RENO — Rare woodpecker chicks in burned forest stands at Lake Tahoe won’t survive if the U.S. Forest Service proceeds with a contentious post-fire logging project, according to conservationists pressing the agency to postpone cutting around the trees until after the nesting season in August.
The John Muir Project is asking for the delay while awaiting a ruling on an appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit aimed at blocking what’s left of the salvage logging operation where the Angora Fire five years ago burned more than 3,000 acres and 250 homes on the edge of South Lake Tahoe, Calif.
Chad Hanson, the group’s executive director, documented black-backed woodpecker chicks this week in at least one nest in the cavity of a standing dead tree at the project site and suspects there are more.
Forest Service officials said Thursday they were reviewing the matter. Lawyers for the agency indicated to the critics earlier this week the plans could not be changed.
Hanson’s group and others recently petitioned the Interior Department for Endangered Species Act protection for the black-backed woodpecker in the Sierra Nevada, eastern Cascades of Oregon and Black Hills of South Dakota and Wyoming.
The petition is the first seeking protection of a species tied to post-fire habitat. It says the woodpecker has survived for millions of years by eating beetle larvae in burned trees — 13,000 larvae annually — but is threatened by dramatic reductions in habitat resulting from fire suppression and post-fire logging.
At least 300 acres of partially burned and standing dead trees remain uncut in the Angora project area that calls for logging up to 1,500 acres — a total area of more than 2 square miles on national forest land on the west edge of town.
Hanson said the logging had moved within a few hundred yards of the actual nest tree where he identified a mother black-backed woodpecker feeding chicks on Memorial Day.
Agency officials told the group normal procedures dictate any documented nest tree itself be spared but no additional protection currently is planned at the project in the works since early 2009.
“There are some other unlogged areas they could fly to as long as the nest core area was protected, but if that’s gone, the chicks would just starve to death,” said Rachel Fazio, a lawyer for the group who argued their case last May 14 before a three-judge panel at the federal appellate court in San Francisco.