Logging puts 17 species at risk

study says

Old-growth cutting in southwestern B.C. blamed for decline in animal population




VANCOUVER -- The continued logging of old-growth forests in southwestern British Columbia may lead to the regional extinction of 17 species of mammals, birds, amphibians and fish, according to a new study published in the conservation journal Biodiversity.

While it has been widely accepted that spotted owls are at serious risk of disappearing in B.C. largely because of old-growth logging, it has not been clear previously that so many other species are also in trouble.

But the researchers, Dr. Stephen Yezerinac, of Bishop's University, and Dr. Faisal Moola, of the David Suzuki Foundation, said their study found habitat destruction is threatening a whole spectrum of species, including tailed frogs, coastal marbled murrelets, northern goshawks, fishers and others.

"We found the threat of pervasive endangerment . . . is all across the food web," Dr. Moola said in an interview.

He said the reasons for the population decline of the different species are varied, but there is little doubt that logging of old-growth forests is the main cause for all species.

"The commonality is the shared old-growth habitat," Dr. Moola said. "This study shows that one-quarter of all animals dependent on remaining old-growth forests in southwestern B.C. are threatened [with extirpation]."

He said that while the B.C. government is preparing a spotted-owl recovery program, it's unlikely those efforts will do anything to help the other species that are also threatened.

"There is talk of a captive breeding program, of feeding owls in the winter and shooting predators [of the owls]," he said. "But these efforts will do nothing for the other species."

Dr. Moola said environmental managers should develop a "flagship fleet" of indicator species and then tailor prescriptive measures to ensure they all survive.

He said this means protecting habitat -- and that could lead to considerable restrictions on logging in some areas.

There appears to be no alternative because the animals can't survive unless their habitat is protected, he added.

"Logging was the main factor threatening all of these species at risk," he said.

He said the spread of logging roads and clear-cut zones is fragmenting the forest at an alarming rate.

"The old-growth habitat in southwest B.C. has declined by half [from historic levels], and logging is continuing," Dr. Moola said. "We're looking at an entire ecosystem that's being literally ripped apart."

The researchers studied scientific literature dealing with 138 species in B.C. and identified 119 specific threats to them.

"Timber harvesting was the most commonly stated threat, followed in frequency by a set of threats that indirectly arise from timber harvesting (road building, forest fragmentation, and herbicide application to tree plantations). Timber harvesting plus indirect effects of timber harvesting comprised 41 per cent and 44 per cent of all identified threats to species classified as at risk and secure, respectively," the paper states.

"The pattern of threats to species at risk did not differ noticeably from the threats to species classified as secure. Moreover, the pattern of threats varied little among taxonomic groups.

"Timber harvesting was the most common single threat for amphibians (50 per cent of 6 threats), birds (38 per cent of 40 threats), vascular plants (40 per cent of 20 threats), and fish (14 per cent of 35 threats), whereas human disturbance was the most common threat for mammals (28 per cent of 18 threats)."

During the past decade, the number of spotted owls has declined by nearly half, leaving only 22 known birds in the province, which holds Canada's entire population of the rare birds.

Dr. Moola said the plight of spotted owls has drawn a lot of attention to the management of old-growth forests, but neither the federal nor the provincial governments have moved to adequately protect them or the other species at risk in the forests.

He said half the species at risk in British Columbia have been assessed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada; therefore, only those are eligible for protection under Canada's new Species at Risk Act.

The research paper is in the current issue of Biodiversity, Journal Of Life On Earth, a quarterly, international publication.

- END -

-- Tim Hermach
Native Forest Council
PO Box 2190 Eugene, OR 97402
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