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Protecting the environment by providing legal services for forest cases of statewide significance.

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Seattle Times: "Groups challenge plan for spotted-owl recovery"

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November 25, 2008 -- Conservation groups are suing the Bush administration to undo the northern-spotted-owl recovery plan that is making it possible to ramp up old-growth-forest logging in Oregon.

GRANTS PASS, Ore. — Conservation groups are suing the Bush administration to undo the northern-spotted-owl recovery plan that is making it possible to ramp up old-growth- forest logging in Oregon.

A coalition of conservation groups filed motions Monday to intervene in a timber-industry lawsuit over the owl in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.

Seattle Audubon Society and the others argue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was politically influenced by the Bush administration and violated the Endangered Species Act by ignoring the best available science, both in the plan for saving the owl from extinction and in deciding to reduce protections for old-growth forests where the owl lives by 1.6 million acres.

The owl-recovery plan twice flunked peer reviews by outside scientists who said it contained no scientific basis for allowing more logging of the old-growth forests set aside under the Northwest Forest Plan as habitat for the owl. The plan also identified wildfire and the invasion of spotted-owl territory by the barred owl as factors. .

Dominick DellaSala of the National Center for Conservation Science & Policy, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, served on a team of scientists who worked on the owl-recovery plan before it was taken over by the Fish and Wildlife Service.

He said they were prevented from doing their jobs by a group of Bush administration officials in Washington, who needed an owl-recovery plan that would allow logging in old-growth forests in order to push through the so-called Whopper, or Western Oregon Plan Revision, which dismantles the Northwest Forest Plan for saving owls and increases logging on federal lands in Western Oregon.

Kristen Boyles, an attorney for Earthjustice, the public-interest law firm representing the conservation groups, said the owl-recovery plan, smaller critical habitat and the Whopper, "are the final pieces to the puzzle the Bush administration has been putting together the last eight years to undo the Northwest Forest Plan and deliver unsustainable amounts of timber to the timber industry."

Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman Joan Jewett said she could not comment on pending litigation.

Tom Partin, president of the American Forest Resource Council, said the recovery plan was a good one, but leaving so much forest in critical habitat will prevent the logging needed to prevent future wildfires.

The spotted owl was declared a threatened species in 1990 primarily because of heavy logging in old-growth forests. Lawsuits from conservation groups led to creation of the Northwest Forest Plan.