Feds Slash Protections for Owl Habitat

Move is next step in Bush administration strategy to dismantle Northwest Forest Plan


Kristen Boyles, Earthjustice, (206) 343-7340, ext. 33

The Bush administration today announced its decision to slash critical habitat protection for the northern spotted owl, publishing a final rule reducing protected habitat by 1.6 million acres. Today’s announcement follows scathing reviews from independent scientists on a Bush administration owl recovery plan announced in May. Scientists said the Bush plan would lead to the slow extinction of spotted owls.

“Bottom line, this is the Bush administration shoving science aside to serve its special interest supporters,” said Earthjustice attorney Kristen Boyles. “The Bush administration released a weak owl recovery plan in May that was roundly criticized by independent scientists, and now it is using that inadequate plan as justification to remove habitat protections.”

The protection of habitat for the owl under the federal Endangered Species Act was a foundation of the Northwest Forest Plan negotiated under the Clinton administration in 1994. The landmark plan ended decades of controversy over runaway logging levels in national forests in Washington, Oregon, and Northern California and protected millions of acres of the region’s last old growth forests. Protecting the spotted owl under the Endangered Species Act helped Americans from coast to coast recognize how special old-growth forests are and why protecting the Northwest’s remaining old-growth is important.

“Protecting critical habitat for spotted owls is essential to their recovery over the long-term but it also helps to protect forest ecosystems and the web of life that depends on them,” said Earthjustice’s Boyles. “Salmon and myriad other fish and wildlife depend on forest protections already in place in the Northwest.”

In 2003, the Bush administration settled a friendly lawsuit filed by the timber industry and agreed to review critical habitat designation for the northern spotted owl on millions of acres of federal forestland. Today’s decision to slash critical habitat protection for the spotted owl follows other administration promises to the timber industry including:

  • Trying to remove the Aquatic Conservation Strategy from the Northwest Forest Plan. The Aquatic Conservation Strategy protects salmon and watersheds from damaging logging projects. Earthjustice successfully sued the administration to preserve these protections.

  • Proposing to slash critical habitat protection for the threatened marbled murrelet by 95 percent. This effort was ratcheted back after opposition from Earthjustice.

  • Proposing to eliminate old-growth reserves on federal lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management  that were established under the Northwest Forest Plan. The final chapter in this effort is not written, but Earthjustice is committed to the protection of the old growth forests on these lands and the unique fish and wildlife species and clean water they provide. 

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