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For Immediate Release, September 7, 2011

Contact:  Jay Lininger, Center for Biological Diversity, (928) 853-9929

Timber Sale Appealed in New Mexico National Forest

Forest Service Attempts to Roll Back Wildlife Protections

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.— The Center for Biological Diversity filed an administrative appeal on Tuesday challenging the U.S. Forest Service’s approval of the “Bonito” project on the Lincoln National Forest for its failure to protect sensitive and threatened wildlife, including the northern goshawk and Mexican spotted owl.

The Bonito project would log and burn ponderosa pine and mixed-conifer forests on more than 11,000 acres five miles northwest of Ruidoso. The Forest Service’s environmental assessment admits that the approved logging will remove more forest canopy than is allowed by Forest Service rules protecting goshawk habitat in Arizona and New Mexico; failure to heed those rules violates the National Forest Management Act. The agency also allowed removal of some of the largest remaining trees despite its finding that the forest is old-growth deficient.

“We support active management to restore forests and protect communities,” said Jay Lininger, an ecologist with the Center. “But in this case the Forest Service wants to log many of the last remaining large trees in violation of its own rules. Logging large trees damages wildlife habitat, harms rather than helps forests and increases — rather than decreases — fire hazards to the community.”

The Bonito project is the third major forest-thinning project approved by the Lincoln National Forest since November 2009. The Jim Lewis and South Guadalupe projects, combined, will thin and burn 55,563 acres to reduce wildfire hazard and restore historic forest conditions. Of the three projects, only Bonito drew an environmental appeal.

“In other projects, the Forest Service agreed to keep large trees standing because their removal worsens fire behavior,” Lininger said. “This time, foresters were trying to appease politicians who are pressuring them.”

U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.), whose district includes Ruidoso, has complained that environmental litigation and endangered species protection have prevented logging in the Lincoln National Forest, and that his bill currently pending in Congress, H.R. 1202, is needed “to restart jobs in the timber industry by providing for the protection of the Mexican spotted owl in sanctuaries.”

However, appeals and litigation are rare in the Lincoln National Forest, and timber sales continue to meet market demand. George Ellinger, owner of Ellinger Logging in Alamogordo, N.M., told the Alamogordo News on April 24 that Pearce is misinformed.

“There’s a misconception that there’s no logging going on,” he said. “Pearce came down and did a big talk with everybody, but he’s not talking to anybody who knows anything.”

Ellinger also said of colleagues in the timber industry: “The guys who are really griping to Pearce are the ones looking for a handout. They want it given to them for free.”

Logging jobs in the Southwest crashed in the 1990s due to market forces, industry mechanization, overharvesting of large trees and increased environmental protections. There is a growing movement of collaboration to restore forests by safely using fire, ensuring community protection, conserving the last of the largest trees, and recovering fish and wildlife populations.

Pearce’s district hosts forest-restoration businesses in the communities of Ruidoso, Silver City and Reserve, which are hiring more workers and actively restoring the woods.

Tuesday’s appeal is the first step required to challenge the Bonito project in federal court.

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