Conservation groups today filed a legal challenge to the Trump administration for failing to protect the imperiled North Oregon Coast population of red tree voles under the Endangered Species Act.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service denied protections to the red tree vole in December 2019, despite several previous findings that such protections were warranted. Red tree voles have been decimated throughout much of their range by habitat loss from logging and historic fires. The small remaining population on Oregon’s north coast is at immediate risk of extinction without Endangered Species Act safeguards.
“Oregon’s fragile population of red tree voles could be lost forever to unchecked logging or wiped out in a single fire event,” said Quinn Read, Oregon policy director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Trump administration’s about-face on protecting our voles rejects science and ignores the bleak outlook for these rare tree dwelling mammals.”
This distinct population of red tree vole is found only along Oregon’s northern coast. Red tree voles live nearly their entire lives in trees and are closely associated with old-growth forests. They have been nearly eliminated by a long history of logging.
The landscape has also never been allowed to recover from the historic Tillamook burns, a series of fires throughout the early half of the 20th Century that impacted the north coast, including the Tillamook and Clatsop state forests. Following those fires, hundreds of thousands of acres of native forests were converted into industrial tree plantations. The Oregon Department of Forestry and Oregon politicians have opposed allowing these stands to age into the old-growth habitat red tree voles rely on, and have pursued logging plans that would significantly diminish what little remains on state public lands.
“Red tree voles are an incredible species that live off conifer needles and are uniquely adapted to the ancient forests of the Pacific Northwest,” said Nick Cady, legal director of Cascadia Wildlands. “They have inspired a substantial body of citizen science and surveys. Folks can hike through our forests, looking for evidence of needle consumption at the bases of trees hundreds of years old, and climb and document nests to contribute to the scientific community’s understanding of this rare and imperiled species. Red tree voles are iconic and so well loved, they deserve our best efforts.”
The Center and other groups filed a petition in 2007 to list the red tree vole under the Endangered Species Act. Following a legal settlement, the Fish and Wildlife Service determined in 2011 that the North Oregon Coast population of red tree voles warranted protection. But listing was precluded by higher priority actions, and the Service maintained red tree voles on the list of candidate species until it announced its new finding in December 2019 that listing was not warranted.
“The red tree vole and the diverse, older forests it inhabits are vital to the survival of northern spotted owls, wild salmon, and countless other species,” said Danielle Moser, wildlife program coordinator for Oregon Wild. “These forests and wildlife are a critical part of Oregon's natural heritage, and they should be protected as a legacy for future generations, not destroyed for short-term profit."
Today’s notice of intent was filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, Cascadia Wildlands and Oregon Wild.
|Red tree vole. Photo courtesy of Stephen DeStefano, USGS. Image is available for media use.|