by Brooke Adams, The Salt Lake Tribune
Courts » Logging on the Aquarius Plateau in Southern Utah will destroy habitat for a number of sensitive species, lawsuit claims.
Two conservation groups have filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for Utah to stop the U.S. Forest Service from permitting logging within 8,300 acres of the Dixie National Forest, including thousands of acres that are habitat for such sensitive species as three-toed woodpeckers.
The Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Native Ecosystems Council want a federal judge to stop the proposed Iron Springs Timber Sale on the Aquarius Plateau, which overlooks the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Southern Utah, and require the Forest Service to do an Environmental Impact Statement.
The project area provides habitat for such sensitive wildlife species as boreal toads, flammulated owls, three-toed woodpeckers, Northern flickers and Northern goshawks, according to the lawsuit. It also is habitat for the Mexican spotted owl and the Utah prairie dog, both listed under the Endangered Species Act. Other wildlife in the area include mule deer, elk and wild turkey.
The U.S. Forest Service issued a decision on March 8, 2013, finding the “vegetation improvement and salvage project” would have no significant impacts. The decision also allows reconstruction and maintenance of 36 miles of road and construction of 9.6 miles of temporary roads to facilitate logging activities.
According to the Forest Service, the project targets approximately 4,600 acres that are in need of thinning to aid growth and health and improve the mix of tree types; are populated by trees damaged by bark beetle infestations; or are areas in need of reforesting due to 1960s-era harvests.
“While the proposed treatments are designed to improve forest health, there is a need to provide valuable commercial forest products to the public,” the Forest Service also noted in a 2010 scoping notice for the project.
Erin O’Connor, communication director for the U.S. Forest Service’s Intermountain Region, said the officials had not yet seen the lawsuit and thus could not comment.
The two conservation groups, both based in Montana, contend the Forest Service’s conclusion allowed it to sidestep preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and violates the National Environmental Policy Act, the National Forest Management Act — which requires it to protect biodiversity — and the Administrative Procedure Act.
“Once again, the federal government acts like our nation’s laws don’t apply to them,” said Mike Garrity, executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, in a statement.
The proposed timber sale is located about 15 miles northwest of Escalante and includes several hundred acres of old-growth forest, according to the two groups. Dead trees in the area are home to beetles that are food for three-toed woodpeckers, the conservation groups said.