The Fish and Wildlife Service's decision not to protect the owl was based on the assumption that the owl's habitat would be largely protected by the Clinton administration's Sierra Nevada Framework, a plan that restricted logging of old growth forests to protect the owl's habitat while allowing thinning of forests around communities. However, the Bush administration issued a rule January 22, 2004 substantially weakening the plan. The Bush plan allows triple the logging in the Sierra Nevada and removes most protections for the owl and old-growth forests.
"The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service relied on the Framework to deny protection for the owl, even though they knew these protections were on the Bush administration's chopping block," said Noah Greenwald, a conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. "This decision flies in the face of common sense."
The Clinton-era Sierra Framework provided protection for the owl, while at the same time allowing for substantial progress towards reducing risk of destructive forest fires, by protecting fire resistant medium and large trees across the landscape, and focusing fuel treatments around communities where they are needed most.
"The Clinton-era Sierra Framework put an emphasis on protecting communities and the environment. But that balanced approach was gutted by the Bush administration's determination to triple logging in the Sierra," said Greg Loarie, an attorney representing the groups from Earthjustice. "The California spotted owl will not survive when the chain saws are cut loose in old-growth habitat. The owl deserves protection now."
Unlike the northern and Mexican subspecies, the California spotted owl has never been listed under the Endangered Species Act. Like its cousins, however, the California spotted owl is closely associated with old-growth forests. According to studies, old-growth forests in the Sierra Nevada have declined by as much as 90 percent. Such habitat loss is believed to be a factor in poor survival of adult California spotted owls, which were found by a Forest Service study to be dying at a faster rate than the listed northern spotted owl. "The California spotted owl is headed for extinction and needs protection under the Endangered Species Act," concludes Greenwald.
The decision to not list the California spotted owl is characteristic of an administration that is bent on undermining the Endangered Species Act. The Bush administration has listed the fewest number of species in history, averaging just nine species per year for a total of 31 species. By comparison, the Clinton administration listed 394 species in its first term. The Bush administration has issued more negative listing decisions (35) than it has listed species. Plaintiffs in today's case include the Center for Biological Diversity, NRDC, Sierra Club and Defenders of Wildlife.