Local impact of spotted owl habitat plan takes shape

2012-05-18 Ashley Bach

The impact of the proposed spotted owl habitat designation released in March by the federal government continues to ripple across rural communities in the West. As we described last month, the habitat designation would more than double the amount of critical owl habitat and extend that habitat to private land for the first time, leading to the loss of thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in revenue for timber counties.

Now local communities are beginning to mobilize to understand the impact of the proposed plan and lobby to change the plan before it’s finalized. The U.S. House National Parks, Forests and Public Lands Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) will meet in Longview, Wash., on Monday (May 21) to discuss the plan.

Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., said she already knows how she feels about the proposal.

“For 20 years now, Southwest Washington has witnessed the damage inflicted by flawed federal forest management policies. These policies have caused rural community and manufacturing jobs to disappear. They have failed to protect our forests that are becoming increasingly vulnerable after years of insufficient management.”

The hearing Monday starts at 9 a.m. at the Cowlitz County Expo Center, 1900 7th Ave. The committee is taking testimony only from invited speakers, but the meeting is public and well worth attending to get an inside view at how spotted owl regulation comes together.

In Trinity County, Calif., near Redding, local officials said the added owl habitat could further threaten the county’s federal timber payments and doesn’t adequately consider the impact of the barred owl on the spotted owl’s decline.

“We have very grave concerns about this,” said Trinity County Supt. of Schools Jim French who is also president of the National Forest Counties and Schools Coalition.

He asked the county Board of Supervisors last week to schedule a discussion and weigh in with comments on the proposal at the board’s next meeting.

“We care for the critters in our forest, but we know there are other issues contributing to the owl problems,” he said, presenting the proposed map of expanded critical habitat blanketing most of Trinity County.

“It’s almost 1.5 million acres of the county and doesn’t even show the areas that are already designated wilderness,” French said. He noted 13 counties in Washington, Oregon and California would be impacted, but none more so than Trinity and Siskiyou.

One silver lining: the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has extended the deadline for public comment on the spotted owl plan to July 6. Go here to find out how to leave a comment online.

In addition, Fish and Wildlife will hold a public meeting of its own on the plan on Tuesday, June 12 in Tacoma, from 3-5 p.m. and 6-8 p.m. at University of Washington, Tacoma Campus, 1900 Commerce St., Jane Russell Commons.