The Oregonian: "Judge orders government to revise plan to protect Pacific Northwest's northern spotted owls"
In what conservation groups say is a win for science over political manipulation, a federal judge ruled Wednesday that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service must revise its recovery and habitat designation plans for the northern spotted owl.
Judge Emmet Sullivan said a 2008 plan issued during the Bush administration didn't stand up to scientific review. The judge also cited reports that a team working on the owl recovery plan had been advised to minimize the threat caused by habitat loss and to emphasize the harm caused by barred owls, which compete with northern spotted owls for food and habitat.
An Inspector General's report said former Deputy Assistant Secretary Julie MacDonald, acting alone or in concert with other officials, took actions that "potentially jeopardized" the decision process.
The plan subsequently issued by the Bush administration reduced protected northern spotted owl habitat by approximately 1.6 million acres, and was immediately challenged by conservation groups.
The judge's ruling sends the plan back to the Fish & Wildlife Service for revision, as agency officials were expecting. The agency agreed the plan was flawed, legally indefensible and should be remanded, Portland spokeswoman Janet Lebson said.
"We had asked for a voluntary remand of the recovery plan anyway," she said. "We were already planning to have it done by the end of this year."
The wildlife service's Portland office heads a multi-agency effort to develop a recovery plan for the spotted owl, which primarily lives in old-growth forests in Oregon, Washington, Northern California and British Columbia. The owl was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1990, which resulted in widespread logging restrictions throughout the Pacific Northwest.
Government agencies such as the wildlife service and U.S. Forest Service have been working ever since to balance environmental protection of the owl with the economic interests of the logging and wood products industries.
Paul Kampmeier, an attorney with the Washington Forest Law Center in Seattle, said the judge's ruling gives the government an opportunity to strike that balance.
"Recovery absolutely requires the protection of large patches of habitat so (the owl) can live, persist and recolonize the areas it's been pushed out of," he said. "The ruling is a strong step to ensuring federal protection, it's a victory for those who value sound science."