Environmentalists say they plan to sue to force the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the Northern goshawk as an endangered species - an action that could severely restrict logging throughout the West.
The Fish and Wildlife Service decided June 23 against such a listing for what an environmentalist described as the grizzly bear of raptors."Based on the best available data provided to our scientists, we found no conclusive evidence of a declining population trend for the goshawk in the forested West," said Fish and Wildlife Service Director Jamie Rappaport Clark, a biologist who took over the agency last year.
She said new Forest Service guidelines prevent logging that eliminates goshawk habitat. She also said her agency's review found nearly 3,200 goshawk territories in the 11 Western states.
But environmentalists who have fought a seven-year battle to have the goshawk declared endangered say scores of studies show goshawk populations plunging as timber companies cut more large, older trees.
"Goshawks depend on old-growth forests. If you cut them down, the species will become extinct," said Kieran Suckling of the Southwest Center for Biological Diversity, one of 10 environmental groups that petitioned the agency for the endangered listing in 1991.
Suckling said his Tucson-based group sent the Fish and Wildlife service a notice Tuesday saying the group planned to sue the agency within 60 days.
The decision against listing the bird as endangered leaves intact current federal protections for the goshawk, which range from none in some national forests to restrictions on timber-cutting and other activities in goshawk nesting areas in the Southwest.
"There just wasn't a preponderance of evidence indicating that there was a serious decline or that (forest) management was shrinking its habitat to the point that it needed the protection of the Endangered Species Act," said agency spokesman Phil Carroll said.
Suckling was livid.
"That (reasoning) is so off-the- wall that I don't think we'll have any trouble convincing a judge that this decision was just politics, through and through," Suckling said. "I have never seen a more outrageous squashing of an endangered species than this decision."
U.S. District Judge Richard Bilby of Tucson overruled similar Fish and Wildlife decisions in 1992. In 1996, in a lawsuit brought by the Southwest Center and 18 similar groups, and last year, Bilby again overruled the agency, most recently calling its action "arbitrary, capricious and unlawful."
"They've simply thrown science out the window again," said Sam Hitt, president of Forest Guardians, a New Mexico-based environmental group. "We're just not protecting wildlife anymore as a matter of policy."
Timber industry representatives had the opposite view, saying the Fish and Wildlife Service was right not to cave in to political pressure from environmentalists.
"We think that it just goes to show that science can be used in making reasonable decisions," said Chris West, vice president of the Northwest Forestry Association in Portland, Ore. "Those who want to use the Endangered Species Act to meet other ends (stop logging on national forests), that's not a free lunch."
Northern goshawks are birds of prey about the size of ravens that live in a broad range of forest types, building their nests in Ponderosa pines and other large, older trees. They hunt small birds and rodents, and their short wings and long tails make them more quick and maneuverable than most hawks and eagles, which soar over open areas.
"It probably is the only raptor that will attack a human being if one is so foolish to enter its territory during breeding season. I've been attacked before," Hitt said. "It's kind of like the grizzly bear of the raptor world."
Because it is such a good hunter and less picky about its prey, the goshawk can live in a wider range of habitat than the northern spotted owl, Carroll said.
Putting the spotted owl and other species on the endangered list earlier this decade cut logging by up to 80 percent in northwestern national forests.
Hitt and Suckling said listing the goshawk as endangered could have an even greater impact, since the bird is more widespread throughout the West.
"The goshawk also focuses on Ponderosa pine, which is more economically valuable," Hitt said. "Listing it would require significant changes in land use practices. Both logging and grazing would have to be reduced significantly."
But scientists know a lot more about the spotted owl than the goshawk, making it more difficult to gauge the effects of listing the goshawk as endangered, Carroll said.
"The effects on the timber harvest could very well have been a lot less than the spotted owl listing, but that's pretty much conjecture on my part, based on the broad information we have," Carroll said. "We don't have a lot of the specifics."
Suckling said there was plenty of scientific evidence available.
"I've got 360 goshawk studies in my files," Suckling said. "That's more than exist on the spotted owl."
Suckling said his studies document the virtual disappearance of goshawks from forests in Southern California and western Oregon and Washington, as well as their decline in Arizona and New Mexico and in Idaho near Yellowstone National Park.
A University of Arizona ecologist, Martin Taylor, concluded recently that since the Forest Service guidelines took effect in 1992, "goshawk populations have declined sharply in the south and central West" and should be protected as endangered.
And in 1993, the Arizona Game and Fish Department argued in a 150-page report that those guidelines actually would devastate forest habitats in Arizona, especially north of the Grand Canyon, resulting in forests of small, young, fire-prone trees while allowing timber companies to wipe out old growth.
- Habitat: Various types of forest, mostly in mountainous areas.
- Range: From Alaska and Canada to near the Mexican border, generally west of the Great Plains.
- Length: Males: 18-20 inches. Females: 21-24 inches.
- Wingspan: Males: 38-41 inches. Females: 41-45 inches.
- Weight: About two pounds.
- Prey: Birds such as grouse and pheasant and medium-sized to small mammals such as rabbits and squirrels.
- Family life: A mother will lay three to five pale blue eggs in a large nest built in a large, older tree in dense forest. Chicks leave the nest after about 45 days and are fully independent about 70 days after hatching. Goshawks reach adulthood at about three years old.
- Description: Adult Northern goshawks are notable for their bright white "eyebrow" over deep red eyes - the deeper red, the older the bird. The upper parts of the bird's body are gray and black, and feathers underneath are a very light gray with fine black barring. Goshawks are known to attack humans who come too close to nests or into breeding territories.
Source: Associated Press