GDRC and SPI plotted, joined forces and filed the “Nacho Libre” timber harvest plan (THP) in late 2012, curiously choosing a name from a Jack Black movie without any explanation or due credit. Unlike the movie, however, the “Nacho Libre” THP was a cynical attempt at humor that fell flat in the face of ecological reality and clear legal precedent. The plan proposed to target old-growth trees for removal and to directly harm a breeding pair of Northern Spotted Owls by destroying important habitat within their immediate nesting territory. EPIC sounded the alarm over the “Nacho Libre” THP earlier this year and mobilized available resources to contest the plan.
The public trust agencies tasked with reviewing this timber harvest plan (the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, Regional Water Quality Control Board, and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife) all recognized the rare and unique values of this remnant stand of old-growth in a watershed that has been severely and repeatedly logged. The Department of Forestry and Department of Fish and Wildlife were in agreement that the forest stand was likely “late successional forest” habitat with a substantial old growth component within the meaning of the California Forest Practice Rules. According to the Water Quality inspection report, old growth redwoods of six to ten feet in diameter were observed in the stand and threatened with felling. Due to these facts, not only were Northern Spotted Owls in harm’s way, but the structural components of the forest stand are also suitable for the extremely imperiled Marbled Murrelet, a seabird that only nests in old-growth forests.
In the face of this impending threat, on March 18, 2013, EPIC filed a formal letter to GDRC and SPI notifying the companies of violations of the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) and requesting that “Nacho Libre” THP be withdrawn immediately. Under the relevant laws and regulations, the proposed plan would have resulted in illegal “take” of Northern Spotted Owls and Marbled Murrelets in violation of Section 9 of the ESA. In clear violation of the law, GDRC and SPI attempted to skirt around disclosure requirements and use an outdated incidental take permit to harm wildlife on the brink of extinction.
The very next day, on March 19, 2013, GDRC and SPI officially withdrew the “Nacho Libre” THP. Caught in the act, GDRC and SPI had no other choice but to abide by the law, however, the companies reserved the right to re-file the harmful plan, but likely under a different name next time.
Today and during this breeding season, a productive pair of Northern Spotted Owls living up in the Mad River watershed can rest a little easier—for now anyway. The withdrawal of the “Nacho Libre” THP comes on the heels of another recent victory for owls and murrelets after SPI withdrew the “Hiker’s Parade” THP in the Redwood Creek watershed. EPIC’s continued vigilance in monitoring and commenting on industrial timber operations is absolutely essential to upholding the law and recovering endangered species.