The Center for Biological Diversity: A History of Harming Arizona Forests

The 2014 San Juan fire did not harm the thinned treated forest to the left of this road, but devastated the untreated forest on the right side of this road. Photo by: Rep. Bob Thorpe

In 2012, the citizens of the City of Flagstaff, AZ voted for and approved Proposition 405, a $10 million bond to thin the forest surrounding Flagstaff’s vitally important watershed. Now, the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) is objecting to the project, and like a broken record, they are once again claiming that thinning will harm the “Mexican spotted owl.”

Junk Science

Over the past several decades, environmentalists have almost destroyed the U.S. and Arizona’s lumber industry, and the livelihoods of the families who relied upon this important, historic industry. The environmentalists claim that logging endangers the spotted owl. However, since that time, scientists have determined that the more aggressive barred owls, great horned owls and northern goshawks were actually killing the spotted owls, not forest thinning. Researchers have also learned that spotted owls like to sit on tree branches and use their keen night vision to scan for prey in the dark. They are “perch and pounce” predators, hunting by sight in open spaces where they can fly underneath and between trees for wood rats, mice, voles, rabbits, gophers, bats, birds, reptiles and arthropods. Hunting by sight is greatly enhanced by an open, clean, thinned forest, not an overgrown, unhealthy congested forest where the forest floor has not seen fire, and is cluttered with dead wood and overgrown with invasive non-native plants.

Climate Change and Devastation

According to U.S. Forest Service (USFS) officials, years ago, the CBD sued in order to stop a fully planned, NEPA approved and much needed thinning project in Eastern Arizona in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest. In June 2014, the San Juan fire burned 7,000 acres of overgrown forest, releasing an incredible amount of greenhouse gas, air and water pollution, killing countless endangered, threatened and other wildlife (including spotted owls), and destroying critical habitat. In those areas where the USFS had completed the forest treatment with thinning and controlled burns, the forest was spared and looks beautiful today. However, due to the CBD lawsuit, the 7,000 acres that were not treated were burned instead, and look horrible, blackened, scarred and lifeless today.

According to USFS officials, due to the Center for Biological Diversity lawsuit, there are now 7,000 acres of dead, burned trees from the 2014 San Juan fire. Photo by: Rep. Bob Thorpe
According to USFS officials, due to the Center for Biological Diversity lawsuit, there are now 7,000 acres
of dead, burned trees from the 2014 San Juan fire. Photo by: Rep. Bob Thorpe

Historically, northern Arizona forests had about 50 trees per acre, where mature ponderosa pine trees drink about 300 gallons of water per day when the soil is wet. After years of lawsuits by environmentalists challenging forest thinning projects, our unhealthy Arizona forests can now approach 1,000 trees per acre, where trees must compete for sunlight and water, and are prone to catastrophic crown wildfires, and death by bark beetles and disease.

Due to environmentalists, like the CBD and the Sierra Club, our forest health and environments have dramatically changed for the worse. The ecosystems and climate has also changed, for example, where Arizona’s scarce water resources are now stored in overgrown, congested forests, instead of flowing into aquifers, streams, rivers and


  1. Research has shown that there is considerable spotted owl deprivation by other birds of prey across the country, and Arizona Game and Fish Department officials have confirmed that here in AZ these birds include great horned owls, red tail hawks and goshawks. The Center for Biological Diversity has simply not provided any evidence to the contrary, that this is not also happening to the Mexican Spotted Owl (MSO) here in Arizona.

    Senior level U.S. Forest Officials stated that actions by the Center for Biological Diversity were instrumental in stopping the NEPA-approved forest thinning operations in Eastern Arizona, that later accounted for the 7,000 acres of burned forest during the 2014 San Juan fire. This caused a huge reduction in the ecosystem’s “biological diversity” including the tragic deaths of all types of wildlife and both threatened and endangered species.

    Contrary to the Center for Biological Diversity’s recent statement that they “know the facts”, they did not acknowledge or contest the fact that the MSO do much better and hunt more successfully in historically thinned, cleaned forest (i.e., 50 trees per acre) as opposed to dense, overgrown, unhealthy forests. Nor did they acknowledge the fact that there are strict regulations already in place for restricting what times of the year when logging operations can take place, in order not to impact the MSO during their breeding season. It has been reported that MSO have actually been located nesting inside barns and other outbuildings, so the presence of humans certainly does not appear to negatively impact the owls.

    The MSO is not even a federally-listed endangered species, it is instead considered a species of special concern by the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AGFD), and a sensitive species by the U.S. Forest Service. It is unclear what the number of MSO are in the Flagstaff watershed thinning area. For example, the immense forested Camp Navajo, just 20 miles west of Flagstaff, is very similar to the Flagstaff watershed forest area regarding the elevation and types of trees and forest density. In a 2000 survey, a few MSO detected by AGFD were assumed to be from the Volunteer Canyon area, and no nests or roosts were found within Camp Navajo. No MSO were detected during the 2002 or 2003 survey seasons. In 2008, two MSO were detected, one single male during early migration period and a single male was detected in the Volunteer Canyon Area, but there were no signs of nesting attempts.

