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Groups Appeal Gila National Forest Logging Plan – ‘Thinning’ Project Threatens Songbirds and Ancient Forests

March 13, 2003
WildEarth Guardians
In This Release
Public Lands  
Santa Fe, NM – WildEarth Guardians and Wild Watershed have appealed for the second time a ‘forest restoration’ logging project on the Gila national forest that would allowing cutting of trees larger then 18″ in diameter-the future ancient forests of the area.

The Sheep Basin project-which would log thousands of mature trees on 3,800 acres, notwithstanding the fact that ninety percent of the trees in the area are less than 12″ in diameter-is the first in a series of timber sales that would cut up to 90 million board feet and build 50 miles of roads. The current road system in the Negrito Creek watershed, where the Sheep Basin project would take place, already allows over 150,000 tons of sediment annually to be displaced, degrading habitat for two downstream endangered fish, the Loach minnow and Spikedace.

“If Forest Service projects to restore forest health through thinning are to have any credibility with the American public, they must not cut older, mature trees,” said John Horning, Executive Director of WildEarth Guardians. “The Sheep Basin project is a good example of how Forest Service, under the Bush Administration’s Healthy Forest Initiative, is looking to log forests under the guise of restoring them,” he added.

WildEarth Guardians won the first appeal because the Forest Service admittedly failed to gather baseline wildlife data for indicator species, including declining songbirds such as the Red-faced warbler, Cordilleran flycatcher, Pygmy Nuthatch and Hermit Thrush. In the new proposal the Forest Service candidly admits that it is completely or partially lacking information for 14 of the 15 agency-designated indicator species in the project area.

“Agency decision making that is built on a foundation of ignorance of the status of native fish and wildlife populations is fool hardy,” said Horning. “Baseline information on the status of native wildlife is essential if the agency is to make credible and scientifically defensible decisions when managing our birthright.”

The groups also believe that because the project is the first in a series of numerous timber sales, that the agency should conduct a full-scale Environmental Impact Statement that reviews the cumulative impacts of all of the proposed logging, livestock grazing, and fire suppression activities that have contributed and continue to contribute to unhealthy forest ecosystems.

In addition to violating the National Environmental Policy Act, the groups allege the proposal violates the National Forest Management Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.