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Massive New Mexico Logging Plan Threatens Iconic Owl Stronghold
The Sacramento Mountains, a sky-island rising a mile above vast deserts, are home to the highest density of Mexican spotted owls in the country because of an abundance of large, old conifer trees. Protection of the owl’s preferred old-growth forest habitat is essential for its recovery.
“It’s irresponsible for the Forest Service to charge ahead with a massive logging project in this sensitive bird’s protected habitat without understanding how it threatens the species,” said Joe Trudeau, southwest advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This is a leap-first, look-later approach that gives the logging industry carte blanche to potentially decimate huge swaths of this magnificent landscape under the guise of forest restoration. That’s a disastrous prescription for wildlife and watersheds.”
The agency plans to log more than 54,000 acres of the forest and remove limits on cutting large-diameter trees, but it’s unclear from the plan exactly where or when logging would occur. The South Sacramento Restoration Project also calls for using toxic herbicides on 140,000 acres of public lands and building 125 miles of new roads across steep mountain slopes.
“The Forest Service cannot maintain its massive roads system, which clogs streams with excess sediment and fragments crucial wildlife habitat,” said Adam Rissien with WildEarth Guardians. “Instead of reducing its burden, the Lincoln National Forest is proposing to punch-in 125 miles of new roads, further harming Mexican spotted owl habitat and increasing the risks to water quality.”
The spotted owl is protected as a federally threatened species because historic logging, livestock grazing and fire suppression decimated its habitat. The South Sacramento Restoration Project proposes commercial logging across more than 20 square miles of spotted owl habitat and could expand the amount of logging to include the territories of 80 breeding owl pairs. In addition, the Forest Service has virtually ignored the impacts of logging equipment on habitat for the critically endangered New Mexico meadow jumping mouse.
“Given the sensitivity of species like the Mexican spotted owl and the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse, it’s essential that any project of this scale carefully and concertedly lay out how it will impact forested and riparian habitats,” said Michael Dax, New Mexico representative for Defenders of Wildlife. “The fact that this project remains so ill-defined is extremely troubling and makes it nearly impossible to determine the short and long-term impacts on these species.”
The Forest Service has proposed a “flexible toolbox” approach to logging which they defend under the pretense of “monitoring and adaptive management,” but they fail to define what, when, or how monitoring would proceed, or how management would adapt to adverse results.
The vaguely defined plan would implement arbitrary desired conditions established in an agency-crafted technical report called “GTR-310” that has virtually no relevance to the Lincoln National Forest.
In their letter to the Forest Service, the conservation groups said: “The Sacramento Mountains, with their distinctive groves of giant Douglas-firs and moss-carpeted forest floors, are the Mexican spotted owl’s stronghold. Relying on science developed in forests far different from the Sacramento Mountains and treating this landscape like an ‘open, park-like stand’ of ponderosa pine in Flagstaff ignores the unique ecological factors that support these irreplaceable mountain forests.”