    The reason why the Center for Biological Diversity arrogantly states that they are “winning” is because they are nothing more than a litigation machine. Unlike admirable groups such as the Nature Conservancy that are actually out in the field, working with the Forest Service, applying science and making an effort to improve forest health and biological diversity, the legal team (the “Suits”) of the Center for Biological Diversity sue the taxpayer-supported government agencies, small ranchers, family farmers and private businesses in order to win financial settlements and gain private contributions. At the end of they day, our ecosystems are not healthier or more “biologically-diverse” due to the Center for Biological Diversity. However, our citizens are financially harmed, their outdoor recreational opportunities are curtailed, and their personal health is compromised as our unhealthy forests burn and release vast amounts of harmful air and water pollution.

  2. Nice try Frank, but that document says not one word about the center getting legal fees for suits that it loses. Would you like to withdraw your lie?

  3. here ya go:

    DOJ Documents Confirm Center for Biological Diversity Received Millions in Taxpayer Funds from ESA-Related Lawsuits

    Center for Biological Diversity Disregards 2011 Settlement Agreement, Files Major Endangered Species Act Petition
    Posted by Crystal Feldman on August 08, 2012
    “We’re disappointed that they filed another large, multi-species petition. Fifty-three species is a large number, and the species are spread across the country.” – Gary Frazer, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Assistant Director for Endangered Species
    The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) recently petitioned the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) under the guise of protecting 53 new species across the United States – the largest petition ever filed focused on amphibians and reptiles. The petition comes on the heels of a 2011 mega-settlement between the Interior Department, the Center for Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians that covered 779 species in 85 lawsuits and legal actions. The settlement required FWS to take action on pending petitions for 757 species over the next seven years. In exchange, the two environmental groups agreed to limit lawsuits filed against the Agency so that efforts can be focused on trying to accomplish the terms of the agreement.
    While the recent petition does not directly violate the terms of the settlement, it does divert money and resources away from species recovery and disregards the spirit of the settlement by adding to the Agency’s backlog of petitions. Time and again, CBD and other similar groups have undermined the goal of the ESA by litigating, obstructing, and frustrating the FWS while racking up hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer-funded attorney fees that continue to feed their litigious strategies to the detriment of species and people.

  4. well I dont care what you think, You dont want to look it up fine, but its out there so since you are the troll for these groups prove the rest of us wrong since you are so sincere. But yes they file so they can make $$ off the feds. They are more of a nuisance than an aid to the country with how they work.

  5. Hank,

    The government does NOT pay legal fees if the enviros lose. You made that up, just as Thorpe falsely claimed the Center sued over a timber sale in the San Juan Fire.

    Let’s be clear. I’m calling you and Thorpe liars. Prove me wrong Hank. Tell me the nàme ofvyhe lawsuits?

    This is why the Center for Biological Diversity kicks your ass every time. They are focsed, high tech activists who known they’re sh#t and put it on the line all day every day in the real world. You’re a whiney couch potato who trolls the internet with babbling asserting that are never tested in the real world and real judges.

  6. There have been several artic les on these enviro groups and the only enviro they are interested in is their own. The gov’t pays them when the sue win or lose so they dont care. If they had to pony up on their own they would never be heard from. They do know how to distort stuff to get wha they want and what they want it seems is to live off the public tit for as long as they can. Like anything else maybe at 1 time they had a useful purpose, but that time has been long gone for some time now and all they do is again try to milk the tit for all they can get.

  7. I went with my BIL to one of the spotted owl discussions. People presented information on these things and the response was “we didn’t know that”, and guess what they continued on their merry way to close down forests and jobs because of the ‘spotted owl’. Just like the big alam some years back on the snot nosed sotted bats and agave trees. Remember that? Guess they made a miraculous comback because they have not been in the news for years. Neither have the pygmy owls who shut down whole areas because supposedly someone heard on someplace and as a result 1000’s of acres had to be put off limits. I guess they made another miraculous comeback also. So stay away from letting the feds protect anything and they will survive on their own, with fed help guess they will not.

  8. I wish that the true predators and killers of the spotted owls receive more media attention. I read that the USFS agreed to begin a genocide against barn owls after their 30 year study determined that they were the true destroyer of spotted owls. How much money was wasted, and entire industries, not just logging, but agriculture (like ranching) were destroyed for a total fool’s errand (saving the spotted owl)? When will the federal government be held accountable for their absolutely disastrous environmental policies, like saving the spotted owl? Does the federal government not hold some blame for the massive wildfires in the southwest, starting at least with the Rodeo-Chediski fire (the largest outdoor barbecue of spotted owls ever)?

  9. When these idiots sue the government guess who picks up the lawyers fees and the end result of whatever they get? They dont pay any of these things from THEIR funds, they only pay with tax dollars provided by the government to 1 sue, 2 pay the LAWYERS 3 settle the claim.

