Spotted Owl Conservation Plan Ignores Science

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Northern Spotted Owl Recovery Plan fails to incorporate the best available science concerning protection for the old-growth and mature forests that the owl inhabits, according to an American Bird Conservancy press release.

"Under this plan, forest managers will have discretion to boost logging in areas essential to the recovery of the rapidly declining Northern Spotted Owl," said Steve Holmer, spokesperson for conservancy. "The science is clear, all remaining old-growth and mature habitat of the owl needs more protection, not less."

To conserve the owl, the plan creates Managed Owl Conservation Areas (MOCAs) on 6.4 million acres, which is significantly smaller than the existing system of reserves on 7.5 million acres created under the Northwest Forest Plan. While the MOCAs overlap with the reserves in many places, they provide 1.1 million acres less habitat protection and do not include forests on the east side of Cascade crest. The agency may be able to use the creation of MOCAs to justify eliminating the existing system reserves.

The plan has already failed four independent science reviews because it severely downplayed the importance of protecting the owl's old-growth forest habitat. The most recent science review, by the Sustainable Ecosystems Institute, was made public less than a month ago. The other three reviews were conducted by the Society for Conservation Biology, the American Ornithologists' Union, and The Wildlife Society.

"This plan threatens Spotted Owls, Marbled Murrelets, endangered salmon runs, and clean water supplies across the region," said Holmer. "Science supports stronger habitat protection, not weakening the protective measures already in place under the Northwest Forest Plan. Congress needs to intervene and make sure another round of scientific peer review takes place before this flawed plan can be implemented."

Independent science reviews all recommend maintaining current protections for the owl's old growth forest home included in the Northwest Forest Plan, which created a system of reserves to conserve the owl and approximately 600 other old-growth dependent species. The Northwest Forest Plan is proving effective at slowing the Spotted Owl's decline. The rate of decline for owl populations covered by the plan is about 2.4 percent per year compared with a rate of 5.8 percent per year for study areas not covered by the plan.

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