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The Secretive GOSHAWK: A Wild Barometer of the Uintas

Utah national forests should be managed to maintain their old growth structure and complexity in order to protect the goshawk.

The Intermountain Region of the Forest Service has finally released its Draft Utah Northern Goshawk Project Environmental Assessment (for background see THE LYNX, 12/98, 4/99 and Special Alert, 2/99). And our concerns are significant.

Beyond any doubt, the scientific literature shows goshawk habitat is sensitive and dwindling. That habitat consists of old and mature (unmanaged) forests with all of the physical/structural complexity of unmanaged forests with canopy closures on the high side--70%-90%. Yet the draft EA emphasizes managing for a canopy closure at the lower end of what would be considered old growth/mature and unmanaged forest conditions.

The same holds true for foraging habitat. The majority of studies dealing specifically with foraging habitat suggest goshawks select for foraging in old growth forests over simple prey abundance as suggested in the EA. Furthermore, goshawks seems to avoid open forested areas as they forage. Again the EA emphasizes more of an open canopy context rather than being consistent with what the preponderance of scientific literature suggests.

Goshawk by Margaret Pettis Goshawk by Margaret Pettis
Goshawk by Margaret Pettis Goshawk by Margaret Pettis

The EA seems to have concluded that lower canopy covers are a benefit to goshawks without any substantiation and contrary to all of the data that exists with respect to goshawks. Then, of course, the alternatives that best meet this reduced canopy cover are considered best for goshawks. This is a never ending circle of denial of the data while allowing for logging to further fragment goshawk habitat. The EA simply fails to analyze the data that exists against the desired habitat conditions, including foraging habitat, to determine whether they, in fact, meet the known and accepted biological constraints upon goshawk survival.

The EA presents no data that the lower standards will benefit goshawks. It simply asserts that lower canopy closures and open foraging conditions are adequate. This is not an adequate analysis. In fact, the EA seems to suggest dense forests are a negative impact upon both nesting and foraging behaviors of goshawks without any explanation.

The fact that the standards and guidelines are described in the context of timber management prescriptions says more than was probably intended. This EA seems more of a timber management prescription built to meet a minimum goshawk set of standards. The EA notes there is no threat to goshawk viability, yet there has been no real viability analysis of goshawks and the relative productivity of goshawk habitat across its range in Utah. It is simply an assumption that the goshawk is viable in Utah.

Our expectations were that this effort would initiate a formal protocol to determine viability. As it stands now viability is assumed, based on some observations and an assumption that gross habitat is equally valuable and viable across each habitat type.

Not surprisingly, but nonetheless depressing, the preferred alternative is not the best alternative in the EA-- that which proposes Utah national forests be managed to maintain their old growth structure and complexity and protects Utah goshawks .

Dick Carter


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