Forest Service Takes Action to Protect Wetlands at Upper Echo Lake, but Ends Up Causing Further Harm and Violating Federal Law

On October 17, 2014, a Forest Service crew entered the Upper Echo Lake Hazardous Fuels Reduction Project site and moved numerous slash piles of tree limbs and brush placed in wetlands approximately one year ago.  Unfortunately, the action was bound to be a failure from its inception for a number of reasons.

First, the agency has initiated consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under section 7(a)(2) of the Endangered Species Act regarding the effects of the Project on the endangered Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog.  While consultation is pending, section 7(d) of the ESA prohibits the agency from implementing the Project.  Therefore, the October 17, 2014, activities were initiated in violation of federal law.

Second, the agency entered into a court-ordered stipulation whereby it “resolved to take no further on-the-ground activities on the project until consultation is complete and, in any event, no on-the-ground activities in 2014.”  The October 17, 2014, activities were initiated in violation of the stipulated order, a excerpt of which is set out here:

Third, no advance work was completed before moving the slash piles; work that should have included delineation of wetlands and surveys for sensitive species, including the endangered yellow-legged frog.  As a consequence of this lack of planning, piles were moved from wetlands into other wetlands in some cases, and from wetlands to adjacent upland circumstances where the piles both will continue to harm wetlands and cannot be burned in place without creating a risk that the surrounding vegetation may be ignited due to proximity to trees and ground cover.

In court filings, the Forest Service continues to adhere to the position taken by Forest Supervisor Nancy Gibson in the Decision Memo for the Project that fuels reduction activities will have no impacts on the yellow-legged frog and on wetlands, while the agency is now consulting with the Fish and Wildlife Service regarding impacts to the species, and claims to have moved the slash piles in response to concerns expressed by the Lahontan Regional Board regarding impacts to wetlands and the waters of the Echo lakes basin.  This purposeful dissonance is evidence of avarice or ineptitude. Either way, the public loses.


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