From: Associated Press
Published November 15, 2006 12:00 AM

Lawsuit in Washington State Aims to Halt Logging to Save Declining Spotted Owl Population

SEATTLE — An environmental group has sued to block logging on 50,000 acres of private timberland, arguing the state's population of northern spotted owls has been reduced by half since the 1990s.

The Seattle Audubon Society sued last week in federal court, asking U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman to bar logging on private timberlands west of the Cascades.

The Seattle group, joined by the Kittitas Audubon Society, said state rules "offer no meaningful protection" for the owls outside 13 "special emphasis" areas where the state offers specific protections.

The owl's plight in the 1990s prompted an 80 percent reduction in logging on national forest land. A spokeswoman for the state Forest Practices Board said it tightened some rules last year and has representatives on a federal panel working on a new restoration plan for the spotted owl, which is listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act.

The lawsuit could be important if the plaintiffs can show that the state's rules violate the Endangered Species Act. Spotted owls have been declining about 7 percent per year in Washington, far faster than in Oregon and California.

"We're saying, as to these owls that are still hanging on, don't kill them," said Peter Goldman of the Washington Forest Law Center, which represents the environmentalists.

The lawsuit targets four sites owned by Weyerhaeuser Co. in southwest Washington where spotted owls have been seen, citing them as examples of sites where the court should order the state Forest Practices Board to ban logging.

Frank Mendizabal, a Weyerhaeuser spokesman, said that no owls have been seen for 14 years at one of the four sites targeted, and that at another, there was only one brief sighting years ago.

At the other two sites, he said, the company is cooperating with federal officials studying whether the barred owl -- spreading south from Canada -- is harming the spotted owl.

"We're committed to continuing protection of the ... spotted owl and other threatened or endangered species any place they are present on our land," Mendizabal said. "We do a pretty good job of protecting habitat."

Source: Associated Press

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