Spotted-owl recovery gets another look from Obama administration
Article Date: 2009-04-02 Source: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com
By Warren Cornwall
Washington, DC, U.S.A. - The Northwest's spotted owl has proved to be a barometer of the federal
government's changing attitudes toward endangered species, and environmental
issues more broadly.
Now there are signs the political climate surrounding the reclusive and rare owl is shifting again.
Obama administration officials signaled Tuesday they want to scrap a
controversial Bush-era plan for owl recovery, asking a federal district court
judge to let them rewrite the plan, rather than defend it against lawsuits from
both environmentalists and the timber industry.
The development has environmentalists hoping they can turn back efforts to
increase logging in Northwest forests while crafting federal plans meant to lift
the owl's plummeting numbers.
"This is basically the train wreck that Bush left behind. And why bother to put
the broken trains back on the track? You can just start over," said Dominick
DellaSalla, of the National Center for Conservation Science and Policy, who
served on a team that helped draft an earlier version of the owl plan.
Depending on how the plan is rewritten, it could jeopardize an initiative to
more than triple logging in Western Oregon forests controlled by the U.S. Bureau
of Land Management. And it casts into doubt a proposal to loosen restrictions on
logging in owl habitat in national forests east of Washington's Cascade
The timber industry's response Wednesday was muted.
"We just are uncertain how to interpret it right now, and don't really want to
make a lot of comments right now," said Tom Partin, president of the
Portland-based American Forest Resource Council, a timber-industry trade group.
In a court filing Tuesday afternoon, the government said it wanted to revisit
both the plan for reviving the owl population and the designation of which
Northwest lands are vital to the birds. Development and other work in that
critical habitat is subject to more government scrutiny.
The spotted owl was listed under the federal Endangered Species Act in 1990, its
numbers falling as logging claimed the older forests where it prefers to hunt
and nest. In recent years, it also has been battered by the encroachment of the
bigger and more aggressive barred owl.
The government asked U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan in Washington, D.C., for
30 days to negotiate a deal with environmentalists and the timber industry on
how to proceed with rewriting the plan. If it can't reach a deal, the government
wants the court to allow it to start rewriting the plan on its own.
Government attorneys cited the earlier involvement of Julie MacDonald, a Bush
administration appointee at the U.S. Department of Interior, as a reason for
revisiting the plan. MacDonald quit in 2007 following charges from the
department's inspector general that she repeatedly interfered with scientific
decisions regarding endangered species.
While MacDonald played only a small role in the spotted-owl plan, "It's the
perception of involvement that has, I think, perhaps undermined some of the
public's confidence in the plan. And we want to address that," said Joan Jewett,
a spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency in charge of
The current case stems from a lawsuit by the timber industry, which argued the
critical-habitat designation covering 5.3 million acres of federal land was too
much. Environmentalists joined the case, arguing the government inappropriately
shrank critical habitat by 1.6 million acres compared to an earlier map.
Environmentalists also have argued the Bush-era recovery plan was part of a
broader effort to whittle away at the Northwest Forest Plan. That plan, issued
by the Clinton administration in 1994, halted logging on most old-growth federal
forests in the Northwest.
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OwlPages.com is not responsible for the accuracy of any information in this article, and does not necessarily agree with the author's opinions.
2009-08-28 - Burrowing Owl Chicks Hatch at Smithsonian's National Zoo for the First Time in 30 Years by Enica R. Thompson - Washington, DC, U.S.A.
2009-07-16 - Obama withdraws Bush-era logging plan - Washington, DC, U.S.A.
2008-11-25 - Environmental groups go to court over the spotted owl by Michael Milstein - Washington, DC, U.S.A.
2008-08-24 - Spotted owl's diminishing numbers have some fearing species is doomed by Warren Cornwall - Seattle, Washington, U.S.A.
2008-08-13 - As spotted owl's numbers keep falling, some fear it's doomed by Warren Cornwall - Washington, U.S.A.
2007-04-26 - Environmentalists say feds trying to weaken spotted-owl forest plan by Warren Cornwall - Seattle, Washington, U.S.A.
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