Conservation Groups Take Two Legal Actions to Protect the California Spotted Owl
The Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Nevada Forest Protection Campaign, and six other organizations, represented by Earthjustice, filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today. The notice to sue challenges the Fish and Wildlife Service's February 12, 2003, decision denying protection for the owl. The owl, which inhabits old growth forests in the Sierra Nevada, is threatened by logging on Forest Service and private lands. Currently only 15 percent of the coniferous forests in the Sierra Nevada remain in late-successional stages required by the owl. This loss of habitat has significantly reduced California spotted owl populations throughout the state. This population decline could lead to extinction if current trends continue.
The Fish and Wildlife Service's decision not to protect the owl was based on the assumption that the owl's habitat in the Sierra Nevada would be largely protected by the Clinton administration's Sierra Nevada Framework, a plan that restricted logging to protect the owl's habitat. The Bush administration has proposed a substantially weaker plan that would triple logging of national forests in the Sierra Nevada. "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," states Noah Greenwald, a conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. "This decision flies in the face of common sense."
The Framework provides protection for the owl, while at the same time allowing for substantial progress toward 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 Bush Administration is scrapping a balanced plan with broad support from environmentalists, the state of California, the public, and the scientific community to reward his campaign contributors in the timber industry," states Craig Thomas, executive director of the Sierra Nevada Forest Protection Campaign. "The Framework Plan focuses on protecting and restoring old forest, which is key habitat for the owl, fisher, and a host of other species, while the Bush plan aims to cut them down."
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. Over a decade of studies have determined that the owl's population is declining and is cause for significant concern. "The California spotted owl is in serious trouble and needs protection under the Endangered Species Act," concludes Greenwald.
Groups File Freedom of Information Request Related to Denial of Listing
In a related matter, the groups also filed suit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to provide documents under the Freedom of Information Act related to their decision to not protect the owl. The Groups filed their request for information at the time of the decision over six months ago, but have not received a response. "The Bush administration is one of the most secretive in history, refusing to release documents to Congress and the public," states Greg Loarie, an attorney with Earthjustice who is representing the groups. "Preserving species should be an open and collaborative process between the public and federal agencies. The California spotted owl is part of the state's natural heritage and deserves protection. The time has come to open up this decision-making process and put the interests of the owl front and center."