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WASHINGTON, July 10, 2017 — Documents obtained by the Center for Biological Diversity demonstrate that the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are able to quickly complete so-called “programmatic” consultations when new species are added to the endangered species list or when critical habitat is designated for their protection.
The documents debunk claims by two Montana senators that legislation is urgently needed to avoid prolonged delays in forest logging projects.
“Considering how best to protect key areas where endangered species live may not be a big deal for federal land management agencies, but it’s critical to the survival of animals that are facing extinction,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center. “The Fish and Wildlife Service just proved Senators Daines and Tester wrong. Programmatic endangered species consultations can be done quickly without the sky falling, putting important conservation measures in place to protect our most endangered wildlife.”
A 2015 court decision — Cottonwood Environmental Law Center v. U.S. Forest Service — reaffirmed that the Endangered Species Act requires the Forest Service to ensure its actions do not harm endangered species at both the programmatic level, as in an entire national forest or region, and the site-specific level. Consultations at the programmatic level are required to ensure federal agencies consider the needs of each endangered species across large areas, avoiding death-by-a-thousand-cuts scenarios.
Earlier this year Sen. Daines and Sen. Tester introduced S. 605 — the Litigation Relief for Forest Management Projects Act — which would overturn the Cottonwood decision. Then, during a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing last week, Daines claimed national forests were “in crisis.” The “number one issue,” according to Daines, is that “litigation by fringe groups is slowing down forest management.”
However, in June the Forest Service and Fish and Wildlife Service completed a Cottonwood-type consultation in just 10 days on nine national forests in the Sierra Nevada region following the designation of critical habitat for the Yosemite toad and Sierra Nevada and mountain yellow-legged frogs.
“Senator Daines is wrong. If the Forest Service simply complied with the law, it could move forward with projects in a matter of weeks,” said Hartl. “The main reasons forest projects don’t occur is because Republicans in Congress have been starving the agencies of funding. Weakening the Endangered Species Act won’t make these projects happen sooner, but it will push endangered species closer to extinction.”
On June 5 the Forest Service reinitiated consultation on the Sierra Nevada national forests. Ten days later the Fish and Wildlife Service completed a 75-page biological opinion concluding that the Forest Service could continue implementing its management plans if it adopted common-sense conservation measures including:
- Avoiding logging activities when frogs are resting in burrows and only translocating them out of the area into suitable habitat when it is safe to do so;
- Avoiding the use of certain types of plastic netting used in logging operations that trap and injure frogs;
- Disinfecting equipment, boots and clothing to limit the spread of chytrid fungus — a leading cause of frog extinction worldwide — in areas that have logging operations.