Suit to save Mount Graham red squirrel has Indian religious issues

The Center for Biological Diversity, Maricopa Audubon Society, and the Mount Graham Coalition have filed a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Forest Service to stop any further destructive impact from the Mount Graham telescopes on the critically endangered Mount Graham red squirrel. The legal action requests that Forest Service to seek a new Endangered Species Act evaluation of the project from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service by Feb. 22, 2011, or face litigation.

The Endangered Species Act requires that all federal agencies consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service if their actions jeopardize an endangered species. The Forest Service manages the land occupied by the University of Arizona’s telescopes.

The impact of the telescope project has been exempt from any evaluation since the university obtained a congressional exemption in 1988. The exemption shields the telescopes from any environmental review as long as they don’t affect more than 8.6 acres. The project’s affected area is now more than 40 percent larger than that, however, and is no longer exempt from review.

Only about 200 Mount Graham red squirrels survive. The squirrels are severely imperiled primarily because of the piecemeal destruction of their forest habitat. In addition to forest clearcutting in the area immediately adjoining the telescopes, nearly one-third of the squirrels’ essential spruce-fir forest habitat (approximately 250 acres) was destroyed in a Forest Service-lit backburn fire to protect the telescopes.

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