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For Immediate Release, September 26, 2012

Contact:   Josh Laughlin, Cascadia Wildlands, (541) 434-1463                                      
Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, (503) 484-7495
Reed Wilson, Benton Forest Coalition, (541) 754-3254

Lawsuit Filed to Protect Threatened North Oregon Coast Red Tree Vole

Suit Aims to Halt Plans to Clearcut 92 Acres of Federal Land

EUGENE, Ore.— Three conservation organizations filed a legal challenge today to halt the controversial Rickard Creek timber sale on Salem Bureau of Land Management lands southwest of Corvallis, Ore. Cascadia Wildlands, the Center for Biological Diversity and Benton Forest Coalition assert the BLM failed to protect habitat for the threatened red tree vole in violation of the Northwest Forest Plan and National Forest Management Act. The timber sale would clearcut 92 acres and thin 19 acres of mature forests in the Marys River watershed.

“The BLM is bringing us back to the Dark Ages with a proposal to clearcut our older public forestlands,” said Josh Laughlin, campaign director with Cascadia Wildlands. “Clearcutting only invites controversy, and the public deserves much better.”

Under the Northwest Forest Plan, the red tree vole, a nocturnal member of the rodent family that spends nearly its entire life in trees, is recognized as a “survey and manage” species. That status requires the BLM to survey for the species when it proposes a logging project in its habitat and create protected buffers when the species is located. Even though the vole is known to occur in the Rickard Creek timber sale, the BLM has not created any protective buffers, instead arguing that the area is a “non high priority” site for the vole. 

This runs directly counter to a recent finding by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that the North Oregon Coast population of the red tree vole, whose nests have been found throughout the Rickard Creek timber sale, warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act and that limited federal lands within the range of the population provide a majority of remaining habitat for the vole.

“The red tree vole is yet another species we’re at risk of losing because of logging of older forests in Oregon,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “In planning the Rickard Creek timber sale, the BLM is failing to follow the Northwest Forest Plan and threatening the survival of the red tree vole.”

For the past five years, the majority of the Salem BLM’s timber program has been focused on thinning in young plantation forests. Plaintiffs have not challenged those kinds of projects, and the BLM has been able to meet or exceed its timber targets. In fiscal year 2011 the Salem BLM District sold 50 million board feet of timber with a timber target of 35 million board feet, far surpassing its goal. The Rickard Creek timber sale, however, employs the controversial practice of clearcutting of mature forest that are now providing habitat for the tree vole. 

"The Rickard Creek project is surrounded by private lands that have been extensively clearcut,” said Reed Wilson of the Benton Forest Coalition. “We believe the BLM should conserve older forest as critical habitat for the red tree vole and other species that depend on public lands to survive."

Red tree voles are considered the most arboreal mammal in all of North America. In October 2011, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that tree voles in the North Oregon Coast, from the Siuslaw River to the Columbia River and from the coast to the Willamette Valley, constitute what federal biologists call a “distinct population segment” and that this population warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act. That protection is currently precluded by work on listing of other species, and the vole is considered a candidate for protection. A primary basis for the Fish and Wildlife Service’s determination that the vole could wait for protection were safeguards afforded to the species on federal lands, like those found on the Salem BLM District where the Rickard Creek timber sale is located. 

Red tree voles are dependent on forest structures typically associated with older, unmanaged forests — broken and forked tree tops and wide branches. Recent North Oregon Coast surveys failed to locate voles in places where they were once common, particularly on state and private lands. The species was initially petitioned for Endangered Species Act protection by the Center for Biological Diversity, Cascadia Wildlands and other conservation organizations in 2007.

The plaintiffs are being represented by Nick Cady of Cascadia Wildlands and Dan Snyder of the Law Offices of Charles M. Tebbutt, P.C.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 375,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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