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For Immediate Release, November 27, 2007

Contact: Taylor McKinnon, Center for Biological Diversity, (928) 310-6713

Forest Service Weakens Wildlife Rules Behind Closed Doors;
Rare Goshawk, Millions of Acres in Arizona and
New Mexico Forests Threatened

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz.— Records obtained by the Center for Biological Diversity confirm that the U.S. Forest Service excluded wildlife agencies from the development of controversial new wildlife rules and ignored feedback from non-Forest Service biologists.

“The Forest Service actively ignored criticisms from state biologists and unilaterally changed the rules behind closed doors,” said Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity. “It failed to disclose those criticisms in Freedom of Information Act requests.”

Responding to two Freedom of Information Act requests by the Center, the Forest Service claims that it neither offered nor received feedback on draft copies of the rule from state and federal wildlife agencies. But records obtained through requests to Arizona’s Game and Fish Department contradict Forest Service claims. Those records show that state biologists repeatedly expressed concerns to the Forest Service over the new rules’ impact on wildlife.

The new rules substantially change a 1996 rule governing forest management in all Arizona and New Mexico national forests — a rule that protects northern goshawks and their prey from logging. The previous rules, known as the Goshawk Guidelines, were developed in response to Center litigation and affect the vast majority of ponderosa pine and mixed-conifer forest in the Southwest.

The new guidelines would reduce the overall amount of forest cover retained and would increase the amount of large trees and mature forest that can be logged. The new guidelines can reduce forest-cover requirements to as little as 10 percent when measured according to the previous rules’ methods.

“We have grave concerns about the consequences of the new rules for forest wildlife on a regional scale,” said McKinnon.

Pointing to the 1996 rule, which resulted from an extensive public and environmental review, conservationists assert that the Forest Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Forest Management Act when it modified the old rules without a similar analysis.

“If the Forest Service wants to retool regional wildlife rules, it must initiate a formal environmental and public review process,” said McKinnon. “The law simply doesn’t allow the agency to make unilateral changes.”

The Forest Service’s dictatorial approach marks a sharp departure in regional forest politics, where collaboration and cooperation have replaced animosity and stalemate in efforts to restore the region’s degraded forests — as evidenced by broad participation in, and support for, the White Mountains Stewardship Contract, New Mexico’s Collaborative Forest Restoration Program, the Arizona Forest Restoration Strategy, and New Mexico’s Watershed Restoration Plan.

“By altering the entire forest management framework in Arizona and New Mexico behind closed doors, the Forest Service threatens the delicate agreement that has emerged for restoring the region’s degraded ponderosa pine forests,” said McKinnon. “The new rules deliver a big hit to that spirit of cooperation.”

“Careful efforts that thin small trees and safely restore natural fire in ponderosa forests will continue to enjoy active support from the conservation community,” said McKinnon, “but increasing large-tree logging at the cost of wildlife, as the new guidelines do, will meet with staunch opposition.”

Following their finalization, the Forest Service unveiled the new rules to the public and sister agencies at a workshop in June.

Last week the Center for Biological Diversity won several objection counts against the Southwest’s first forest-management project to explicitly implement the new guidelines, the Jack Smith/Schultz project northeast of Flagstaff. See that press release here.

Download Forest Service response to FOIA request #1 here.
Download Forest Service response to FOIA request #2 here.
Download Arizona Game and Fish Department Responses here.
Download the Forest Service’s new wildlife rule here.

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