Environmentalists: Buffers too small to help woodpeckers

RENO – Forest Service officials have agreed to move post-fire logging operations at Lake Tahoe farther away from nests with rare, black-backed wood­pecker chicks at the request of conservationists who’ve been fighting the overall project for years.

But leaders of the John Muir Project – who have documented one nest in the path of the logging and suspect there are more – say the no-cut buffers the agency is implementing are far too small to protect one of the rarest birds in the Sierra Nevada.

“No credible black-backed wood­pecker scientist would say it is enough – not even close,” said Chad Hanson, a wildlife ecologist and executive director of the group who has filed a petition seeking protection of the bird under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

“It will kill them just as surely as logging right up to the nest tree,” he said.

Lawyers for the Forest Service told the group last week its proposed 60-acre buffers around each nest would undermine the 1,400-acre project’s goals of restoring the forest and reducing future catastrophic risks where the Angora fire destroyed 250 homes in South Lake Tahoe in 2007.

But Deputy Forest Supervisor Jeff Marsolais said Friday the agency and the private logging contractor agreed to move the fuels reduction operations at least 10 acres away from the nesting area until the chicks leave the nest. One acre is a little less than the size of a football field.

In addition to no logging within 10 to 12 acres of the identified nest tree, an additional 25 acres of habitat will be preserved within one-quarter mile of the tree, until the chicks “fledge,” USFS spokeswoman Cheva Heck said.

A federal judge in Sacramento earlier rejected a request for an injunction to block the logging filed by the John Muir Project and its parent Earth Island Institute.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals currently is considering their appeal claiming the Forest Service’s environmental assessment ignores the agency’s own science suggesting the project will harm the bird without effectively reducing long-term fire threats.

Hanson said the Forest Service’s own science consistently shows one pair of black-backed woodpeckers needs 100 to 200 acres of good habitat with a minimum 60-acre core for foraging.

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