Spotted owl controversy renews over logging plan
KCBY News 6/12/17
GRANTS PASS, Ore. - The Bush administration Tuesday
proposed cutting 1.5 million acres from Northwest forests
considered critical to the survival of the northern spotted owl,
reopening the 1990s battle between timber production and
wildlife habitat on public lands.
The owl, which became a symbol of the decline of the Northwest's
timber industry, was declared a threatened species in 1990 due
primarily to heavy logging in the old growth forests where it
nests and feeds.
Recent research has noted that while old growth forests suitable
for owl habitat have increased, owl numbers have continued to
decline, and that the owl faces a new threat from a cousin, the
barred owl, that has been invading its territory.
''One of the most upsetting things about this proposal is that
the spotted owl wars of the '90s had simmered down quite a bit,
and a kind of balance had been reached regarding logging and old
growth forests,'' said Kieran Suckling, policy director for the
Center for Biological Diversity, a conservation group in Tucson,
Ariz. ''This critical habitat proposal combined with the draft
owl recovery plan sets the stage for reopening those wounds and
pushing us back into an era of controversy and fighting.''
The proposal by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was a result
of a settlement in a lawsuit brought by the timber industry. It
was published in the Federal Register. A final decision is due
by June 1, 2008.
The service called for cutting critical habitat for the owl from
the 6.9 million acres of federal lands designated in 1992 by 22
percent, to 5.4 million acres. Among places removed are the Fort
Lewis military base in Washington, national forest areas
designated as wilderness since 1992, and some areas known as
late successional reserves where most logging is prohibited to
protect owl and salmon habitat.
Critical habitat does not by itself bar logging, but it does
require federal agencies to consult with the Fish and Wildlife
Service to see whether a specific project, such as a timber
sale, would jeopardize the recovery of an endangered species.
Since taking office in 2000, the Bush administration has been
working to boost timber production in the Northwest, but it has
been largely stymied by court rulings, including several that
tossed out plans to log in critical habitat for the owl.
The proposal is based on a new draft recovery plan that
designates areas critical to the owl's recovery and calls for
killing some barred owls that have taken over spotted owl
habitat, the Fish and Wildlife Service said. It also depends on
better technology to map forests favored by owls and better
understanding of what sorts of forests owls favor.
''This is not an effort to get out the (timber) cut,'' said Fish
and Wildlife spokeswoman Joan Jewett from Portland. ''This is an
effort to identify where forest areas are most important to the
conservation and recovery of the spotted owl.''
But Dominick DellaSala, director of the National Center for
Conservation and Policy and a member of the spotted owl recovery
team, said from Ashland, Ore., that cutting timber is exactly
what the changes are designed to do.
He noted that some of the biggest pieces of critical habitat
removed from the new proposal are on U.S. Bureau of Land
Management land in Western Oregon, where the agency is working
on a major new plan to boost timber production.
Chris West, vice president of the American Forest Resource
Council, the timber group that sued the administration, said the
groups' initial analysis was that the critical habitat areas
should be even smaller, because they contain areas with no owls
or no suitable habitat.
''The critical habitat should have a link to where the owls are
and what the greatest threat is,'' West said from Eugene. ''The
greatest threat is the barred owl, not the loss of mature forest
He said environmentalists are fixated on using the owl as a
surrogate to protect old growth forests, ''instead of focusing
on what the owl needs to survive.''
After two decades of the heaviest logging ever on Northwest
national forests, once the nation's top timber producing region,
conservation groups won lawsuits demanding the U.S. Forest
Service and BLM obey their own regulations and protect habitat
for the spotted owl.
The 1994 Northwest Forest Plan cut timber production on national
forests in Washington, Oregon and Northern California by more
than 80 percent to protect owl and salmon habitat, contributing
to mill closures and job losses that were particularly painful
in rural areas with no other industry. The plan served as a de
facto recovery plan until a new one was drafted this year.
Since then, the Northwest economy has turned to other
industries, particularly high-tech, retirement and tourism, but
some rural areas continue to struggle.