Feds to con­sider en­dan­gered species list­ing for spot­ted owl

The China Post - - LIFE - BY JEFF BARNARD

Fed­eral bi­ol­o­gists will con­sider in­creas­ing En­dan­gered Species Act pro­tec­tions for the north­ern spot­ted owl, re­flect­ing the bird’s con­tin­ued slide to­ward ex­tinc­tion de­spite steep log­ging cut­backs in the North­west forests where it lives.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice an­nounced Wed­nes­day that there is enough new sci­en­tific in­for­ma­tion in a con­ser­va­tion group’s pe­ti­tion to war­rant a hard look at chang­ing the owl’s list­ing from threat­ened to en­dan­gered, which will take about two years. A no­tice will be pub­lished Fri­day in the Fed­eral Reg­is­ter.

While the change would be largely sym­bolic, the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion In­for­ma­tion Cen­ter in Ar­cata, Cal­i­for­nia, said it hoped the list­ing would push fed­eral agen­cies to more ag­gres­sively pro­tect old-growth for­est habi­tat and re­duce the threat from the barred owl, an ag­gres­sive cousin that mi­grated across the Great Plans and forced spot­ted owls out of their ter­ri­tory.

Af­ter the north­ern spot­ted owl was listed as a threat­ened species in 1990, it be­came a sym­bol for En­dan­gered Species Act pro­tec­tions that harm lo­cal economies. Con­ser­va­tion groups won cour­tordered log­ging cut­backs to pro­tect owl habi­tat, and many North­west towns re­ly­ing on the tim­ber in­dus­try have yet to fully re­cover.

Tree-cut­ting on fed­eral lands in Ore­gon, Wash­ing­ton and North­ern Cal­i­for­nia fell by 90 per­cent in the 1990s. Po­lit­i­cal ef­forts to ramp up log­ging in the en­su­ing years largely have failed. While the tim­ber in­dus­try re­mains one of the re­gion’s lead- ing in­dus­tries, au­to­ma­tion also has driven down the num­ber of jobs in mills and in the woods.

Paul Hen­son, su­per­vi­sor for Fish and Wildlife in Ore­gon, says much has changed since the owl’s orig­i­nal list­ing. In 1990, the big­gest threat was loss of old-growth forests where spot­ted owls live, and now it is the in­va­sive barred owl. Those two threats will be the fo­cus of the re­view, he said.

“The bad news is that the spot­ted owl pop­u­la­tion has con­tin­ued to decline” de­spite the log­ging cut­backs, Hen­son said. “The good news is we know why it is de­clin­ing” and have started tak­ing steps to deal with the barred owl.

The num­ber of spot­ted owls is es­ti­mated at less than 4,000. The bird’s sta­tus was last re­viewed in 2011, when fed­eral of­fi­cials determined it still needed pro­tec­tion as a threat­ened species. The agency typ­i­cally re­views the sta­tus of pro­tected species ev­ery five years, but this check stems from a 2012 pe­ti­tion by the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion In­for­ma­tion Cen­ter. The re­view is set to be fin­ished by Septem­ber 2017.

The con­ser­va­tion group noted that spot­ted owl num­bers con­tinue to decline; its habi­tat still is be­ing lost to log­ging, es­pe­cially on pri­vate lands; and the barred owl has cre­ated a new com­pli­ca­tion, said Rob DiPerna, the group’s Cal­i­for­nia for­est and wildlife ad­vo­cate.

The Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice is testing whether killing the in­va­sive owls in se­lect ar­eas in Ore­gon, Wash­ing­ton and Cal­i­for­nia will al­low spot­ted owls to move back into their old habi­tat. Some barred owls have been killed in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia on pri­vate tim­ber­land and an In­dian reser­va­tion. Af­ter sur­vey­ing the num­bers, the ex­per­i­ment is ex­pected to start this fall in Ore­gon and Wash­ing­ton.

AP

A north­ern spot­ted owl named Ob­sid­ian by U.S. For­est Ser­vice em­ploy­ees, sits in a tree in the Deschutes Na­tional For­est near Camp Sher­man, Ore­gon in this May 8, 2003 file photo.

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