U.S. Weighs Reducing Spotted Owl Habitat
GRANTS PASS, Ore. -- The Bush administration Tuesday proposed cutting 1.5 million acres from Northwest forests considered critical to the survival of the northern spotted owl, reopening the 1990s battle between timber production and wildlife habitat on public lands.
The owl, which became a symbol of the decline of the Northwest's timber industry, was declared a threatened species in 1990 due primarily to heavy logging in the old growth forests where it nests and feeds.
Recent research has noted that while old growth forests suitable for owl habitat have increased, owl numbers have continued to decline, and that the owl faces a new threat from a cousin, the barred owl, that has been invading its territory.
The proposal by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was published in the Federal Register. It calls for cutting critical habitat for the owl from the 6.9 million acres designated in 1992 to 5.4 million acres.
It comes on the heels of a new recovery plan for the owl that suggests killing some barred owls to see if spotted owls will benefit.
Under court order, timber production on national forests in Washington, Oregon and Northern California was cut by more than 80 percent in 1994 to protect owl habitat, contributing to mill closures and job losses that were particularly painful in rural areas with no other industry. Since then, the Northwest economy has turned to other industries, particularly high-tech, retirement and tourism, but some rural areas continue to struggle.
Since taking office in 2000, the Bush administration has been working to change the Northwest Forest Plan to allow more timber production, but has been largely stymied by court rulings, including several that tossed out plans to log in critical habitat for the owl.
Source: Associated Press