The U.S. Forest Service could be forced to make changes in its land-use planning for four forests it manages in Southern California as a result of a lawsuit that charges the service hasn't properly considered preserving the 40 federally endangered and threatened species of plants and animals that live there. Until the Forest Service takes those species into account, the suit is asking a federal court to stop such activities as livestock grazing, mining, off-road vehicle use, road building, land exchanges, land purchases, special projects, and other uses in the Los Padres, Angeles, San Bernardino and Cleveland National Forests. Those forests span California's coast and interior regions from Monterey to San Diego. The suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, charged that the Forest Service, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has failed to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is a division of the U.S. Department of Interior. The suit charges the Forest Service should be consulting with the Fish and Wildlife Service over Land and Resource Management Plans (LRMP) for the four forests and their impacts on federally-listed threatened and endangered species there. The suit was filed by the Arizona-based Southwest Center for Biological Diversity. The group's attorney, Jay Tutchton, said it has entered settlement negotiations with the U.S. Forest Service and that the Forest Service has begun consultations with the Fish and Wildlife Service since the lawsuit was filed. A LRMP is a 10- to 15-year strategy for managing each forest in an environmentally sound way. Many if not most of the 40 species in the lawsuit were listed after the LRMPS were adopted in the 1980s. Tutchton said that if the Forest Service took care of endangered species within its forests, some species who live on private property might not be endangered or threatened species. The costs imposed on a private developer to do an HCP for such species can be hundreds of thousands of dollars, he noted, while in contrast, the government makes only $1.30 a month to allow cows to graze in national forests and denude riparian habitats. Tutchton said that cows are allowed to graze in both the Los Padres and Cleveland National Forests. Another example of the Forest Services' failure to take endangered and threatened species into account, he said, was placing a campground "squarely in an Arroyo Toad breeding ground in Los Padres National Forest." A U.S. Justice Department attorney declined to comment on the specifics of the case. The suit seeks an order forcing the Forest Service to consult with the FWS, and to prevent the Forest Service from continuing with such activities until it complies with the Endangered Species Act. While the Forest Service has begun such consultations, Tuchton called it "limited progress." Tuchton said similar suits had earlier been filed against national forests in the Pacific Northwest, Arizona and New Mexico to bring the Forest Service into compliance there. He said he was unaware whether other national forests in Northern California were in compliance. The case is Southwest Center for Biological Diversity v. G. Lynn Sprague, et al., Case No. 98-2434SC. Contacts: James J. Tutchton, Earthlaw, (303) 871-6034. Jean Williams, U.S. Forest Service, (202) 305-0228.