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Animals In Print
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From 29 June 2007 Issue

Spotted Owl Old Growth Habitat Protection Cut Back

PORTLAND, Oregon, June 12, 2007 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today released its proposal to reduce protections for 20 percent of the Pacific Northwest old growth forest that provides critical habitat for the threatened northern spotted owl.

The new proposal would remove protections from 1.549 million acres of the owl's critical habitat, allowing more logging and development and harming the owl's chance of recovery.

The proposal comes as the British Columbia government is capturing the last 16 northern spotted owls remaining in the province and logging their old growth forest habitat.

"Spotted owls are only one part of this story," said Kristen Boyles of Earthjustice, a public interest nonprofit law firm. "The old growth forests that are home to the owls are part of our Northwest outdoor heritage and give us places to hike, hunt, camp, drink clean water, and breathe clean air. Removing these protections would be a tragedy."

The proposal relies on the draft recovery plan for the owl issued last month by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that was criticized even by members of the agency's own recovery plan team.

Team members said that Bush administration political appointees rejected the body of scientific knowledge showing that protecting the owl's old growth forest habitat is essential to its recovery.

"By suppressing science in the draft recovery plan and then relying on that plan, the Bush administration is setting up the dominos to topple old growth protection," said Dominick DellaSala, a biologist who was part of the owl recovery plan team.

"This proposal lets BLM [the federal Bureau of Land Management] off the hook and will allow it to gut old growth protections in Oregon," said Doug Heiken of Oregon Wild. "Timber industry demands are driving revisions to undermine the Northwest Forest Plan."

"The push to dismantle the Northwest Forest Plan and other protections for the owl is being driven by sweetheart deals between the timber industry and the Bush administration in response to a series of friendly lawsuit settlements with the American Forest Resource Council, a timber industry lobbying group," Earthjustice says.

The American Forest Resource Council, AFRC, says the owl draft recovery plan indicates "that in spite of locking up millions of acres of forestland in northern California, Oregon and Washington, spotted owl numbers are declining due to factors other than timber harvest."

AFRC says the owl population is declining due to "habitat loss to catastrophic wildfire and competition from the barred owl a more aggressive owl species not native to the west."

In the draft recovery plan, AFRC says, "Option 1 relies on the same assumptions and habitat structure that was put in place in the mid-1990s, which haven't worked."

"Option 2 represents an updated approach for recovering the owl since it calls for protecting the habitats they are actually utilizing. This is accomplished by using updated owl locations, site-specific habitat information, and adaptive management practices to maintain that habitat." AFRC is calling on its members to suppport Option 2.

The Fish and Wildlife Service listed northern spotted owls as a threatened species in 1988.

The Service says that "rangewide the population declined at a rate of about 3.7 percent per year from 1985 to 2003. Northern spotted owl populations on federal lands had better demographic rates than elsewhere, but still declined at a mean annual rate of about 2.4 percent per year."

Throughout the Pacific Northwest, less than 20 percent of the original old growth forest remains.

To view the Fish and Wildlife Service proposal, click here.

The public is welcome to submit comments on this proposal until August 13 by email to: [email protected]

Requests for public hearings must be submitted in writing by July 27, to: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Oregon Fish and Wildlife Office, 2600 SE 98th Ave., Suite 100, Portland, OR 97266.

Go on to 29 June 2007 Issue
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