Conservation group, agencies reach ‘understanding’ on spotted owl

From the Santa Fe New Mexican…. Excerpt:

An environmental advocacy group has agreed to drop its pending lawsuit that accused federal agencies of planning forestry projects that could harm the Mexican spotted owl.

The bird’s nesting grounds on national forest land in New Mexico and Arizona have become hotly contested battlegrounds. A separate complaint alleging federal agencies failed to properly monitor the threatened owl prompted a federal judge to halt timber activities in owl habitat last year.

Framed as “a new understanding,” a truce was reached this week between the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the states of New Mexico and Arizona, and the Eastern Arizona Counties Organization.

In return for the Center for Biological Diversity scrapping its litigation, the Forest Service has ensured tree-thinning and controlled burns in six national forests in New Mexico and Arizona will better protect the Mexican spotted owl, which has been listed as threatened since 1993 under the Endangered Species Act. 

5 thoughts on “Conservation group, agencies reach ‘understanding’ on spotted owl”

  1. “Better protect”? The only way to “better protect” MSO is to keep wildfire from incinerating the owls and nests. Over 70% of the owl population (in different provenance zones) have been lost due to wildfire.

  2. “The Mexican spotted owl was listed as a threatened species on 15 April 1993. Two primary reasons were cited for the listing: historical alteration of its habitat as the result of timber management practices, specifically the use of even-aged silviculture, plus the threat of these practices continuing, as provided in National Forest Plans. The danger of catastrophic wildfire was also cited as a potential threat for additional habitat loss.”,the%20list%20of%20threatened%20species.

    The Recovery Plan was completed in 1995 and revised in 2012: “The primary threats to its population in the U.S. (but likely not in Mexico) have transitioned from timber harvest to an increased risk of stand-replacing wildland fire. Recent forest management now emphasizes sustainable ecological function and a return toward pre-settlement fire regimes, both of which are more compatible with maintenance of spotted owl habitat conditions than the even-aged management regime practiced at the time of listing.”

    The 2015 revised Apache-Sitgreaves forest plan (for example) now says: “Vegetation conditions for Mexican spotted owl (MSO) and other federally listed species, although not described in detail below, are managed consistent with the habitat requirements specified in the appropriate species recovery plan.”

    Presumably, the devil is in the details of what that means. (Too bad the forest plan didn’t describe it in more detail.)

  3. Thanks for posting this, Steve! Very confusing to me, perhaps the agreement is documented somewhere?
    Also I didn’t exactly understand how this works..
    “Last year, WildEarth Guardians filed a follow-up complaint, saying federal agencies had failed to thoroughly monitor the health of the owl’s populations. A federal judge agreed and ordered all timber activities temporarily halted in Cibola, Santa Fe, Carson, Gila and Lincoln national forests in New Mexico and Tonto National Forest in Arizona.

    The news release said WildEarth Guardians and the Forest Service have reached a tentative agreement; however, the group’s leader couldn’t be reached to confirm this Wednesday.

    In the past, the group has been a staunch opponent of controlled burns or limited cutting that disturbs any owl habitat. ”

    Did the FS do separate agreements with WEG and CBD? It seems like a case where an agreement is reached about management practices on federal land without the input of the public.

  4. CBD filed a NOI against group of projects. Here’s what they had to say about it, which includes a link to a long document that represents the “understanding.”

    Here’s what looks like the essence of it (I seem to have guessed right regarding the Recovery Plan above):
    “The “Projects Resolution” section documents how:
    i. actual treatments and planned monitoring comply with the Recovery Plan requirements
    although actual treatments and planned monitoring are not specifically identified in the
    broad scale NEPA and original BO documents; and
    ii. implementation of the projects is consistent with the Recovery Plan.”

    If what is being changed was not specified in the NEPA documents, then the public was never involved in the first place. Without reading the details, this sounds like fallout that might result from “condition-based” large-area NEPA. I suppose someone opposing the agreement and wanting more logging could sue over these kinds of NEPA issues, but they might reactivate the CBD issues and end up with less.

    Here’s background on the WEG case against several forest plans regarding monitoring. While WEG was apparently not part of this CBD settlement, a prior agreement with them regarding monitoring some areas was incorporated.


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