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Spotted owl debate renewed

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Seattle P-I, May 20, 2005; Washington's rules for logging in forests where spotted owls live have serious shortcomings that are likely contributing to the imperiled bird's "significant and ... accelerating" decline, according to a study by state wildlife officials.

State's logging rules fall short, may contribute to decline, study says

Friday, May 20, 2005

By ROBERT McCLURE

SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTER

Washington's rules for logging in forests where spotted owls live have serious shortcomings that are likely contributing to the imperiled bird's "significant and ... accelerating" decline, according to a study by state wildlife officials.

The 9-year-old rules were intended to make sure that the state and private landowners 5.20.05 so debate renewed pi artdo their part to supplement the main recovery effort for the owls, which is supposed to take place in federal forests.

The Department of Fish and Wildlife draft report, obtained by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, could change before it's released in a few weeks, but it's certain to renew a debate among the timber industry, environmentalists, tribes and others that harkens back to the 1990s.

"It basically says we had the science 10 years ago but we never really put the rules in place that followed the science," said Alex Morgan, conservation director for Seattle Audubon.

"We let politics get in the way," Morgan said. "Here we are 10 years later ... and we're in even more of a crisis situation."

The report is the first major self-critique of supposedly spotted owl-friendly logging practices, which were hammered out in a series of negotiations. Those talks laid the groundwork for the sweeping Forests and Fish Plan, which aims to protect salmon across 9.1 million acres statewide. That controversial strategy is currently under federal review.

Among the shortcomings noted in the Fish and Wildlife report:

· State regulations focus on protecting circles of habitat around spotted owl nests, while the owls' actual use of forests for finding food often goes outside those circles. "The circle approach provides a certain amount of protection but is not likely adequate," the report states.

· In some private lands far removed from federal lands, landowners can cut up to 60 percent of the forests inhabited by spotted owls.

· Even the 40 percent that's generally required to be left intact may not be if landowners have obtained special federal permission under what's known as a habitat conservation plan.

· Special rules to protect the owls were waived across southwest Washington because federal officials expected timber companies to operate under habitat conservation plans there. But some companies didn't take that approach.

· Lack of coordination between state and federal owl-recovery efforts.

· Efforts to determine where owls live and where they don't appear scientifically flawed.

P-I reporter Robert McClure can be reached at 206-448-8092 or robertmcclure@seattlepi.com.