Bigger spotted owl habitat proposed
Federal plan calls for nearly doubling forest acreage
By Damon Arthur
Posted March 19, 2012 at 11:16 p.m.
From the Redding Record-Searchlight
Timber industry officials and environmentalists are criticizing a proposal that would nearly double the acreage designated as critical habitat for the northern spotted owl.
After the initial attempt in 2008 to set new habitat boundaries failed to pass legal and scientific review, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials are trying again.
The current proposal includes nearly 10 million acres in California, Washington and Oregon as critical habitat for the spotted owl. That includes some acreage in Shasta, Tehama, Trinity and Siskiyou counties.
Most of that area is on U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management land and includes a small proportion of private land, said Paul Henson, the fish and wildlife service’s Oregon state supervisor.
Ann Forest Burns, vice president of the American Forest Resource Council, said the latest proposal ignores what is really threatening the spotted owl — wildfires and competition from the barred owl.
Restrictions designed to protect the spotted owl continue to hurt the timber industry, she said. The resource council is made up of lumber mills and forest landowners.
“It is a very big deal. It continues to be a very big deal,” Burns said. “We can’t manage our forests as long as this (spotted owl issue) is there.”
U.S. Department of the Interior officials said they plan to continue to protect old-growth forests for the benefit of spotted owls. But they also will be working with U.S. Forest Service officials to increase the amount of lumber sold from the forests nationwide from 2.4 billion board feet to 3 billion board feet by 2014. The spotted owl has created controversy since it was listed as a threatened species in 1990. The wildlife service declared in 1992 that 6.7 million acres in California, Washington and Oregon were needed as critical habitat and special management of that area would be needed to conserve the area for the owl.
In 2008 the Fish and Wildlife Service attempted to revise the area needed as critical habitat for the owl. Henson said scientists, as well as environmentalists and timber industry officials criticized the plan.
After lawsuits were filed challenging the revised critical habitat, a federal judge ordered the Fish and Wildlife Service to rewrite it.
Henson said the newest plan will stand up to the challenge. The Fish and Wildlife Service is using a better method to determine what areas are home to spotted owls, and his agency has sent the critical habitat plan to scientists for peer review.
Using a rough estimate, officials believe there are 3,000 to 5,000 spotted owls, and their numbers are declining by about 3 percent a year, Henson said.
The 2008 critical habitat proposal contained 5.3 million acres in three states, while the most recent proposal, which was released March 8, covers 9.7 million acres. Only 14 percent of the critical habitat includes private land, Henson said.
The Fish and Wildlife Service would rather have private landowners voluntarily set aside property for conserving the spotted owl, the habitat plan says. Forcing private property owners to put their land in critical habitat could be a “disincentive to the formation of future partnerships” with the federal government, the proposed plan says.
Andrew Orahaske, conservation director for the Environmental Protection Information Center, said more private land needs to be included as critical habitat.
“We’re not going to protect the spotted owl unless we protect the spotted owl on private land as well,” Orahaske said.
He said Sierra Pacific Industries, of Anderson, has been destroying spotted owl habitat through its logging on private land.
Orahaske said his organization sent SPI a letter informing the company that it plans to sue the company if it does not stop destroying owl habitat.
Mark Pawlicki, director of government affairs for SPI, said his company follows federal and state laws to protect the owl.
Two years before harvesting timber, workers check to see if the endangered owls live in the areas where they plan to cut trees.
If there are spotted owls in the area, forestry workers must leave a buffer zone between the owls and the logged area, Pawlicki said.
Henson agreed that the barred owl, which is larger and more aggressive than the spotted owl, is a threat to the smaller bird. The Fish and Wildlife Service has proposal to trap and remove barred owls from areas where spotted owls live.
But changes to the spotted owl’s habitat continue to threaten it, Henson said.
Logging that took larger and older trees originally was blamed for the spotted owl’s demise, but Henson said less timber is being harvested than in 1990.
In 1990 $213.5 million of lumber from national forests in California was sold, according to the U.S. Forest Service. In 2011, only $19 million of lumber from California’s national forest was sold.