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Judge orders increased help for Southern California endangered species

June 10, 2009 |  5:10 pm

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A judge has ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries violated the Endangered Species Act in their biological opinions for managing four Southern California forests covering 3.2 million acres.

In her ruling on a lawsuit brought by a coalition of environmental groups, Judge Marilyn Patel of the U.S. District Court of Northern California said the opinions failed to include protective measures such as monitoring systems required to determine the effects of land-use decisions on endangered plants and animals in the Los Angeles, Cleveland, Los Padres and San Bernardino forests.

Environmentalists praised Patel’s determination as an important victory for 40 threatened and endangered species, including the California condor and steelhead trout.

“Under the Bush administration, these federal agencies regarded regional forest plans as unimportant documents that simply gather dust on a shelf,” said Marc Fink, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, which brought the lawsuit along with Los Padres ForestWatch, the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife and the California Plant Society.

“Their argument was that they would analyze the plans later, as needed, when projects were being implemented,” he said. “In fact, these forests are surrounded by millions of people who use them daily, and the impacts of that use on dozens of endangered species are occurring now.”

In an interview, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Chris Tollefson said, “I wouldn’t necessarily agree with that characterization of our treatment of these regional plans. In general, the service has tried hard to work within the boundaries of the Endangered Species Act.”

Patel gave both sides in the case 21 days to devise a remedy.

-- Louis Sahagun

Photo: Fulmor Lake, San Bernardino National Forest. Credit: Monica Bond

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