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Rules are adopted to protect spotted owl here

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Seattle Times, August 10, 2006; State forestry rules aimed at protecting the northern spotted owl will neither aid the bird's declining numbers nor stop a possible lawsuit from conservationists, a lawyer said Wednesday.

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2003187923_spottedowls.html

August 10, 2006

By CURT WOODWARD (AP)

The Seattle Times 

OLYMPIA — State forestry rules aimed at protecting the northern spotted owl will neither aid the bird's declining numbers nor stop a possible lawsuit from conservationists, a lawyer said Wednesday.

"These rules don't protect habitat. Period. End of story," said Washington Forest Law Center Director Peter Goldman, who is representing two Audubon Society chapters threatening to sue the state.

At issue are a pair of timber rules adopted Wednesday by the Washington Forest Practices Board, which oversees timber harvesting on 12 million acres of state and private lands.

One measure freezes state attempts to open certain owl-protecting buffer zones for logging. The second rule prevents landowners from counting previously logged land as owl habitat.

The rules had been in effect since November on an emergency basis. Making them permanent will help stop the slide of protected spotted owls in Washington, Department of Natural Resources officials said.

"These new rules demonstrate Washington's leadership amid the federal deliberations on recovery plans throughout the entire range of the northern spotted owl," Public Lands Commissioner Doug Sutherland said in a statement.

But the rules were not enough for owl conservationists, who favored a stricter approach calling for environmental reviews before logging in owl habitat.

"We need a very, very high-level plan to get us out of this mess," Goldman said. "We're not saying we have all the answers. But you don't just log all the habitat while you're waiting for an answer."

The rules made permanent Wednesday will not forestall a potential lawsuit from the Seattle and Kittitas chapters of the Audubon Society, Goldman said.

Those organizations already have filed a required notice of their intent to sue Weyerhaeuser Co. and the state Department of Natural Resources over what the groups see as lax owl protections.

Peter Heide, director of forest management with the timber industry's Washington Forest Protection Association, offered no comment on the owl rules after Wednesday's ruling. In comments to the forest board, the association said restricting timber harvest on private land would not halt the owl's population slide.

The spotted owl was declared a threatened species under the federal Environmental Protection Act in 1990, primarily because of logging in the old growth forests of the Northwest. That designation led to an 80 percent cutback on logging in national forests and restrictions on private timberlands.

But the number of spotted owls continues to drop, particularly in Washington where the decline has been estimated at more than 7 percent a year. Of the approximately 7,500 pairs of spotted owls in the West, about 1,500 pairs are believed to be in Washington state.

Officials say loss of habitat due to wildfires, competition from other species and disease also have contributed to the owl's problems.

Federal officials are presently working on a spotted owl recovery plan, which the state expects by the end of June 2007.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company