Environmentalists denounce the United States’ decision to destroy millions of acres of protected habitat, much of it in prime timber locations.
The Trump administration has said it will reduce millions of acres of designated protected habitat for the endangered Northern Spotted Owl in Oregon, Washington state and much of northern California in prime locations in the Oregon Coast Ranges.
Environmentalists immediately decried the move and accused President Donald Trump’s US Fish and Wildlife Service of taking a parting photo on protections designed to help restore the species to the timber industry.
The little owl is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act and was rejected for an upgrade to endangered status last year by the federal agency despite the loss of nearly four percent of its population per year.
“This overhaul destroys the habitat of the northern spotted owl by more than a third. This is Trump’s latest farewell gift to the timber industry and yet another blow to a species that needs all the protections possible to fully recover, ”said Noah Greenwald, Endangered Species Director. disappearance at the Center for Biological Diversity.
Forestry groups have applauded the decision, which will only take effect for 60 days.
‘Restoring the balance’
More thinning and management of protected forests is needed to prevent the wildfires, which devastated 1,450 square kilometers (560 square miles) of spotted owl habitat late last year, said Travis Joseph , president of the American Forest Resources Council.
Of this total, approximately 777 square kilometers (300 square miles) are no longer considered viable for birds.
The loss of the ability to connect in protected areas for the spotted owl has devastated rural communities, he said.
The 3.4 million acres (1.4 million hectares) removed from federal protections on Wednesday include all of Oregon’s so-called O&C land, which is large forested land.
The more than two million acres (809,000 hectares) are distributed in a checkerboard pattern across 18 counties in western Oregon.
“This rule corrects a harm done to rural communities and businesses and gives us a chance to restore balance in federal forest management and species conservation in the Pacific Northwest,” said Joseph.
The Fish and Wildlife Service agreed in a deal with the lumber industry to reassess Spotted Owl Protected Territory following a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling involving another federally protected species .
A battle of decades
The Trump administration has decided to roll back protections for waterways and wetlands, narrow protections for endangered wildlife, and open up more public land for oil and gas drilling.
But for decades, the federal government has been trying to save the Northern Spotted Owl, a native bird that has sparked an intense battle over logging across Washington, Oregon and California.
The black-eyed owl prefers to nest in old growth forests and received federal protections in 1990, a list that dramatically reshaped the economic landscape of the Pacific Northwest lumber industry and started a decades-long battle between environmentalists and loggers.
Old Douglas firs, many of which are 100-200 years old, are preferred by the owl, are also of great value to lumberjacks.
After the owl was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, which earned it a cover of Time magazine, U.S. officials halt logging on millions of acres of forest old on federal land to protect the bird’s habitat.
But the population has continued to decline and it is facing another threat: competition from the barred owl.
The Fish and Wildlife Service has since said that the northern spotted owl warrants being moved to the more hardy “endangered” status due to the continuing decline in the population.
But the agency refused to do so last year, saying other species had a higher priority.
This decision faces a legal challenge led by the Center for Biological Diversity.