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For Immediate Release, October 12, 2011

Contact:         Noah Greenwald, (503) 484-7495

North Coast Red Tree Vole Warrants Protection Under Endangered Species Act

Increased Logging on Oregon State Forests Threatens Rare Forest Mammal

PORTLAND, Ore.—  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that a population of forest-dwelling red tree voles that lives in Oregon’s North Coast warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act because of the loss of old forests to logging. Rather than being protected, however, the vole will be added to a list of candidate species to await federal protection. The decision comes in response to a 2007 petition from the Center for Biological Diversity and other groups and in accordance with a landmark legal settlement reached earlier this year between the Center and the Fish and Wildlife Service to expedite protection decisions for 757 imperiled species across the country.

“Today’s decision confirms that red tree voles in Oregon’s North Coast need Endangered Species Act protection if they are to have any chance at survival,” said Noah Greenwald, the Center’s endangered species director. “We hope the Fish and Wildlife Service will prioritize funding to protect this irreplaceable animal.” 

Red tree voles are nocturnal members of the rodent family with reddish-brown coats. They’re typically six to eight inches long, including their tail, and live nearly their entire lives in trees. They’re only found in western Oregon and Northern California. Fish and Wildlife found that tree voles in the North Coast, from the Siuslaw River to the Columbia and from the coast to the Willamette Valley, constitute what federal biologists call a “distinct population segment.” All tree voles are unique in that they dine on conifer needles, but only North Coast tree voles feed solely on sitka spruce and western hemlock. They are also genetically unique. Red tree voles are dependent on forest structures typically associated with older, unmanaged forests — broken and forked tree tops, witches’ brooms and large, wide branches. Recent North Coast surveys failed to locate the voles in places where they were once common.

“The near elimination of the North Coast’s old forests by logging and fire has driven this tree vole to the brink of extinction,” said Greenwald. “What is needed now are surveys to determine where they still survive and protection for these forests. Instead, the state of Oregon is ramping up logging on the Tillamook and Clatsop state forests.”

The Tillamook and Clatsop state forests make up more than 500,000 acres of the North Coast red tree vole’s range and are therefore critical to its survival. Last year the Oregon Board of Forestry voted to dramatically increase clearcutting on state lands. The Department of Forestry does not survey for tree voles before logging.

Joining the Center on the petition were Oregon Chapter of the Sierra Club, Portland Audubon, Cascadia Wildlands Project and Oregon Wild.

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