For Immediate Release, January 5, 2010
Forest Service to Revise Cattle Grazing to Help Endangered Species in San Jacinto Mountains
LOS ANGELES— The Forest Service withdrew one grazing decision and reversed a second on appeal because of problems related to cattle grazing in habitat for the endangered Peninsular bighorn sheep and the Quino checkerspot butterfly. These actions followed appeals by Western Watersheds Project, Sierra Club, and the Center for Biological Diversity of two decisions made by San Bernardino National Forest to reauthorize cattle grazing on 51,000 acres of public land in the San Jacinto Mountains.
“We are pleased that the Forest Service has responded to public concern and agreed to reconsider these grazing decisions to better protect important habitat for these endangered species,” said Michael Connor, California director of Western Watersheds Project. “The Quino checkerspot butterfly has disappeared from 75 percent of its range and protecting what’s left of its habitat is key to its survival.”
“We hope to resolve this decades-long controversy over cattle in bighorn sheep habitat and Palm Canyon,” said Joan Taylor, conservation chair of the local Sierra Club group. “There is no reason to let cattle threaten valuable biological and cultural resources.”
Peninsular bighorn sheep are known for both the characteristic large, spiral horns of the males and for the species’ ability to survive in the dry, rugged mountains dividing the desert and coastal regions of Southern California. Once the most numerous of desert bighorn, the U.S. population of Peninsular bighorn plummeted from 1,171 sheep in 1974 to a mere 276 by 1996. The species gained state status as rare and threatened in 1971, but was not listed by the federal government as an endangered population until 1998 in response to a petition from the Sierra Club. In addition to conflicts with livestock, which compete for scarce forage and other resources, Peninsular bighorn are threatened by habitat loss/modification, human related disturbance, predation and disease.
The Quino checkerspot is now found only in Riverside and San Diego counties in the United States. The species has not been seen in its historic range in Orange, Los Angeles, or coastal San Diego counties for nearly 30 years and is extirpated from San Bernardino County. Wildfires in Southern California in 2003 burned 27 percent of known occurrences of the Quino checkerspot and in 2005 even more occupied habitat burned. The fires also helped the spread of invasive plants into checkerspot habitat, reducing butterfly host plants. Climate change also poses a major threat to the Quino checkerspot and its populations have shifted northward and upward in elevation due to climate change making the allotments in the San Jacinto Mountains important refugia for this rare species. On national forest lands, the species is threatened by loss of the host plants needed by its caterpillars, loss of plants that provide nectar for the adults, the spread of invasive plants, livestock grazing, predation by exotic invertebrates, off-road vehicle activity, and fire-management practices.
“The Forest Service has made the right decisions for these allotments,” said Ileene Anderson, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The agency needs to give much closer scrutiny to its duty to conserve endangered species.”
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with 240,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.