Environmentalists said that claim was not supported by the agency’s own evidence. In December, the Fish and Wildlife Service ruled that the northern spotted owl should in fact be reclassified, as endangered rather than threatened, but the agency said it would not take action to do so because that it had “higher priority actions”.
Now the administration is removing essential protection, say scientists.
The northern spotted owl lives in forests with a dense, multi-layered canopy and other characteristics that take 150 to 200 years to develop, the Fish and Wildlife Service said. They usually mate for life and reproduce relatively slowly. Threatened by logging and land conversion, they were protected in 1990 after a bitter political struggle, but their numbers have continued to decline by about 4 percent a year on average, according to the service.
Although the preserved habitat offers “some protection,” the Oregon service executive wrote on its website, “past trends suggest that much of the remaining unprotected habitat could be lost in 10 to 30 years. To make matters worse, the barred owl of the eastern United States presented a new challenge, entering its habitat and vying for the same resources. Forest fires aggravated by climate change are a growing threat.
The forestry industry claims the federal government is protecting millions of acres of forest that is not occupied by owls. In April, the American Forest Resource Council, a regional industry group that lobbies for logging on public lands, announced it had reached an agreement with the service that would launch a reassessment of the protected habitat of the owl. In August, after what the service called “a review of the best scientific and commercial information available,” it proposed to reduce the protected area by about 205,000 acres.
The forestry group applauded the much larger reduction announced on Wednesday that opens more than three million acres.
“This rule will better align critical habitat for the Northern Spotted Owl with actual habitat, federal laws, and modern forest science at a time when unprecedented and severe wildfires threaten both owls and people. from northern California to Washington state, ”Travis Joseph, president of the Forest Resources Council, said in a statement.