Enviro groups want Angora burn area tree cutting stopped immediately


By Scott Sonner, AP

Rare woodpecker chicks in burned forest stands at Lake Tahoe won’t survive if the U.S. Forest Service proceeds with a contentious post-fire logging project, according to conservationists pressing the agency to postpone cutting around the trees until after the nesting season in August.

The John Muir Project is asking for the delay while awaiting a ruling on an appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit aimed at blocking what’s left of the salvage logging operation where the Angora Fire five years ago burned more than 3,000 acres and 254 homes on the edge of South Lake Tahoe.

Chad Hanson, the group’s executive director, documented black-backed woodpecker chicks this week in at least one nest in the cavity of a standing dead tree at the project site and suspects there are more.

Trees in the Angora burn area have been taken out each year since 2007. Photo/LTN file

Forest Service officials said Thursday they were reviewing the matter. Lawyers for the agency indicated to the critics earlier this week the plans could not be changed.

Hanson’s group and others recently petitioned the Interior Department for Endangered Species Act protection for the black-backed woodpecker in the Sierra Nevada, eastern Cascades of Oregon and Black Hills of South Dakota and Wyoming.

The petition is the first seeking protection of a species tied to post-fire habitat. It says the woodpecker has survived for millions of years by eating beetle larvae in burned trees – 13,000 larvae annually – but is threatened by dramatic reductions in habitat resulting from fire suppression and post-fire logging.

At least 300 acres of partially burned and standing dead trees remain uncut in the Angora project area that calls for logging up to 1,500 acres – a total area of more than 2 square miles on national forest land on the west edge of town.

Hanson said the logging had moved within a few hundred yards of the actual nest tree where he identified a mother black-backed woodpecker feeding chicks on Memorial Day, accompanied by a photographer for the Associated Press.

Agency officials told the group normal procedures dictate any documented nest tree itself be spared but no additional protection currently is planned at the project in the works since early 2009.

Hanson, a wildlife ecologist at the University of California, Davis who has been challenging logging projects in the Sierra for more than a decade with mixed success, said a bare minimum buffer of at least 60 acres is needed.

With less, he said even if the chicks’ parents don’t abandon the nest they won’t have a big enough foraging territory to keep the young fed. He said the chicks won’t be able to fly for weeks and logging already is up against the 60-acre core.

“There are some other unlogged areas they could fly to as long as the nest core area was protected, but if that’s gone, the chicks would just starve to death,” said Rachel Fazio, a lawyer for the group who argued their case last May 14 before a three-judge panel at the federal appellate court in San Francisco.

Fazio said it is ironic that the Forest Service and the Tahoe Institute for Natural Science are co-hosting the third annual Lake Tahoe Bird Festival on Saturday at the Taylor Creek Visitor Center just a few miles from the woodpeckers’ nest.

“We confirmed the nest tree and the birds were there on Monday but I don’t know if they’ll be there next Monday,” she told AP. “It’s one of the rarest birds in the Sierra Nevada. We can’t have logging activities which basically kill off the next generation. It seems like this should be a no-brainer.”

Forest Service spokeswoman Cheva Heck said Thursday they still were examining potential alternatives but had no immediate response to the request for delay.

“As managers of public lands, we have the responsibility of balancing multiple priorities. We are still researching each of our options before deciding the most effective way to proceed,” Heck said in an e-mail to AP.

Fazio notified Justice Department lawyers representing the Forest Service in the 9th Circuit case on May 24 that they had spotted two pairs of black-backed woodpeckers in an area slated for logging. She said additional observations would be necessary to confirm nesting but requested in the meantime that USFS delay operations in the area until nesting season is over.

Justice Department lawyers told Fazio in an e-mail May 25 the agency’s normal practice is to protect nest trees but it would not be possible to protect 60 acres around nest trees without undermining the project’s goals, including forest restoration and public safety.

Fazio repeated the request May 28 along with photos of the nest and mother she hoped would prompt the agency to “reconsider its decision to not protect this nesting pair and their chicks.” She said on Thursday she understood the photos had been forwarded to Forest Service biologists but she had received no additional response.

It’s not clear if the 9th Circuit will rule by August on the appeal seeking to overturn a U.S. district court ruling in Sacramento denying the John Muir Project’s request for an injunction to block the logging. The group says the agency’s environmental assessment of the project flies in the face of the latest, best scientific research.

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Comments (15)
  1. bobdog says - Posted: May 31, 2012

    What is the point of affording protection to migratory birds (under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act), such as the black-backed woodpecker, if federal agencies such as the USFS can acquire permits to turnaround and destroy their nesting habitat under the guise of “Fuels Management”…?

  2. Skier says - Posted: May 31, 2012

    You have to be kidding me? Those trees pose risk to other animals including humans. You enviro’s should have allowed those trees to be logged years ago when they were actually worth something. Now they are junk hazard treesand now have some rare woodpeckers in them. GGGGrrrrrr.