    Its nothing but a scam and the idiots we elect must share in the bounty because they sure dont do anything to stop such BS.

  10. Sue and settle “cases”- there’s good news. Lawmakers (state and phed) are working to end these scamming operations. Believe it.

  11. These lawsuits are not about the environment, they are about $$. These supposed eco groups sue to make big $$ and that is that. They could care less about the forests or anything else otherwise they would not be such penus brains. Lewis and clark almost starved to death when they reached the west coast, the forrest were too thick and there was little life under the trees. The local natives took them in and helped them fish for survival. Just go to someplace like the red wood forest in calif or the forest noth of San frisco and you will not see or hear any wildlife as the trees have crowded out everything. No these groups are in it for the $$ and the enviro itself is hurting as a result.

  12. Actually, Steve, it is you who doesn’t know what he is talking about. Positive 90-day petition findings are not judicially challengeable under Section 4 of the ESA — only “negative” findings and those precluded by prioritization are. Secondly, those opposing a listing or critical habitat designation may not bring suit under the citizen suit provision of the ESA but, rather, must bring legal action under the Administrative Procedure Act where, as stated previously, the federal rules of evidence do not apply. Third, it is hardly “anti-environmentalist” to insist that all ESA decisions be made solely on the basis of the best scientific information available. You assume too much in assuming otherwise, just as you assume too much in presenting a totally bizarre and factually wrong scenario as sufficient support for your baseless opinion.

  13. CERCLA makes it impossible for EPA to be held accountable for its complete incompetence regarding what happened at the Gold King Mine in Colorado. Our laws also don’t prevent frivolous lawsuits by CBD. Multiple lawsuits against USFW have been lodged for critical habitat designation in AZ for the jaguar when it’s clear that AZ territory is not critical for the survival of jaguars. Jaguars depend on habitat in South and Central America and in Mexico. This ties up our government officials until they’ve been bullied into submission and toe the line of the wishes of this NGO, which is powered by numerous lawyers…who receive their funding via taxpayers. Vicious circle.

  14. Chico doesn’t know what he’s talking about. All ESA listing decisions–90-day, 12-month and final– can be challenged by those for or against it. Why do anti-environmentalists always have come up with bizarre, utterly made up legal theories?

  15. While both Rep. Thorpe and David Briggs are quite right in their assessments of the CBD, it is the wording of the ESA, and interpretation of such by the courts, that affords the CBD the opportunity to act in the manner it does in the first place. This is because of the fundamental manner in which the ESA violates Equal Protection and thus precludes meaningful review of its own evidentiary standard — that all determinations be based on the best scientific information available. First, unlike most statutes, the ESA only allows judicial review at the 90 day petition level for negative or delayed finding. Positive findings by the FWS for a petition to list or designate critical habitat, however, are not subject to judicial review, thus rendering the best scientific information available requirement meaningless, since the FWS is under no onus of accountability for its decision at this initial level.

    After a year of review, the FWS then decides whether the petitioned action is warranted (i.e., either listing of a species, designation of critical habitat, or both). Once again, however, the rules of engagement are vastly different for those arguing for and those arguing against a warranted finding.

    For those arguing for a warranted finding, the citizen suit provision of the ESA and the federal rules of evidence both apply. For those arguing against a warranted finding, however, neither the citizen suit provision of the ESA nor the federal rules of evidence apply to any suit brought in federal court. Instead, such suit must be brought under the umbrella of the Administrative Procedure Act where the federal rules of evidence — and the possibility of evidentiary hearing — does not exist, thus rendering the “solely the best scientific information available” evidentiary standard meaningless once again.

    The upshot of all of this is that similarly situated persons living in the same household and endorsing species conservation through prudent, scientific review are subjected to different treatment under the law. Those for a petitioned action are afforded access to the courts at the 90 day petition finding level while those opposing such action, no matter how strong the scientific evidence is in support of their position, are not. At the final determination level, this treatment repeats itself. Those for a listing or designation of critical habitat are afforded use of the citizen suit provision of the ESA and the federal rules of evidence, while those opposed to the listing or designation of critical habitat are precluded the use of either. Until one word is omitted in section 4 of the ESA — that only “negative” findings are subject to judicial review at the 90 day petition finding level, and, until use of the federal rules of evidence, and thus availability of scientific evidentiary hearings, are extended to those opposing the listing or critical habitat determination, the ESA will always be in fundamental violation of Equal Protection and decisions made thereunder will never be based solely on the basis of the best scientific information available.

  16. I believe the correct name for them is “Eco-Terrorist’s”. They do NOT want diversity, they want complete control over public lands so that the “public” can NOT have access to them. Just more morons that do not know squat about the eco system and who are IMO Non Essential and Expendable.

  17. The Center for Biological Diversity opposes everything. Why? Their business model requires them to do so. If they took a more pragmatic approach their funding would dry up and they would go out of business. It’s all about the money. They could care less about the environment.

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