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Tuesday, November 16, 2004 - Page updated at 12:39 A.M.
Timber industry expects no change for northern spotted owl
By JEFF BARNARD
GRANTS PASS, Ore. — A timber-industry group that sued for a review of the threatened-species status of the northern spotted owl said yesterday it does not expect the bird to lose federal protection but hopes new information will allow more logging in national forests.
"I don't see how it could be taken off the list," said Chris West, vice president of the American Forest Resource Council in Portland. "Let's do what we need to do to protect the species based on the true risk, not some flawed notion they are solely dependent on old growth."
Under terms of a 2003 lawsuit settlement, yesterday was the deadline for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to decide whether the bird that prompted sharp logging cutbacks in the 1990s still merits federal protection.
The decision was being reviewed in the office of Assistant Interior Secretary Craig Manson, who oversees the Fish and Wildlife Service for the Bush administration, and was likely to be made public by today or tomorrow, agency spokeswoman Joan Jewett said.
"What's a deadline when you were re-elected?" West said. "Whether it comes today or in a week, that's not as important as something that's based on the new reality of what's threatening the owl."
In September, Manson directed Fish and Wildlife to continue its review of the threatened-species status of the marbled murrelet, another bird whose habitat needs have diminished Northwest logging, by considering the entire population of the bird up the coasts of Canada and Alaska.
That decision went against a recommendation of the Fish and Wildlife regional office in Portland that the birds nesting in California, Oregon and Washington constitute a distinct population worthy of protection.
Susan Ash, conservation director of the Audubon Society of Portland, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit that led to large habitat protections for the owl, said that, based on her conversations with scientists who did the review, she did not expect any change in Endangered Species Act status for the owl.
Ash added that conservationists might seek endangered-species status for the owl on Washington's Olympic Peninsula, where declines have been sharpest.
When the Northwest Forest Plan sharply reduced logging on federal lands in Oregon, Washington and Northern California in 1994, it was backed by research indicating spotted owls needed wide areas of old-growth forests to nest, hunt and hide from predators.
Under terms of the settlement, a panel of outside experts reviewed the owls' status. It found that owl numbers still are declining, despite protection of old-growth habitat, and the owl faces a host of new threats.
The barred owl is moving into the spotted owl's range, displacing the meeker spotted owl and interbreeding with it. West Nile virus could kill large numbers of birds. Wildfires have wiped out large areas of spotted-owl habitat.
The report suggested that overall, northern spotted owls declined by about 3.7 percent per year from 1985 to 2003. The decline was especially steep in Washington state, where the number of birds went down by about 7.3 percent per year.
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