New spotted owl plan is rushed and off-target, forestry groups say


Forestry groups representing timber companies across the territory of the spotted owl recently sent a joint letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service saying that the new owl recovery plan is coming out too soon and without the best science to back it up.

The new plan is expected to be released any day now, and the federal government says it will be final, even though there are still several months before a court-ordered deadline of June 1.

The letter was signed by the National Alliance of Forest Owners, American Forest Resource Council, California Forestry Association, Washington Forest Protection Association and the Oregon Forest Industries Council.

Here is what the groups had to say in a press release accompanying the letter:

Instead, the recovery plan would hurt forest owners and the rural economy by tying up private lands, and increase the risk of wildfire by reducing efforts to thin forests and improve forest health.  The plan also offers few remedies for the central factor in the spotted owl’s decline: the invasion of a more dominant species, the barred owl.

“We agree with the communities, conservation groups and Federal agencies, like the U.S. Forest Service, who continue to express grave concerns about the spotted owl plan as written.” said David Tenny, President and CEO of the National Alliance of Forest Owners.  ”The draft plan was incomplete and in need of additional science and input from resource experts to address key shortcomings affecting owl recovery.  The expedited pace for publishing the final rule ahead of the June 1 deadline suggests that the agency has not adequately addressed these shortcomings, and the agency hasn’t provided a good answer for why it is moving so quickly.”

No one seems to be happy with this spotted owl plan — environmental groups and timber companies both — and yet the federal government is still trying to ram it through.

California Forestry Association President David Bischel stated, “Ironically, some of the most robust populations of Northern Spotted Owls occupy sustainably managed private forests of Northern California.  The proposed recovery plan completely ignores the positive benefits provided by pro-active forest management, and potentially adds more regulatory gridlock without focusing on the two most significant impacts to Northern Spotted Owl populations … namely risk of habitat loss from catastrophic wildfire, and the invasion of the more dominant Barred Owl species.”

“The new federal plan focuses instead on the taking of private forestland, which will hurt timber communities without helping the spotted owl,” said Ray Wilkeson, President of the Oregon Forest Industries Council.

“There is no evidence the sweeping policy changes contained in the draft plan will help the owl.  Instead, they will lead to at least a 30 percent reduction in commercial thinning harvest volume on Forest Service lands where the owl lives.  This not only hurts forest health, it will lead to further job loss in a time of unprecedented unemployment in our rural communities,” said Tom Partin, President of the American Forest Resource Council.

The battle to come up with a plan that actually helps the owl, while still maintaining our rural economies, will be an ongoing process and continue long after the new plan comes out in the next week. But what federal officials have come up with so far is not promising, to say the least.