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 Local forestry agencies, industry debate owl lawsuit

by DEVAN SCHWARTZ, Herald and News 3/26/13

     A lawsuit attempting to block the expansion of spotted owl critical habitat has led to a renewed debate about timber harvesting versus environmental regulation.

   On Thursday, the American Forest Resource Council announced its lawsuit on behalf of forest products manufacturers and related groups.

   AFRC president Tom Partin said in an interview with the Herald and News that logging was never the culprit of diminished spotted owl habitat; it was due more to wildfires and the encroachment of the moreaggressive barred owl.  

   The group’s news release said that “the final critical habitat covers 9.29 million acres of mostly federal forest lands and 291,570 acres of State of Oregon lands, nearly double the 5.3 million acres designated in 2008. The proposal will have a significant impact on forest management throughout the range of the northern spotted owl in Oregon, California and Washington.”

   Partin said he felt this expansion represents an overreach that doesn’t address the real issues, and that’s why they’re taking legal action.

   The impacts of spotted owls have reverberated strongly in the timber industry. In 1989, northern spotted owls were protected   under the Endangered Species Act and, by 1990, there was a precipitous drop in Oregon timber harvests — from 8,420 million board feet to 6,219 MMBF.

   A previous lawsuit prevented a similar expansion of spotted owl habitat from 2008 to 2012.


   But Erica Hupp, public affairs staff officer for Fremont-Winema National Forest, said the debate is over. “This is no proposed expansion, this is final. From our perspective it is final until the judge says otherwise.”

   U.S. Fish and Wildlife spokesman Matt Baun confirmed the ruling has been in effect since Jan. 3.

   Dave Schott, executive vice-president of the   Southern Oregon Timber Industry Association, said this expansion of critical habitat makes the forests less strong and less resilient, and would not address wildfire.

   “The critical habitat ruling is just so restrictive and probably puts the spotted owl in greater danger than if we had a sound management plan and at this juncture we do not have that,” Schott said.

   Mark Slezak, timber manager at Columbia Forest Products, said it’s not particularly critical to his company because it doesn’t survive on federal timber supplies, “though we’re definitely in favor of loosening the definition of critical habitat. We just don’t use   federal timber because it hasn’t been available.”

   Critical habitat

   Schott said the expansion of critical habitat does not consider the long-range ramifications of what a lack of management does. “There’s no question that everyone’s concerned how this will affect long-range forest management. We definitely need to make our forests much stronger and more resilient and this critical habitat designation will make it less so.”

   Hupp disagrees with the characterization of critical habitat as implying a lack of forest management.

   “Critical habitat encourages active management,” she said. “We’re currently logging some stuff in the   Rocky Point area in critical owl habitat. It doesn’t mean we can’t log or under-burn if we need to. It just means we do what’s good for spotted owls in the long-term.”

   In its news release, the American Forest Resource Council states it is suing to “stop violations of the O&C Act, the Forest Land Planning and Management Act, the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.”

   The AFRC website can be accessed at amforest.org and the Department of the Interior’s final ruling on the expansion of critical spotted owl habitat can be read at  http://tinyurl.com/cbdapb5  .



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