Owls and Fish and Science, Oh, My!

Here’s an article on the new critical habitat plan to be posted next week.


The last building block of the Obama administration’s strategy unveiled Wednesday to keep the northern spotted owl from extinction nearly doubles the amount of Northwest national forest land dedicated to protecting the bird by the Bush administration four years ago.
Still, conservation groups that went to court to force the overhaul said key gaps remain, such as an exemption for private forest lands and most state forests.

Following a directive last February from the White House, officials revised the latest plan to make room for thinning and logging inside critical habitat to reduce the danger of wildfire and improve the health of forests.
Noah Greenwald of the Center for Biological Diversity said it appeared the critical habitat plan and the previously adopted owl recovery strategy were back in line with the Northwest Forest Plan adopted in 1994 to protect owls and salmon.
“In restoring extensive protections on federal lands, today’s decision … marks the end of a dark chapter in the Endangered Species Act’s implementation when politics were allowed to blot out science,” he said. “The owl has continued to decline since its protection under the Endangered Species Act. Part of the reason for that is the loss of habitat on private and state lands.”
Dominick DellaSala, chief scientist for the GEOS Institute and a former member of the spotted owl recovery team, objected to plans to log and thin forests inside the critical habitat area, saying no studies have been done on how that may harm owls, which favor old growth. He added that one study shows it reduces the amount of prey available.
The federal government has been trying to balance logging and fish and wildlife habitat since the late 1980s.
The designation of the spotted owl as a threatened species in 1990 triggered a 90 percent cutback in logging on national forests in the northwest, and similar reductions spread around the nation.

Meanwhile here in Colorado, we have finally figured out which fish is which (see paper here and this piece by Bob Berwyn) and there is a settlement agreement with CBD that stops motorcycles only from the trails in the area.

As in this article, inquiring minds might wonder if all those activities are on the same trails (which I don’t know) is there a scientific reason that motorcycles were singled out? Part of this question could be that there is another layer of complexity not revealed in these news stories.

And despite the fact that this occurred in a settlement agreement behind closed doors, couldn’t either the feds or CBD (same organization as noted above) show how they used “the best available science” to come up with this agreement?

And if they can’t or won’t, doesn’t it make you curious about how policy is really made, the involvement of the public and how public the process is? Sure the scope and impact of this tiny drainage is nowhere near the spotted owl, but one could argue that at least the level of documentation (with citations) in a decision notice for a CE or so and some sort of public process should take place.

I’m hoping the explanation of best science is in a legal document somewhere (the formal settlement agreement?) but just not easy for folks to access. It seems to me that if we are going to acknowledge that court is where important federal lands policies get made, then the public should have the same right of access to those documents (for example, posted on the forest website) as they would to CEs, EAs and EISs.

Those who know more about the spotted owl story, please comment.

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