California spotted owl listing process

As Larry mentioned a month ago, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service has made a positive 90-day finding on a petition to list the California spotted owl under ESA.  This means that listing may be warranted, and the agency is soliciting additional comments by November 17.

The action was taken in response to a petition last December by the Wild Nature Institute and the John Muir Project of Earth Island Institute.  A second petition was submitted by Sierra Forest Legacy and Defenders of Wildlife in August.  The SFL website lists the new scientific information that supports listing, which among other things downplays the idea that fires are bad for owls.   The FWS response to the earlier petition states:  “Recent research has focused on use of burned forests by CSO and has concluded that unlogged burned areas may be important to reproductive success and continued occupancy.” 

The petition response also implicates national forest plans as another detrimental change that has occurred that must be considered in determining the adequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms for protecting the species:

  • 2004a USDA. This amendment to the 2001 US Forest Service Forest Plans
    (USDA 2001) allowed increased or new timber harvest, thinning. fuels
    reduction. post fire logging. etc. in areas previously managed for CSO.
  • USDA 2013b. Management in the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit
    allows clear cut timber harvest and removal of larger diameter trees (>30″
    dbh) in CSO habitat and previously occupied nest areas.

It is currently Forest Service policy to not contribute to listing under ESA.

10 Comments

  1. The CASPO currently has more protections than the other listed owls but, the elimination of managed forests should doom the birds, maybe moreso than the barred owl issues, to the north. There is very little in scientific studies that say that “snags are essential to the owl’s survival”, as the serial litigants claim. There is substantial truth that their nesting habitats are being systematically burned up, though. We WILL reach a point where there just isn’t enough nesting habitat to go around, and pairs of birds may not find suitable nesting habitat, throughout their lives. Remember, they are territorial, and they do defend their habitats.

    Clearly, Chad Hanson remains intent on ending all Forest Service timber sales. He’s losing in court, so he’s trying other avenues.

  2. Also, remember that the original Sierra Nevada Framework reduces the ASQ’s to around 1/30th of the 80’s levels. The current diameter limits are at 20″ dbh, with some areas, close to homes, having a diameter limit of 12″ dbh. THIS is what Chad Hanson and his followers are currently fighting against.

    The results of such restrictions are that thinning projects have come to a stand-still and that prescribed fires acreages are woefully inadequate. The Forest Service is, indeed, hamstrung and caught in the middle. I guess we have more court battles over salvage logging ahead of us. I would be in favor of Congress crafting a bill to eliminate lawsuits over salvage logging, as long as it follows certain environmental rules. Or, a categorical exclusion, carefully crafted.

  3. See also: http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/lassen/news-events/?cid=FSEPRD476954

    Forest Service shares information on process for developing California Spotted Owl Conservation Strategy

    Release Date: Oct 22, 2015

    VALLEJO, California, October 13, 2015 – The U.S. Forest Service Pacific Southwest Region is developing a conservation strategy for the California spotted owl. The Conservation Strategy will offer management and conservation recommendations for forest managers to consider when planning activities and uses in national forests.

    The California spotted owl has been a conservation focus for the Region since the 1970s when it was designated a Forest Service Sensitive Species. In July 1992, the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Southwest Research Station published The California Spotted Owl: A Technical Assessment of Its Current Status. This report has provided the scientific foundation for conserving the species for the last 23 years.

    “Scientific information and management experience have developed since then, and given the importance of species conservation to the development of revised Forest Plans, a new Conservation Strategy for the California spotted owl is warranted,” said Randy Moore, Regional Forester.

    The Strategy will be developed in coordination with other key agencies that have interest in and experience with conservation of the California spotted owl, including: the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the National Park Service, and the Sierra Nevada Conservancy.

    The Region has created a website to share information about ongoing efforts for this strategy. To learn more visit the website: http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/r5/plants-animals/wildlife/?cid=STELPRD3854419. There, those interested in following the project’s progress can subscribe to an electronic mailing list.

    The Region has taken the first step toward developing this Conservation Strategy by partnering with the Pacific Southwest Research Station. The Research Station is preparing a Conservation Assessment for the owl that will provide essential scientific information to support the California Spotted Owl Conservation Strategy.

    For more information regarding the California Spotted Owl Conservation Strategy, please contact Jamie Rosen, California Spotted Owl Conservation Team Leader (jamie.rosen@usda.gov ; 415-744-3011) or Sarah Sawyer, California Spotted Owl Conservation Strategy Project Manager (scsawyer@fs.fed.us ; 707-562-8924).).

    • It may not be a coincidence that the Forest Service decision to develop a new California Spotted Owl Conservation Strategy coincides with recent movements towards listing the species under ESA. Unfortunately for the FS, a conservation strategy is not worth anything in the listing process until it has been incorporated into the relevant forest plans by amendment or revision, which don’t happen quickly. (They were able to pull it off with sage grouse, though.)

