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Suit filed to protect goshawks
Over hundreds of thousands of years, goshawks have evolved with short, powerful wings and protective eye tufts that enable them to fly through the forest canopy and understory in pursuit of their prey.
Unlike many of their hawk cousins that hunt in wide-open spaces, goshawks are the most efficient hunters in dense forests. While goshawks will eat almost anything, studies show that they prefer to hunt and nest in areas that have 80 percent canopy closure or more.
As mature and old growth forests become increasingly rare, so do goshawks, conservation groups claim.
Last week, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club filed suit against the U.S. Forest Service, challenging the agency's management of 8 million acres of forest in Arizona and New Mexico. Over the past century, about 95 percent of the Southwest's original old growth forests have been cut down, the groups claim.
The suit aims to suspend logging in goshawk habitat on the 11 Southwest national forests until the Forest Service develops a revised plan to better protect northern goshawks and the mature forests on which they depend.
The Forest Service goshawk management plan was implemented in 1992 in response to concerns by environmentalists and scientists that goshawks were being harmed by logging of mature and old growth forests. An original version of the plan was much more protective of mature forests and goshawk territories, conservationists claim. Nevertheless, they say it was diluted at the request of the timber industry.
Represented by the Earth Justice Legal Defense Fund, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club charge that the Forest Service ignored the best available science when it made the final decision on guidelines for goshawk management and forest planning.
"The Forest Service has a theory that goshawks need forest openings to catch prey," said Kieran Suckling, the science and policy director at the Center for Biological Diversity. "Therefore they encourage mini clear cuts throughout the forest to provide openings."
According to Suckling a number of scientific studies point to the fact that goshawks are declining rapidly. A study by Forest Service employee Cole Crocker-Bedford found that goshawks had experienced a 75 percent decline in the Kaibab National Forest, a goshawk stronghold, due to logging. Another study found that the population density of goshawks was 500 percent greater in the Kaibab National Forest than the Sitgreaves National Forest. "The Kaibab probably offers the best old-growth ponderosa pine in the Southwest," Suckling said. "Still goshawks are disappearing there."
In a review of the U.S. Forest Service goshawk plan, the Game and Fish Department of Arizona said, "The Department considers the goshawk a 'forest habitat specialist' that is strongly associated with mature, dense forest structure in many forest types. The department disagrees with the open forest conditions advocated in the [Forest Service plan] for the foraging areas."
While the Forest Service points to the fact that logging in the southwest has been reduced by 84 percent since 1989, Suckling claims that nearly every logging reduction has been the result of court orders.
"The Forest Service has never saved a tree out of the goodness of its heart," he said.
Conservation groups are also involved in a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list goshawks under the Endangered Species Act. For seven years, the Center for Biological Diversity has been seeking to list the Queen Charlotte goshawk as a endangered species in Alaska, British Columbia, Washington and Oregon, and the Apache and northern goshawks as endangered species in all U.S. states west of the continental divide.
"When logging was reduced in the Pacific Northwest to protect the spotted owl, it shifted timber harvesting over to goshawk habitat," Suckling said. "If we protect the goshawk as much as the spotted owl, there will be nowhere left for the timber industry to go. That is why they see the goshawk as a final battleground."
Copyright 2000, Environmental News Network, All Rights Reserved
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