Sunday, November 08, 2009

Protection for Species Viability Restored

Yet another Bush-era wildlife regulation has been overturned in the courts.
A federal judge has struck down the 2008 forest planning regulations that eliminated a key wildlife protection provision known as “viability”. The Wildlife Viability Requirement of the National Forest Management Act of 1976 provides important protection for the hundreds of bird species that inhabit the 193 million-acre U.S. National Forest System. This rule requires that as the Forest Service develops plans for each National Forest, it must maintain “viable populations” of native vertebrates across their range. Viability has been instrumental in protecting habitat for Northern Spotted Owls, and Black-backed and Red-cockaded Woodpeckers. Because viability has proven to be one of the strongest wildlife protection rules for National Forests, it is a frequent target of interests seeking to eliminate environmental safeguards.

As a result of this recent court decision, the Forest Service has reverted to a forest planning rule issued in 2000 that is itself embroiled in a legal challenge by conservation groups, in part because it weakens the viability standard. The Obama Administration has indicated that it will now develop a new planning rule. Meanwhile, Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI) has introduced the America’s Wildlife Heritage Act (H.R. 2807) in the House of Representatives that would enshrine the viability rule into law, and also apply it to the U.S. Public Lands System managed by the Bureau of Land Management.
It is a slow process, but at least some of the harm done over the past eight years is being repaired.