Photo credit: Benjamin Chan
Oh George, George, George, whatever are we to do with you?
The Bush administration wants to cut 1.5 million acres from Northwest forests, previously protected under 1994's Northwest Forest Plan, considered critical to the survival of the northern spotted owl. This will effectively reduce the owl's habitat by 22 percent.
The proposal by our old pals the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service could reopen the 1990s debate over timber production on federal lands; logging companies had argued that efforts to save the owl—declared a threatened species in 1990—contributed to the Northwest timber industry's decline.
If you're wondering why all this fuss now, the proposal is a result of a settlement in a lawsuit brought on by the timber industry. A decision is expected to be made by June 1, 2008.
To protect owl and salmon habitats, the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan reduced timber production on national forests in Washington, Oregon, and Northern California by more than 80 percent, resulting in mill closures and job losses that were particularly hard on rural areas with no other industry. The Northwest economy has since turned to industries such as high-tech, retirement, and tourism, but some rural areas continue to lag.
This move isn't a first: Several court rulings in the past have tossed out the Bush administration's plans to boost Northwest timber production by logging in critical owl habitats.
The White House now contends, however, that the Clinton-era plan has failed to stave off the population decline, despite the protections in place, because barred owls have been invading the spotted owl's territory.
"One of the most upsetting things about this proposal is that the spotted-owl wars of the '90s had simmered down quite a bit, and a kind of balance had been reached regarding logging and old growth forests," says Kieran Suckling, policy director for the Center for Biological Diversity. The new proposal "sets the stage for reopening those wounds."
Critical habitats aren't protected from logging, although federal agencies are required to consult with the Fish and Wildlife to see if a specific project, such as a timber sale, would jeopardize the recovery of an endangered species.
This new proposal is based on a draft recovery plan to map areas critical to the owl's recovery using better technology. It also calls for culling the barred-owl population that has taken over the spotted-owl habitat, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service. "This is not an effort to get out the [timber] cut," says Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Joan Jewett. "This is an effort to identify where forest areas are most important to the conservation and recovery of the spotted owl."
Dominick DellaSala, director of the National Center for Conservation and Policy and a member of the spotted-owl recovery team, asserts that the changes are designed to favor timber production over the alleged owl conservation. After all, he notes, some of the biggest pieces of critical habitat removed from the new proposal are on U.S. Bureau of Land Management land in western Oregon, where—coincidentally or not—the agency is working to boost production in a major way.
But then Bush and company wouldn't resort to that kind of subterfuge, would they?
Would they? :: MSNBC
[via E Magazine]