  3. John says - Posted: May 31, 2012

    bobdog, I know it is a stretch, but if you read the science on forest structures in the Sierra Nevada then maybe you would come to the conclusion that this bird was never common here. It couldnt be, large stand replacing fires were uncommon, so its habitat must have been uncommon. Second, check out this site. http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/black-backed_woodpecker/lifehistory

    Notice that this bird isnt even close to being endangered.

  4. Just a Thought says - Posted: May 31, 2012

    Why don’t we just burn another 3000 acres and another 254 homes. That will enhance the woodpecker habitat and get rid of some more people that will not rebuild. If the forest service doesn’t manage the forest it will manage itself with another Angora sized fire.

  5. tony colombo says - Posted: June 1, 2012

    They finally found a nest with chicks- Are you kidding me? My neighbors with New wood siding are being assaulted by peckers that are tired of that burnt charcoal taste. Chad Johnson might as well give a nobel prize to the person(s) who started the fire….from a ticked off burney.

  6. Bob says - Posted: June 1, 2012

    Next thing you know the deadly mosquito which carries the west nile virus will be protected.

  7. 4-mer-usmc says - Posted: June 1, 2012

    Another costly and time consuming lawsuit being brought to you by the people who would really just like all those pesky people living in Tahoe to just move away and leave the entire area for those elitist environmental extremists who all think they know what’s best and are the only ones entitled to be in Tahoe.

  8. Charlotte Tree Removal says - Posted: June 1, 2012

    I don’t understand why its such a bad thing to have burnt trees standing in forests? It gives more opportunity to all parts of wildlife.

    -Tony Salmeron

  9. John says - Posted: June 1, 2012

    Tony of course there is nothing wrong with some dead trees in the woods. There is a problem with having so many dead trees that within 5-10 years when they all fall down the entire forest floor has dead trees stacked up 3-5 feet deep. Now lets pretend there is another fire, how does a hand crew, or any crew fight the fire? Second, I have young kids that play in those woods. All of those dead trees create an immenent hazard to life safety. Its not just my kids. Right now mushroom hunters are out behind my house every day. Again, right under those trees that fall nearly every day.

    There needs to be a balance. The fact is the forest service did a pretty good job of planning a project that will protect the community from future fires and leaving a lot of burned trees for habitat.

  10. bobdog says - Posted: June 1, 2012

    Whether the forest has been mismanaged for decades or not, the fact remains, a variety of species utilize disturbed burned habitats, including the black-backed woodpecker. Dead trees (snags) provide habitat for a variety of wildlife and are an important component of the Lake Tahoe ecosystem. One could argue that back when the forest wasn’t mismanaged, fires would keep our tree densities under control, provide habitat for a variety of species (including our beloved woodpeckers), and ultimately keep everything in check. The arrival of Homo sapien to the Tahoe basin has disrupted this balance, not the woodpeckers. Humans are simply trying to find the new balance, which should not include logging during the migratory bird nesting season.

  11. John says - Posted: June 1, 2012

    Bobdog, first, the bird is not migratory by any common definition. Second, the bird is not rare throughout its range and finally forest mismanagement has lead to increased habitat for this common bird.

    Why is it a 1 or 0 with you environmentalists? Half the burn would be thinned with large trees maintained and half would remain untouched. That is called balance. Why cant there be any compromise over a bird that is so common that it is a species of least concern?

  12. earl zitts says - Posted: June 1, 2012

    This discussion is for the birds.
    Don’t do any hiking where burned trees are still intact in high winds. They tend to break at about 1/3 to 1/2 the lenght of the unbroken.

  13. bobdog says - Posted: June 1, 2012

    The BBWO is not a special status species, but instead is protected under the MBTA (http://www.fws.gov/migratorybirds/RegulationsPolicies/mbta/mbtandx.html).

    I agree with your proposed definition of balance and am open to compromise.

    Lastly, this bird is not common, it is rare and responds to disturbance such as beetles and burned areas. That is why the work should occur outside the nesting season.

  14. thing fish says - Posted: June 1, 2012

    score point for bob (for linking to a source).

    As for the people out there who grouping all environmentalists together and saying that they are all like the group suing in courts, good luck with that, if you goal is having a discussion. Groups that do most of their work in courts, don’t usually speak for the majority.

  15. W.V. (Mac) McConnell says - Posted: June 1, 2012

    The battle over the management of public land continues as environmental activists seek to protect woodpecker chicks by delaying salvage logging on the El Dorado National Forest. For a look at the array of other considerations (economic, social, environmental) that the lawsuit does not consider and other pertinent aspects of this classic controversy, take a look at this webpage. http://www.wvmcconnell.net/?page_id=545