor those species’ populations in the southwestern national forests,” said Taylor McKinnon, public lands campaigns director at the Center. “By failing to do so, the agency has created an information void that prevents well-informed management, breaks the law and most importantly risks irreversible harm to endangered species.”

In June 2005, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a formal “biological opinion” that gave the Forest Service Endangered Species Act clearance to continue implementing Land and Resource Management Plans that govern each of Arizona and New Mexico’s 11 national forests. As a condition of that permission, the Forest Service committed to monitoring certain threatened and endangered species’ populations and their habitats.

But in October 2008 the Forest Service issued a report admitting it had not done the monitoring and might have exceeded its allowable quota of harm to species. Then, in April 2009, instead of initiating the promised monitoring the Forest Service requested that the Fish and Wildlife Service write a new biological opinion. In May and again in July 2010 the Center warned the Forest Service of today’s lawsuit if it did not begin the required monitoring, which remains undone.

“The Forest Service always seems to find money for resource extraction that hurts endangered species, but monitoring their populations is rarely a priority,” said McKinnon. “As the Southwest becomes ground zero for global warming impacts, protecting species from extinction should be at the top of the list.”

Today’s suit seeks Forest Service compliance with the 2005 biological opinion, including the requirement to monitor threatened and endangered species populations across Arizona and New Mexico national forests. It asks that the Forest Service reinitiate consultation with Fish and Wildlife on national forest plans in both states to include new circumstances like the impacts of climate change, increased threat of invasive species, and critical habitat designations. It also seeks to prevent activities that may affect threatened and endangered species pending monitoring and reconsultation.

Meanwhile, the Forest Service has begun writing new land- and resource-management plans for Arizona national forests that roll back species protections. A new draft forest plan released for southeastern Arizona ’s Coronado National Forest eliminates virtually all forest-wide protective standards for wildlife and habitat — including the requirement to proactively maintain viable populations of species.

“The big picture for species recovery in southwestern national forests is grim,” said McKinnon. “In addition to failing to monitor and protect endangered species while implementing the current forest plans, the Forest Service is aiming to roll back species protections in its new plans. In the long run, that’s a recipe for extinction.”

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