The American Forest Resource Council is reviewing the critical habitat designation for the northern spotted owl released today by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, hoping that substantial changes have been made since the draft was published in the Federal Register last March. Over the past two years, the proposal and the process employed in its development have been criticized by Members of Congress and the public. County governments in Washington, Oregon and California have raised a number of concerns about its likely economic impact.
In comments filed July 6, AFRC noted the proposed habitat designation would include large amounts of acreage not suitable for the bird. This resulted from the use of complex, flawed computer models not verified with on-the-ground review. AFRC had provided the Service with extensive scientific documentation that the models are not accurate or precise enough to truly identify those areas that are critical to the owl or comply with the Endangered Species Act.
“We hope the Service has used the information we provided to make significant revisions to its draft proposal,” said Tom Partin, AFRC President. “The draft proposed a 265% increase in critical habitat over what was designated after the owl was listed in 1990. Tying up massive swaths of federal forests that aren’t really owl habitat will not benefit the owl or help us address the declining health of these forests.”
“Unfortunately, habitat is not the limiting factor for the spotted owl,” Partin said. “It is being out competed and killed off by the barred owl. Barred owl control may be the only answer, but thus far the Service has done little to show whether this is a practical option. Instead, it has devoted its time to massive critical habitat designations that provide no actual benefit to the owl.”
AFRC also expressed concern that the economic impact of the designation was not properly assessed.
“The government’s economic analysis did not even come out until almost three months after the habitat proposal. And once it did, it was totally inadequate to assess the impact on local communities in Washington, Oregon and California. It totally glossed over how single species management is ruining our forests and our rural communities,” Partin said.
“We certainly hope the Service has heeded our comments and brought this designation in line with reality and the requirements of the Endangered Species Act. As such, our review will focus on whether the Service has removed all acres that were not occupied at the time the bird was listed in 1990 and those not essential to the conservation of the species,” Partin concluded.
The American Forest Resource Council represents forest product manufacturers and landowners throughout the west and is based in Portland, Oregon. www.amforest.org