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Report: Spotted owl still declining in the Northwest

Article Date: 2004-09-25   Source:   Comments: 0

By Matthew Daly

Washington, U.S.A. - Fourteen years after coming under federal protection, the northern spotted owl continues to decline, particularly in Washington state, a new study shows.

The owl - an icon of the Northwest timber wars - no longer faces the severe threat from logging it once did, but it faces new threats, including catastrophic wildfires that rage through overgrown forests and the barred owl, a relative that is rapidly taking over spotted owl habitat in the West, the report said.

The study, conducted by a Portland firm on behalf of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, appears to be a blow to timber industry efforts to loosen restrictions on federal forest logging in Washington, Oregon and Northern California.

"The main points are pretty clear," said Steven Courtney, vice president of Sustainable Ecosystems Institute and a lead author of the report. "The animal is under significant threats to a level we think is comparable to those in 1990," when the owl was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

What's changed is the cause of threats to the owl, Courtney said.

"Whereas in 1990 it was primarily timber harvests on federal lands, now it is loss of habitat due to fire and the barred owl, as well as the lag effect" of previous logging, he said. "Even though timber harvests have stopped, it doesn't stop having an effect."

The report suggests that overall, northern spotted owls declined by about 3.7 percent per year from 1985 to 2003.

The decline was especially steep in Washington state, where the number of birds went down by about 7.3 percent per year.

Reasons for the decline are not entirely clear, the report said, but barred owls seem to have an especially strong effect on spotted owls in that state.

Catastrophic wildfires, particularly on the east side of the Cascade Range, also have blackened owl habitat, the report said.

Owls declined by 2.8 percent per year in Oregon and 2.2 percent in Northern California, the report said.

Environmentalists said the report showed that Bush administration efforts to increase logging of old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest contradicted scientific findings on habitat needs for the owl.

The bird has been the focus of bitter debate in the region since federal officials sharply reduced logging in the early 1990s to protect the spotted owl and other threatened species.

"What this report says to me is the spotted owl is in crisis, especially so in Washington state," said Susan Ash, conservation director for the Audubon Society of Portland.

The owl is even worse off than when it was first listed, Ash said, because the barred owl and other dangers, such as West Nile virus and Sudden Oak Death, were not considered problems back then.

Any effort to loosen federal protections for the owl -- as some in the timber industry advocate -- "would clearly be political and not made on (the basis of) the scientific report," Ash said.

But a timber industry representative said the report shows that trying to protect owls by limiting logging does not eliminate risks to the species.

"What's encouraging is that all of the original reasons for listing the spotted owl (as threatened) have been found to be either invalid or not any problem anymore," said Ross Mickey, Western Oregon manager for the American Forest Resource Council, an industry group that sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reconsider protections for the bird.

The Bush administration commissioned the $415,000 study last year to settle the lawsuit by the AFRC.

The report was submitted Friday to the Fish and Wildlife Service, which will decide by Nov. 15 whether the owl should continue to be protected by the Endangered Species Act.

The report is one of two by private groups that will help determine whether threatened birds should keep their federal protections.

Disclaimer: This article has been reproduced from and placed here for comment. is not responsible for the accuracy of any information in this article, and does not necessarily agree with the author's opinions.

Related Articles:
2008-08-13 - As spotted owl's numbers keep falling, some fear it's doomed by Warren Cornwall - Washington, U.S.A.
2008-05-22 - Baby owls get new home after accidental trip from Ellensburg by Steve Powell - Washington, U.S.A.
2007-09-29 - Protection plan for owls not worth a hoot? by Les Blumenthal - Washington, U.S.A.
2005-08-09 - Spotted owl is on a dangerous decline by Robert McClure - Washington, U.S.A.

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