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Threat to frogs puts Tahoe forest-thinning on hold

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. (AP) -- The U.S. Forest Service will postpone a tree-thinning project intended to decrease the wildfire risk at Lake Tahoe after a lawsuit raised concern about its effect on an endangered frog species.

The agency had been removing and burning trees and brush on land near Upper Echo Lake, about 8 miles southwest of South Lake Tahoe, that is considered for designation as critical habitat for the Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog.

Dennis Murphy, a renowned conservation biologist at the University of Nevada, Reno, filed the lawsuit last year. He said the logging threatens the survival of the frog, listed as an endangered species in April.

The Forest Service agreed in a stipulation signed by a federal judge Wednesday to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about potential effects to the frog, the Tahoe Daily Tribune reported (http://bit.ly/1pJWztO ).

It also said it would halt the project through this year and wait to resume thinning trees until finishing its consultation with wildlife officials.

Forest Service spokeswoman Cheva Gabor declined to comment. “Once the matter is in the courts, we let the legal process unwind,” she said.

Murphy's attorney, Paul Weiland, said he was pleased with the outcome.

“Certainly, it is welcome news that they were able to stop the project and address the issue with the project impacts with the Fish and Wildlife Service,” he told the newspaper.

The suit says the Forest Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to prepare an environmental impact statement or environmental assessment.

“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, a research professor in biology at UNR, said in a statement. “But instead the agency put on blinders to the impacts of the project hoping no one would notice.”

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Information from: Tahoe Daily Tribune, http://www.tahoedailytribune.com/

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