It has been two decades since the Northern Spotted Owl was listed as a threatened species, but protecting the bird and its majestic forest land base is as important as ever.
The dark-eyed, dark-brown, football-sized owl with white spots, a bird that few people actually have seen, has done as much as any other creature to highlight the urgent need to save the old-growth forests.
"Two decades of protecting public forests for spotted owls, salmon, and the people of the Pacific Northwest has been good for our regional economy," said Kristen Boyles, an attorney with Earthjustice. "People want to live, work, and raise families here because of our healthy air, clean water, and majestic forests. The decision to protect the spotted owl 20 years ago really started us on this path."
For the past 20 years, Earthjustice attorneys have brought legal challenges that resulted in the owl's listing, the adoption of the scientifically based Northwest Forest Plan, and continued protection for the ancient forests of the Pacific Northwest.
The spotted owl was listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act on June 26, 1990, primarily due to heavy logging in the lush old-growth forests it calls home. Only a fraction of the original old-growth forests needed by the owl to survive remain throughout the Pacific Northwest.
Protections for the spotted owl have also preserved some of the last clear, naturally running creeks and streams where west coast salmon still thrive.
"There's hope for owls, the health of Pacific Northwest forests, our clean rivers and salmon, and our northwest way of life because of decisions made twenty years ago," said Boyles. "On this 20th anniversary, it is good to remember that saving the spotted owl is simply shorthand for saving ourselves."
On this twentieth anniversary of the owl's listing as a threatened species, there is also evidence the Obama administration is not interested in continuing bad Bush-era regulations aimed at weakening protections for Pacific Northwest forests.
In 2008, the Bush administration slashed by over 20 percent the amount of land protected as critical habitat for the northern spotted owl.
However last year, the Obama administration filed papers in a court case brought by the timber industry, asking the court for permission to withdraw the revision of owl critical habitat because an Inspector General investigation concluded that Bush administration officials inappropriately meddled in the underlying science. A federal district court in Washington, DC is considering the government's motion.
"The government has recognized that the spotted owl recovery plan and critical habitat revision were polluted by political interference and a stubborn refusal to use the best available science," Boyles said. "We applaud the government's decision to re-examine flawed Bush administration policies."