(TheBlaze/AP) — The northern spotted owl is expected to be allocated roughly 9.6 million acres of forest land to protect it from extinction– roughly twice what was dedicated during the Bush administration in 2008.
The full “critical habitat” plan will not be published until next week, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced that areas of Oregon, Washington and Northern California will come under its provisions, almost all of it federal lands.
The amount is down from nearly 14 million acres proposed last February, but far exceeds the 5.3 million acres proposed in 2008. The biggest cut came in private timberlands — 1.3 million acres. State forests covering 271,000 acres remain.
Following a directive last February from the White House, officials revised the latest plan to make room for thinning and logging inside critical habitat to reduce the danger of wildfire and improve the health of forests.
Noah Greenwald of the Center for Biological Diversity said it appeared the critical habitat plan and the previously adopted owl recovery strategy were back in line with the Northwest Forest Plan adopted in 1994 to protect owls and salmon.
“In restoring extensive protections on federal lands, today’s decision … marks the end of a dark chapter in the Endangered Species Act’s implementation when politics were allowed to blot out science,” he said. “The owl has continued to decline since its protection under the Endangered Species Act. Part of the reason for that is the loss of habitat on private and state lands.”
But Dominick DellaSala, chief scientist for the GEOS Institute and a former member of the spotted owl recovery team, objected to plans to log and thin forests inside the critical habitat area, saying no studies have been done on how it could harm the owls. He added that one study shows it reduces the amount of prey available.
“We need to focus on protecting and restoring our remaining mature and old-growth forests across all lands, so we can recover endangered wildlife and produce sustainable jobs in rural communities,” Joseph Vaile, the program director of the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center in Ashland, Oregon added.
The designation of the spotted owl as a threatened species in 1990 triggered a 90% cutback in logging on national forests in the northwest, and similar reductions spread around the nation.
Even so, the spotted owl has seen a 40% decline during the past 25 years, Fish and Wildlife officials said.
The Bush administration tried to undue some protections for the owls and other species to allow for more logging, but the effort was turned back in court.
The timber industry reserved detailed comment on the latest proposal until it can look at the full plan.
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(H/T: Gateway Pundit)