PERKOWSKI, Capital Press
The U.S. Forest Service must study competition between
threatened spotted owls and barred owls before proceeding
with a timber project in an Oregon national forest.
A federal judge has blocked logging on more than 2,000 acres
in the Willamette National Forest, including about 450 acres
of spotted owl habitat that would have been removed or
Two environmental groups — Cascadia Wildlands and Oregon
Wild — filed a legal complaint against the “Goose Project”
last year. The Freres Lumber Co. and Seneca Sawmill Co.
intervened as defendants in the case.
U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken has rejected most of the
environmentalists’ arguments but agreed that several factors
“raise a substantial question as to whether the Goose
Project may significantly affect the environment.”
The ruling notes that the Forest Service acknowledged
uncertainties about the project’s effects, such as the role
of habitat fragmentation has in the rivalry between spotted
owls and barred owls.
Barred owls are considered more aggressive and adaptable
than spotted owls, allowing them to dominate resources.
Aiken also agreed with environmentalists that reducing the
size of a potential wilderness area, building a permanent
road and logging in riparian areas are also “significant
“The court recognizes the deference afforded to an agency,
and when considered individually, none of these significance
factors might require an EIS,” she said. “However, when
considered collectively, they do.”
Scott Horngren, attorney for the sawmills, said he’s
troubled by the implication that competition between the two
owls points to the need for a more comprehensive review.
“Arguably, this means every timber sale in the Northwest
Forest Plan area has to have an EIS,” he said.
Environmental groups could point to the ruling and argue
that other projects must undergo an EIS, rather than a more
concise environmental assessment, Horngren said.
The Forest Service already looked at the barred owl issue in
such an assessment and found there’s scant evidence that
timber harvests cause the birds to compete either more or
less aggressively, he said.
The EIS will likely come to the same conclusions, but will
delay the timber project by up to a year and use up agency
resources, Horngren said. “That seems wasteful and
Bob Ferris, executive director of Cascadia Wildlands, called
that a “disingenuous” characterization, because the
government may propose an alternative that’s more palatable
for environmental groups and the local community.
“The EIS may facilitate something that is more agreeable
than the EA,” he said.
The group is concerned about barred owls because the spotted
owl population hasn’t recovered despite habitat protections
provided by the Northwest Forest Plan, Ferris said.
“We’re still seeing downward trends,” he said.