Center for Biological Diversity
BECAUSE LIFE IS GOOD

Protecting endangered species and wild places through
science, policy, education, and environmental law.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 6, 2003

CONTACT: Brian Segee, Southwest Public Lands Director (520) 623-5252 x308
Todd Schulke, Forest Policy Director (505) 388-8799

CBD APPEALS PROPOSED RIO PEÑASCO TIMBER SALE ON LINCOLN NATIONAL FOREST

APPEAL SEEKS TO BLOCK LOGGING OF LARGE TREES, DOES NOT AFFECT 23,600 ACRES OF APPROVED SMALL TREE (LESS THAN 9 INCHES) THINNING


ALBUQUERQUE- The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) has filed an administrative appeal to the Forest Service's Southwest Regional Office requesting the withdraw of the proposed Rio Peñasco II commercial timber sale project on the Lincoln National Forest, within the Sacramento Mountains in south-central New Mexico. The sale, approved by Lincoln Forest Supervisor Jose Martinez in December, calls for logging 8 million board feet of trees from approximately 4,350 acres, as well as the construction of at least 10 miles of new road. Although termed a “thinning” project by the Forest Service, the Rio Peñasco II timber sales would include extensive logging of mature and large overstory trees. CBD did not file an appeal of a separate decision to authorize thinning of small trees (9 inches and smaller) on an additional 23,600 acres within the Rio Peñasco analysis area. The Regional Forester has 45 days to decide on CBD’s appeal. If the appeal is denied, CBD may bring the issue to federal court.

“Reducing fire risk in the Southwest’s forests can and must be done without the removal of large and old-growth trees,” said Brian Segee, southwest public lands director with CBD. “Timber sales such as Rio Peñasco not only have significant and lasting negative effects on imperiled wildlife, forest soils, and water quality, they often increase fire danger by removing the largest and most fire-resistant trees while leaving behind the smaller trees which are the largest contributors to unnaturally severe fires.”

The Sacramento Mountains, where the Rio Peñasco II timber sale would occur, are a dramatic and large range with elevations ranging from 4,220 at their base to over 12,000 feet at the summit of Sierra Blanca. A classic “sky island” range, the Sacramentos provide habitat for a number of rare and endemic species, including the second largest concentration of Mexican spotted owls in the U.S., with 109 known territories.

The Rio Peñasco II timber sales would authorize logging and road construction within at least 38 of these spotted owls territories, including “experimental” commercial logging of large trees in violation of both the Mexican spotted owl recovery plan and the Lincoln forest plan. While exact estimates of owl populations are not known at this time, due to Forest Service and Fish and Wildlife Service failure to institute population monitoring programs, recent study has suggested that owl populations in the Southwest are suffering declines of greater than 10% per year. Owl populations within the Sacramento Mountains also appear to be in decline.

The sales would also directly impact, through logging and road construction, occupied and unoccupied habitat for the Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly, a highly imperiled species endemic to the range and currently proposed as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has stated that the checkerspot is “particularly vulnerable” to extinction. The Rio Peñasco II timber sales would directly impact at least 36 acres of occupied butterfly habitat, as well as an additional 42 acres of proposed critical habitat. Fish and Wildlife Service has conceded that the sales and associated road construction will crush individual butterflies, destroy food sources and host plants and increase erosion within checkerspot habitat.

The Center for Biological Diversity strongly supports legitimate fuel reduction efforts, including prescribed burning and thinning of small diameter trees, as well as aggressive efforts to protect communities within the wildland-urban interface (WUI). CBD is actively involved in restoration projects on National Forests within the Southwest, and sits on Senator’s Bingaman’s (D-NM) Community Forest Restoration Program Advisory Committee, which is charged with distribution of $ 5 million annually to rural communities for forest restoration and community protection.

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