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Despite endorsement of some forest thinning projects on the Carson National Forest, WildEarth Guardians and Carson Forest Watch filed a lawsuit against the US Forest Service today to stop the Aqua Caballos Timber Sale, north of El Rito.
Santa Fe, NM - April 4. Despite endorsement of some forest thinning projects on the Carson National Forest, WildEarth Guardians and Carson Forest Watch filed a lawsuit against the US Forest Service today to stop the Aqua Caballos Timber Sale, north of El Rito. The groups cite claims by the state Environment Department that logging may further degrade water quality in the Rio Vallecitos and irreparably harm the tassel-eared (Abert’s) squirrel, an indicator of quality ancient forest habitat. The timber sale, in planning since the early 90s, would be the largest of its kind in the state in over a decade: logging 6.4 million board feet (1,600 full log trucks) from nearly 4,000 acres of public forest land.
The New Mexico Environment Department wrote the Forest Service on July 30, 2003 expressing concern that this large logging project could negatively affect the Rio Vallecitos, a high quality cold-water fishery that is currently in impaired condition. There are 34 stands (approximately 1000 acres) within the timber sale that are at severe risk of erosion and land slides, according to Forest Service surveys. The Forest Service did not adequately analyze the impacts of logging these sensitive sites on the Rio Vallecitos in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act. In 2000, the Forest Service reduced logging from 10.6 to 6.4 million board feet and replaced 20 miles of new road construction with 13 miles of temporary roads to serve the purpose of the previously proposed new roads. Temporary roads are often not built to the engineering level of new roads and if they are not adequately closed, a frequently problem on the Carson National Forest, these roads will become permanent and significantly degrade water quality.
Much of the timber cutting planned in connection with the timber sale will fragment rare ponderosa pine ancient forest habitat, despite the fact that there is a deficiency of this forest type throughout the Carson National Forest and the timber sale area may be one of the best example of this forest type in New Mexico. “The Forest Service knows that the tassel-eared squirrel is in serious trouble in and is still going through with the timber sale,” said Bryan Bird, wildlife biologist with WildEarth Guardians. “The sale focuses on the very trees that this squirrel lives in and if we lose this squirrel we could impact the larger forest ecosystem.”
The tassel-eared orAbert’s squirrel lives in a tight-knit “web of life” with the ponderosa pine tree, the morel fungus, and the northern goshawk and is a management indicator species for climax ponderosa pine forests on the Carson. The USFS has collected two years of population data for the Abert’s squirrel across the forest which indicates that the numbers are far below the population that the USFS believes to be the minimum viable population for the species. Where the USFS standard is 6-16 individuals per acre, the forest now supports one per 500 acres. Furthermore, the data shows that population levels of Abert’s squirrel continue to decline across the Forest. “We support genuine restoration of the forests around Vallecitos through contracts to thin small diameter trees,” said Joanie Berde, of Carson Forest Watch in Peņasco. “But this timber sale with it big tree logging, is a relic of the old Forest Service mindset. Instead of cutting big old ponderosa pine which the public opposes, let’s move on to projects we can all agree to.”
Planning for the timber sale began in 1992 and the decision to proceed was struck down after appeals to the regional office in Albuquerque, but the project was signed again in 2004. WildEarth Guardians and Carson Forest Watch have asked the Forest Service to withdraw the timber sale, develop a credible program to track the status of native wildlife and develop a plan to ensure clean up of polluted rivers and streams. “The Agua Caballos area is in need of genuine restoration that addresses roads, cows, small trees and water quality,” said Bird. “The larger ecosystem must be considered if this forest is to remain the valuable resource it is to local communities and New Mexico as a whole. With collaborative restoration, the capacity can be built to provide high quality jobs in the local area for decades.” ###