Fish and Wildlife releases spotted owl recovery plan

In its final northern spotted owl recovery plan released Friday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the $489 million effort could recover the threatened bird's population in 30 years.

The plan cites habitat loss because of logging and catastrophic wildfires along with competition from the barred owl as the primary threats. It identifies 34 actions to counter the threats, including establishing nearly 6.5 million acres of owl conservation areas.

"This plan aggressively addresses each of the key threats with sound and, in some cases, pioneering recommendations," Ren Lohoefener, head of the service's Pacific region, said in a prepared statement.

"There are always uncertainties involved with such a wide-ranging species facing complex threats," he added.

"Given the species' continued decline, in some areas at a faster rate than was predicted, we need to ensure we are truly on a path to recovery as we implement the plan."

Considered an indicator species in mature Northwest forests, the owl was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1990.

The recovery plan was developed over two years with help from scores of scientists, a team of diverse experts and an interagency group of biologists, he noted.

Talent resident Dominick DellaSala, a forest ecologist who was a member of the Spotted Owl Recovery Team and a vocal critic of the agency's earlier draft plan, isn't impressed with the final outcome.

"They definitely made changes from the draft but the final plan still doesn't protect the old-growth forests the owl, salmon and hundreds of other species rely on," said DellaSala, executive director of the National Center for Conservation Science Policy in Ashland.

The problem, DellaSala said, is the plan allows the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to continue salvage logging as well as its Western Oregon Plan Revision, both of which he believes would destroy owl habitat. He is also concerned the plan leaves out more than a million acres of old-growth timber largely on the east side of the Cascade Mountains.

"We're requesting Congress ask for a scientific peer review on this final plan because it has some of the same problems as the draft," DellaSala said. "We hope with a thorough scientific peer review it doesn't have to go to court."

He has continually cited what he believes was political interference from the Bush administration to create a recovery plan too flawed to assure the owl's survival.

The agency has refuted those accusations.

Tom Partin, president of the timber industry group America Forest Resource Council, also dislikes the final plan. It ignores solid research from the draft plan despite the fact that it "finally acknowledges the immense threat" posed by competition from the barred owl, he said in a prepared statement.

He is also concerned that large areas would be maintained for the owls without determining whether they actually used them for habitat.

"They have again opted to draw arbitrary reserve lines on maps and walk away from addressing the habitat and prey needs of the owl," he said. "It didn't work in the last decade and it won't work in the next."

To see the full plan, check out /owlplan.

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