On 9-5-00, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club filed suit (complaint, press release, images) against the U.S. Forest Service, challenging the agency's management of 8 million acres of forest in Arizona and New Mexico. The suit seeks a suspension of logging in goshawk habitat on the eleven Southwest national forests until the federal agency develops a new, stronger plan to ensure that Northern goshawks and the mature forests they depend on are not harmed. The suit is being argued by Mike Lozeau and Deborah Sivas of Earthjustice (Palo Alto, CA).

Wildlife Agency Critiques of Forest Service Goshawk Plan

“Published research shows such low canopy cover to be marginal at best for goshawks, and that to be adequate [for nesting], such closure should be at least 80% or more. Forests should not be encouraged to manage for marginal, minimal conditions.”

New Mexico Department of Game and Fish letter to the U.S. Forest Service, September 5, 1991

“[T]here are still shortcomings in the [Forest Service goshawk plan], which if not corrected, raise considerable doubt about the future of northern goshawks in the Southwest...We are not convinced your strategy will protect goshawk viability in the Southwest”

Letter from U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to U.S. Forest Service, August 13, 1992

“The Department considers the goshawk a ‘forest habitat specialist” that is strongly associated with mature, dense forest structure in many forest types...The Department disagrees with the open forest conditions advocated in the [Forest Service plan] for the foraging areas...”

Arizona Game and Fish Department review of U.S. Forest Service goshawk plan, 1993

“territorial occupancy by breeding goshawks has declined considerably while productivity has declined drastically.”

New Mexico Department of Fish and Game, 1997

The Forest Service goshawk management plan was first implemented in 1992 in response to concerns by environmentalists and researchers that goshawks were being harmed by logging of mature and old growth forests. Though the plan was roundly criticized as inadequate by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Department of Interior, Arizona Game and Fish Department, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, U.S. Forest Service biologists and academic biologists, it was formally adopted by the Forest Service as a permanent plan in 1996. The plan was appealed by the Center for Biological Diversity, Forest Conservation Council and the Southwest Forest Alliance; the Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club and Northern Arizona Audubon Society; and the White Mountain Conservation League.

Typical Ponderosa Forest, circa 1900. Library of Congress

In response to research showing that goshawks were not fairing well on southwestern national forests, the Forest Service circled the wagons to protect its timber program rather than the goshawk. It attacked biologist Cole Crocker-Bedford even though he worked for the Forest Service, and dramatically scaled back its goshawk monitoring program in 1995 because it was showing goshawk problems. Scientific information, however, can't be suppressed: Crocker-Bedford was exonerated by an independent investigation of USFS regional forester, Larry Henson. Henson resigned shortly after the investigative report was complete. Research from 1987 to the present meanwhile continues to show goshawk population problems throughout Arizona and New Mexico. A long-term study on the Sitgreaves National Forest indicates potentially severe problems. The original version of the Southwest goshawk guidelines was much more protective of mature forests and goshawk territories. It was watered down, however, at the request of the timber industry despite opposition by federal and state wildlife agencies. The Arizona and New Mexico game and fish agencies developed their own alternative which would have protected all remaining mature and old growth forests, but is was rejected by the Forest Service. The implementation of the goshawk plan, despite the promise of the Forest Service, has not halted the logging of old growth trees. In fact, under the agency's plan, old growth trees (>18" dbh) have become a larger percentage of the timber volume than prior to the plan.

The Forest Service's consistent refusal to abide by wildlife protection and science has led to its denunciation by its own biologists and a long string of successful litigation by the Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, Maricopa Audubon Society, Forest Guardians and the White Mountain Conservation League. The Southwest region of the Forest Service is probably the most litigated region the country, leading the Phoenix Newtimes to conclude that environmental protection in Arizona and New Mexico is achievable only by court orders.

In addition to the current suit, the Center and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility filed suit on June 10, 2000 challenging the Baca Timber Sale on the Sitgreaves National forest because of its impacts to goshawks.

Press release

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
U.S. Department of Interior
Arizona Game and Fish Department
New Mexico Department of Game and Fish
Forest Service Biologist Cole Crocker-Bedford
Dr. Leonard Broberg

Kaibab National Forest
Sitgreaves National Forest
New Mexico

Forest Service attacks goshawk biologist
Government by litigation

Gentilis- goshawk research and conservation news

graphic Andrew Rodman ©2002
May 29, 2003
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