Report: U.S. Fish and Wildlife owl plan lacking

Ashland resident Dominick DellaSala, a member of the Spotted Owl Recovery Team, couldn't help but feel vindicated.

A scientific review of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's draft plan to protect the spotted owl concluded some sections do "not use scientific information appropriately" and the plan may underestimate the threat of habitat loss by fire and the harvest of large trees.

"They hit the nail right on the head," DellaSala said about the 150-page report, released Monday by the Portland-based Sustainable Ecosystems Institute.

As a member of the team that offered advice to the federal agency on its draft plan, the forest ecologist had been a vocal critic, citing political interference for what he felt was a recovery plan too flawed to assure the owl's survival.

The draft, released a year ago this month, calls for increased logging activity while protecting the owl. Considered an indicator species in Northwest forests, the owl is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife contracted with the institute to review its plan.

"While our evaluation is supportive of many scientific conclusions in the draft Recovery Plan, it does identify some opportunities for improvement," said institute Vice President Steven Courtney in a prepared statement.

"This means that the recovery plan is likely to be stronger, and that the peer review process has worked," he added of the report by nine scientists.

Ren Lohoefener, the agency's regional director, said the institute's assessment offers valuable insight.

"They've identified areas that need more work and we are committed to doing whatever is necessary to develop the best plan," Lohoefener said.

Two previous peer reviews by the Society of Conservation Biology and the American Ornithologists Union were critical of the draft plan. They said the plan doesn't go far enough in protecting the spotted owl's old-growth habitat from harvesting and fires, and it gives too much credence to the threat from barred owls, a competing species.

The draft plan proposed creating 18 study areas in which 12 to 32 barred owls would be killed because they are believed to be pushing spotted owls out of their habitat. Another option included two different approaches to conserving blocks of habitat.

Although DellaSala, executive director of the National Center for Conservation Science Policy in Ashland, complimented the institute for its concerns, he felt the scientists didn't go far enough.

"With this administration, if you punt or leave wiggle room, that is interpreted as leaving a loophole big enough to drive a log truck through," he said.

"A broader peer review would take care of this," he added. "If I'm wrong, then I'm wrong. But a scientific peer review is the gold standard. That's what is needed in the final recovery plan."

The final plan for the northern spotted owl is expected to be released next month. It is being completed by scientists from the Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

To see the review released Monday, check out /pacific/ecoservices/endangered/recovery/NSORecoveryPlanning.htm.

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