One month left for comments on spotted owl recovery plan

Oct 10, 2012

One of the northwest’s most controversial birds is still ruffling feathers. The elusive spotted owl was at the heart of the timber wars here in the 1990s. Some scientists are criticizing the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s plan to log some of the bird’s habitat.

The American Bird Conservancy has joined forces with two groups of scientists: the Society for Conservation Biology and the Wildlife Society. With one month to go on finalization of draft rules outlining how to manage critical habitat for the northern spotted owl, they’re crying foul.

Senior policy advisor Steve Holmer says the provision to “actively manage” habitat is a loophole that could allow logging in places where old-growth forest is supposed to regenerate.

“...where you’d have a chance  for the large blocks to get formed again, and basically allow for some of the forest to re-grow," Holmer says. "We’re concerned now that they’re trying to go back on some of those promises and go back and cut in some of those forests that right now are protected.”  

Fish and Wildlife’s Paul Henson says the service shares the concern for the spotted owl. But he says global warming has made it necessary to manage increasingly dry forests, to keep habitat from falling victim to wild fires. And he says the current rules still double the habitat set asides for the spotted owl.

“So Overall this is a tremendous improvement from what was previously allowed and what was the status quo, from a conservation perspective," Henson says. "And in fact that’s why on the other extreme from American Bird Conservancy is the timber industry and some of the towns and counties and local communities have concerns about additional restrictions on timber harvest, that’s why they’re so upset."

This controversy is taking place in a politically charged atmosphere. Environmental groups and logging interests alike are concerned about the potential for extreme change on the federal level, with the possibility of new players interpreting the Northwest forest plan. The rule at the heart of this becomes final on November 15th.