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Win! U.S. Forest Service Responds to EPIC Objection with Changes to Mad River August Complex Project

A northern spotted owl perched on a tree branch.
Northern spotted owls (NSOs) are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Photo by Cacophony via Wikipedia (CC by 2.5).

In response to EPIC and our allies’ objection to the proposed Mad River August Complex Project on Six Rivers National Forest, the U.S. Forest Service has made a few small changes to the project proposal that will better protect northern spotted owls (NSOs), which are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

The project proposes nearly 10,000 acres of logging within critical habitat for NSOs in the Mad River Ranger District of Six Rivers National Forest, encompassing the entire Mad River headwaters, the source of drinking water for a majority of Humboldt County residents (88,000 people), as well as the Wild & Scenic North Fork Eel River and its headwaters, and the headwaters of the Van Duzen River.

In particular, the Forest Service has agreed to log 36% less NSO post-fire foraging habitat – now 191 acres instead of 299 acres. Post-fire foraging habitat is crucial because so much of the forest burned at high severity that very little NSO habitat remains. “Salvage” logging any of this remaining habitat threatens the species’ already imperiled existence. According to the CA Department of Fish & Wildlife, “timber operations to salvage burned timber have the potential to result in take of NSO by removing fire affected trees used by NSO for nesting, roosting, or foraging, or causing disturbance during the breeding season if the owls are present.” What habitat is left, should be left alone.

The Forest Service has also agreed to continue conducting NSO protocol surveys throughout the life of the Mad River August Complex Project. Surveys are intended to determine where owls may have moved to, if they are present in the area, and whether logging will need to be conducted outside of breeding, nesting and roosting season.

Lastly, the Forest Service agreed to drop the two new log landings proposed for construction within an Inventoried Roadless Area (IRA) in Six Rivers National Forest – a win for forest and wildlife connectivity!

The Mad River just upriver of Blue Lake running brown on January 15, 2023. Photo by Kimberly Baker / EPIC.

While we did achieve some success for NSOs, the project still proposes roughly 10,000 acres of ground-based disturbance with heavy machinery in watersheds listed as impaired for sediment under the Clean Water Act. The Mad and North Fork Eel Rivers are over the Threshold of Concern for sediment, still running brown even weeks after the recent storms. The Forest Service’s concessions on NSO habitat are marginal compared to the overall scope of the project, and the adverse effects to water quality are simply not worth the risk.

Stay tuned for the Forest Service’s upcoming final decision on the proposed Mad River August Complex Project, and more updates.

Your support enables EPIC to continue monitoring, commenting on, and objecting to proposed timber projects like this one, on over 5.2 million acres of National Forest in Northwest California. We and the owls thank you!


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