Trump administration slashes imperiled noticed owls’ habitat | Surroundings Information
Environmentalists complain that the US is trying to restrict millions of acres of protected habitat, much of it in prime timber locations.
The Trump administration has announced that it would restrict millions of acres of protected habitat for the endangered owl in Oregon, Washington state, and Northern California, much of it in prime timber locations in Oregon’s coastal areas.
Environmentalists immediately rejected the move, accusing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under President Donald Trump of taking a farewell shot at protective measures designed to help restore the species for the benefit of the timber industry.
The little owl is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act and was rejected by federal agency last year, despite losing nearly four percent of its population annually.
“This overhaul has protected the owl habitat by more than a third. It’s Trump’s latest parting gift to the logging industry and another blow to a species that needs all protection to fully recover, ”said Noah Greenwald, director of endangered species at the Center for Biodiversity.
Wood groups welcomed the decision, which will not go into effect for 60 days.
A northern spotted owl sits on a branch near Korbel, California [File: Sharon Bernstein/Reuters]
Greater thinning and management of protected forests is needed to prevent forest fires that devastated 1,450 square kilometers of spotted owl habitat late last year, said Travis Joseph, president of the American Forest Resources Council.
Of this, about 777 square kilometers (300 square miles) are no longer considered viable for the birds.
The loss of the ability to enroll in areas protected for the spotted owl has devastated rural communities, he said.
The 1.4 million acres removed from federal protection on Wednesday include all of Oregon’s so-called O&C areas, which are large wooded areas.
The more than 809,000 hectares are distributed in a checkerboard pattern across 18 counties in western Oregon.
“This rule corrects an injustice imposed on rural communities and businesses and enables us to restore the balance between federal forest management and conservation in the Pacific Northwest,” said Joseph.
The Fish and Wildlife Service reached an agreement with the logging industry to reassess the owl sanctuary following a 2018 US Supreme Court ruling involving another nationally protected species.
A battle that lasted for decades
The Trump administration has decided to withdraw protection for waterways and wetlands, decrease protection for endangered wildlife, and open more public land to oil and gas drilling.
But for decades, the federal government has been trying to save the northern owl, a native bird that sparked an intense battle for deforestation in Washington, Oregon, and California.
The dark-eyed owl prefers to nest in forests with old growth and received federal protection in 1990. This listing dramatically changed the economic landscape for the lumber industry in the Pacific Northwest, sparking a decades-long battle between environmentalists and loggers.
Old Douglas firs, many 100 to 200 years old preferred by the owl, are also of great value to loggers.
After the owl was classified as threatened under the Endangered Species Act and received a Time Magazine cover, U.S. officials stopped cutting millions of acres of mature forest in states to protect the bird’s habitat.
But the population continued to decline and there is another threat: competition from the barred owl.
The Fish and Wildlife Service has since announced that the owls from the north need to be upgraded to the more robust “endangered” status due to the ongoing population decline.
But the agency declined last year, saying other species would have higher priority.
This decision faces a legal challenge led by the Center for Biodiversity.