Saving the Red Tree Voles

Logging and fire threatens the red tree voles, local enviros sue Trump administration to save them

Red tree vole by Stephen DeStefano, USGS.

Conservation groups plan to sue the Trump administration for its failure to protect the red tree vole population that resides on the north Oregon coast. The Center for Biological Diversity, Cascadia Wildlands and Oregon Wild filed the intent to sue Tuesday, April 14.

“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,” Oregon Wild wildlife program coordinator Danielle Moser says in a statement. “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.”

Red tree voles live in trees and build nests on trees and inside cavities. They also forage on needles of conifers, according to the conservation groups’ notice to the Trump administration. The species is associated with old forests and is sensitive to logging; it can’t survive clearcutting or fire. The species is unable to adapt to new trees.

The Center for Biological Diversity and other groups petitioned to have the species protected in 2007. In 2011, following a legal settlement, the Fish and Wildlife Service determined the north Oregon coast red tree voles belonged on the Endangered Species Act. The agency later denied protections for the mammals in December 2019.

When a species is covered under the act, the federal government can acquire land to protect the species, as well as allow states to use federal money to preserve and protect it.

The red tree voles on the north coast are at risk of extinction if the Trump administration doesn’t enact Endangered Species Act safeguards, according to the conservation groups.

“Red tree voles are an incredible species that live off conifer needles and are uniquely adapted to the ancient forests of the Pacific Northwest,”  Cascadia Wildlands legal director Nick Cady said in a statement. “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 conservation groups write in the intent to sue that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service fail to offer any rationalization why the species and its living space are not at significant risk. They add that the Ninth Circuit Court has told the agency that it “must ‘develop some rational explanation for why the lost and threatened portions of a species’ range are insignificant before deciding not to designate the species for protection.’”