      • Really, though, it is either do a new one, or stop logging, altogether. The current diameter limits result in no bids on fuels and timber projects. Simply put, the one lumber company in the Sierra Nevada has all of those sized trees of their own they can cut, off of their own vast acreage. SPI’s strategy might be to wait the Forest Service out, while harvesting green trees off their own lands, and also doing all the salvage logging of larger Federal trees, that their larger mills need.

        Remember, it took 4 years to craft a faulty amendment to the fatally-flawed Sierra Nevada Framework, even with a Republican President and a Republican Congress. How long will it take to get thinning and prescribed fire projects back online? I predict more lawsuits, more salvage sales and more nesting habitat incineration. There will be plenty of blame to go around but, more intense destruction may have to occur before real solutions are implemented. The serial litigators will not be happy until they stop all California logging, especially on Federal lands, and including private lands, as well.

        One perfect way to be sure the owls are listed is to embrace the destruction of their preferred nesting habitats, knowing that less-than-ideal lands will used as replacements, until there are no suitable replacement habitats left.

  4. None of this is really new. I’m sure that Region 5 has already been working on the owl issues, looking to re-set its timber rules to levels that has worked well for true thinning/fuels projects, in the Sierra Nevada. I’m also pretty sure that the monopolistic Sierra Pacific Industries has told the Forest Service, in private, that they should not depend upon SPI to buy tiny trees from them (unless it is “profitable”). Caught between a legal rock and an economic hard place, the Forest Service seems like it needs to blow up the old model and put in a new Sierra Nevada unified plan. One that works.

  5. “USDA 2013b. Management in the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit
    allows clear cut timber harvest and removal of larger diameter trees (>30″
    dbh) in CSO habitat and previously occupied nest areas.”

    This is such a ridiculous claim! Just because their current documents don’t expressly ban clearcutting and old growth tree harvest, that does not impact birds one bit. Has there been just ONE project in the Tahoe Basin that clearcut healthy old growth, in the last 30 years?!?!? Of course not. Classic “slippery-slope” rhetoric. With owls, occupation does not mean reproduction. Owls are often pushed into sub-marginal areas, like all of Lake Tahoe. The late-season snows tends to freeze tiny owlets. Also, Hanson and company continue to lump foraging and nesting habitats together, irresponsibly desiring that all foraging habitats be “protected” too.

    I think the Forest Service is eager to produce some real “boilerplate” plans that cut through the eco-rhetoric surrounding this bird, push towards a more balanced and resilient forest, and inform the courts about the site-specific scientific facts and wildlife behavior realities.

    The biggest myth I can think of is that “California spotted owls need snags to survive”. The places where there are enough snags to “thin” aren’t places where there is prey. Before the fire, that stand had a closed canopy and the forest floor is just branches, twigs and needles. Nothing there for prey to eat. Then, the fire comes through, leaving mostly dead and dying trees. There is still nothing for prey to eat, and none there. As several years goes by, and other plants become established, the prey start migrating in. Forest Service salvage projects are designed to leave ample snags.

    Look at the Rim Fire, with probably 80,000 acres worth of prime snags left untouched, yet the eco-groups, somehow, wanted more. The projects, themselves, only harvested trees on about 15,000 acres, away from roads and powerlines, and most of that was in plantations.

  6. “2004a USDA. This amendment to the 2001 US Forest Service Forest Plans
    (USDA 2001) allowed increased or new timber harvest, thinning. fuels
    reduction. post fire logging. etc. in areas previously managed for CSO.”

    Another non-issue, since that Amendment NO LONGER EXISTS! Also, that Amendment exactly matched the CASPO guidelines that had been in effect for 7 years, before the fatally-flawed Sierra Nevada Framework went into effect. Those CASPO rules had reduced ASQ’s to a mere 1/13th of the 80’s volume figures, instead of the 1/30th portion that is allowed right now.

    Sounds like more “busy-work” for the FWS!

  7. Finally, the claim that wildfires don’t have significant impacts upon spotted owls, is ridiculous, as well. When nest trees are gone, and habitat is dead, are we supposed to be happy that it is now “foraging habitat”?!?!

    Here’s a very recent example of what prime, protected nesting habitat looks like when incinerated.

    https://www.google.com/maps/@38.9806274,-120.4594901,1163m/data=!3m1!1e3?hl=en

    Yeah, go ahead and zoom out to see the vast destruction in the “protected” Rubicon River watershed. I doubt that anyone would say that the King Fire was good for wildlife and not a problem for spotted owls. Such habitat would take centuries to recover, if at all, in this human-dominated world.

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