A tree-thinning project of the U.S. Forest Service is supposed to reduce the risks of wildfire at Lake Tahoe but the activities involved apparently have serious ecological implications. The agency's operations of burning and removing trees on a land near Upper Echo Lake, which lies within the El Dorado National Forest in Sierra Nevada, appear to threaten an endangered species of frog.
The land serves as the Sierra Nevada Mountain yellow-legged frog's crucial habitat. The frog is endemic to the Sierra Nevada mountains and due to its declining population, has already been placed on the list of endangered species in April. The International Union for Conservation of Nature, or IUCN, estimates that adult population size of the animals may not be more than "a couple thousand".
In November last year, Dennis Murphy, from the Biology Department of the University of Nevada in Reno, filed a lawsuit over concerns that the logging poses risks to the survival of the endangered frog. Murphy, whose family owned a seasonal home on Upper Echo Lake for over 80 years, said that the agency should have conducted an assessment first whether or not its activities could have negative ecological impacts.
"At a minimum, the Forest Service should have conducted surveys of the project area to determine whether its activities would harm the species and its habitat," Murphy said. "Instead, the agency put on blinders to the impacts of the project hoping no one would notice."
Murphy claims that the Upper Echo Lakes Hazardous Fuels Reduction Project, which aims to reduce the risks of forest fire on land near the lake, violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which mandates federal agencies to protect the environment, as it pushed through without an environmental impact statement or environmental evaluation. The plaintiff said that if the Forest Service would continue burning and removing the trees and brush at the lake, its actions could lead to unwanted effects on ecological and historical resources.
The lawsuit has resulted in the Forest Service postponing its fuels reduction project. The agency agreed in a stipulation signed by a federal judge on Wednesday, August 6, to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about the potential impact of its fuels reduction project on the frogs.
The agency, which refused to comment on the case, committed not to take further action on the project through this year and to only resume the activities after it is done consulting with the wildlife service.