Six conservation groups today filed a federal court challenge to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) approval of timber sales in southwest Oregon – old-growth timber sales that by the agency’s own admission destroy critical habitat for threatened northern spotted owls. FWS’ approval, embodied in a document called a biological opinion, dismisses the destruction of critical habitat and fails to analyze the impacts of the logging to the survival of the owl.
“Once again, the federal agencies are not taking their responsibilities seriously to protect the spotted owl’s old-growth home,” said Doug Heiken, field representative of Oregon Natural Resources Council. “These ancient forests are critical for spotted owls and other wildlife, not to mention water quality and recreation.”
FWS listed the northern spotted owl as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act in 1990, primarily based on the widespread destruction of its old-growth forest home. In 1992, FWS designated critical habitat for the owl in Washington, Oregon, and northern California, noting that the protected habitat would be a valuable tool to recover owl populations. Since then, however, the federal agency has failed to protect designated critical habitat – allowing thousands of acres to be logged.
“FWS apparently believes that logging owl critical habitat is acceptable because the agencies plan to allow other trees to grow into habitat in the future,” said Amy Williams-Derry, an Earthjustice attorney representing the conservation groups in court. “That position makes no logical or legal sense.”
One example is the Kelsey Whisky timber sale in the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Medford District. Planned logging in this region will destroy over seventeen hundred acres of old-growth trees and spotted owl critical habitat in the Zane Grey roadless area – a 46,000 acre preserve that is the largest, forested roadless area on BLM land in the nation. The Zane Grey now supports habitat that is especially important for connecting isolated owl populations. Neither FWS nor BLM evaluated the impact of the old-growth logging on the spotted owl.
“Everyone’s goal for the owl and its forests should be recovery,” said citizen activist Jeff Weatherell, who has surveyed and mapped the Zane Grey’s resources. “Sales like Kelsey Whisky show that the BLM is unwilling or unable to stop itself from destroying habitat that owls need and that takes hundreds of years to develop.”
FWS’ practice of ignoring designated critical habitat and the harm to spotted owls from logging old-growth forests is not new. A similar challenge to the FWS’ failure to comply with the law is currently pending in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Represented by Earthjustice, the groups challenging FWS’ action are Oregon Natural Resources Council, Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Cascadia Wildlands Project, Siskiyou Regional Education Project, Headwaters, and Friends of Living Oregon Waters.