Enviros sue over federal cuts to ‘indicator species’ | SierraSun.com

Enviros sue over federal cuts to ‘indicator species’

SACRAMENTO, Calif. ” Environmentalists Tuesday sued the Bush administration over what they charge are efforts to boost Sierra Nevada logging, including areas near Truckee and Tahoe, by undercutting a key early warning system that guards bellwether species.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco contends that a policy shift by the U.S. Forest Service in December abandons its stewardship responsibilities by slashing the list of 60 or so “indicator species” to 13.

Among those hit are the Sierra bighorn sheep, the endangered California condor and the Northern goshawk, a raptor species. Eleven threatened or endangered species were removed from the list, including the Central Valley spring run Chinook salmon and the Lahontan cutthroat trout.

“It’s another example of favoring timber sales and receipts over the protection of wildlife,” said Pat Gallagher, environmental law director at the Sierra Club, one of four conservation organizations that joined in the lawsuit.

The Forest Service has maintained that the oversight changes were justified because the process of monitoring such species over the past quarter century in many cases had proved unworkable.

John Heil, a spokesman for the Pacific Southwest Region, said that populations of many indicator species, such as the red fox, wolverine and willow flycatcher, were too sparse to use as measures of forest health.

“There’s just not sufficient numbers to collect meaningful information,” Heil said.

But environmentalists say the Forest Service is shutting its eyes to its responsibility to ensure healthy and well-distributed populations of plants and animals along the 400-mile-long range shadowing California’s eastern edge.

Erin Tobin, an associate attorney with Earthjustice, the nonprofit environmental law firm that filed the suit, said the change is “part of a trend” toward minimizing roadblocks to logging or other commercial activities in the forest.

The policy shift also allows logging to begin before determining what effect it will have on creatures at peril.

Earthjustice filed the lawsuit on behalf of Sierra Forest Legacy, the Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club and Defenders of Wildlife.

Ten forests comprising nearly 10 million acres of timberland were hit by the rule change: Eldorado, Inyo, Lassen, Modoc, Plumas, Sequoia, Sierra, Stanislaus and the Tahoe national forests, as well as the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit.

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