SAVING ALL THE PARTS: PROTECTING SPECIES OF NORTHWEST OLD-GROWTH FORESTS
More than 100 little-known species will lose key habitats and are likely to go extinct under an obscure but momentous rule change engineered by the Bush Administration to boost logging in mature and old-growth forests in northwest California, western Oregon, and western Washington.
With little fanfare, the Bush Administration dropped rules that require the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to survey for rare species and refrain from logging where necessary to ensure their survival. The “Survey and Manage” Program provides a safety net for hundreds of terrestrial species. Like the now-famous northern spotted owl, these Survey and Manage species are imperiled by a century of logging of ancient forests. But because they live in small areas and cannot move as easily as owls, these species are not adequately protected by the system of reserves established for the owl.
Ignoring the costs of potential species extinction and ecosystem degradation, the Bush Administration argues that eliminating the Survey and Manage Program is a minor bureaucratic adjustment to save money and speed resource extraction. The Center for Biological Diversity and a coalition of groups have authored a report, Saving All the Parts: Protecting Species of Northwest Old-growth Forests, showing that, on the contrary, survival of these species does matter. Many serve important roles maintaining the health and productivity of northwest forests and provide other valuable benefits to society.
In fact, the Survey and Manage Program has worked as designed, shielding otherwise unprotected species from the loss of their old forest habitat. If the Survey and Manage Program has a weakness, it has been lax enforcement by agencies more intent on logging remnant old-growth forests than protecting the creatures in those forests. In many instances, the Survey and Manage Program allowed too much logging in rare species' habitats.
Now that the Bush Administration has succeeded in its efforts to eliminate the Survey and Manage Program, hundreds of species lack sufficient protection. Many are at risk of local or regional extirpation or even global extinction. Through careful examination of the available information, we identified 106 species that will likely warrant listing as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act since they have lost the protection of the Survey and Manage Program and have begun to prepare petitions to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect these species under the Endangered Species Act. The first of these petitions was filed June 16, 2004 to protect the Siskiyou Mountains salamander as an endangered species.
BACKGROUND ON THE SURVEY AND MANAGE PROGRAM
In 1994, President Clinton enacted the Northwest Forest Plan, which created a network of reserves to protect old-growth forests, watersheds, and species, including the northern spotted owl and marbled murrelet. Although a substantial step forward, the plan failed to protect roughly 20% of remaining old-growth forests and set an estimated timber target of one billion board feet per year. Scientists charged by the Clinton administration with evaluating the effects of the plan on over 1,000 species dependent on old-growth forests predicted such logging was likely to jeopardize many of these species.
To avoid massive species extinctions, the Northwest Forest Plan proposed to "survey and manage" hundreds of species, including 77 for which the plan promised to survey before any ground-disturbing activities began. If populations of these species were found, the plan promised to create buffers to avoid harming them. The U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, however, never followed through on its commitment to survey and protect these 77 species.
In 1998, a coalition of groups sued the U.S. Forest Service for failing to do the surveys prior to conducting timber sales. In 1999 Judge Dwyer, who presided over the northern spotted owl litigation, ruled that the Forest Service had in fact violated its own plan. Dwyer then halted more than 100 timber sales until the surveys were completed, stating in his decision that the survey and management requirements are "clear, plain, and unmistakable... Far from being minor or technical violations, widespread exemptions from the survey requirements would undermine the management strategy on which the [Northwest Forest Plan] depends. The surveys are designed to identify and locate species; if they are not done before logging starts, plants and animals … will face potentially fatal loss of protection. The plan itself recognized the importance of site-specific analysis.” Because of the need to ensure that the “survey and manage” species weren't driven to extinction, the U.S. Forest Service never was able to deliver the one billion board feet of timber estimated under the plan.
After Republican campaign committees received over a million dollars in donations from the timber industry in 2000, George W. Bush promised to deliver the one billion board feet by any means necessary. In what has become the preferred method for the administration to circumvent environmental laws and public scrutiny, the Bush administration used settlement of an industry lawsuit as an opportunity to make good on its promises. In 2001, Douglas Timber Operators (DTO) and American Forest Resources Council (AFRC) filed suit, seeking to prohibit the Forest Service from protecting habitat for plants and invertebrate animal species on National Forests in western Washington, western Oregon and Northwest California. Although the suit was of questionable merit, the Bush administration rolled over and agreed in a 2002 settlement to eliminate the survey and manage program, which they did in a March, 2004 Record of Decision.
The Survey and Manage Program originally protected 304 species and 4 arthropod guilds with an unknown number of species. The Forest Service admits many of these species will be at grave risk of extirpation because of removal of the Survey and Manage Program.