CCA calls move by feds to set aside more habitat 'outlandish'
By TIM HEARDEN
YREKA, Calif. -- The federal government issued a scaled-back final rule on new Northern spotted owl critical habitat Nov. 21, setting aside an additional 9.58 million acres of public land for the threatened species.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's designation includes about 2.9 million acres in Washington, 4.5 million acres in Oregon and 2.1 million acres in California but leaves out about 4.3 million acres proposed earlier this year. Those include all 1.27 million acres of private land that had been preliminarily identified in February, said Matthew Baun, a Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman here.
The new designation was dialed back "because of conservation measures already in place that support spotted owl recovery, precluding the need to designate some areas," Baun said in an email.
The downsized final rule may be a bit of a relief to about 100 cattlemen along California's north coast who also own timberland and would have been affected by new restrictions on private land.
On the ranchers' behalf, the California Cattlemen's Association voiced concern this summer with expansion of critical habitat both on private and public land, arguing current restrictions have decimated the timber industry without increasing the number of spotted owls.
Spotted owl populations are now being threatened by the barred owl, which makes it "outlandish" that even more habitat would be set aside, the CCA argued in its submitted remarks.
Areas identified as critical habitat have physical or biological features essential to the conservation of a species and may require special management, the FWS explains on its website. The designation does not preclude "ecological" timber harvests to improve habitat and its resilience to wildfire and insect infestations, the agency asserted in a news release.
In all, the designation includes about 7.9 million acres managed by the U.S. Forest Service, 1.3 million acres held by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, 270,886 acres of state-owned land (mostly in Oregon) and 20,684 acres of municipal land in Marin County, Calif., Baun said.
The areas were added to the 6.9 million acres already set aside as critical habitat in the West to reverse a continuing decline of the spotted owl, whose population is still dwindling at a rate of 2.9 percent a year, according to the government. The owl was first listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1990.
As public comment on the proposed new protections were being taken in the spring and early summer, Fish and Wildlife held public meetings in Redding, Calif.; Tacoma, Wash.; and two in Portland in June to gather more input.
Separately, Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, conducted a hearing on the new federal proposal in Longview, Wash., in May. At the hearing, panelists said the proposal would further hamper their timber operations and eliminate more jobs in their region.
Hastings called the 20-year effort to restore the spotted owl a "failure," adding the species hasn't recovered despite "tens of thousands of jobs lost."
The government asserted Nov. 21 that its final designation was based on the best available science and included feedback from experts, regional stakeholders and land management agencies as well as the public.
The 2011 revised recovery plan for the Northern spotted owl seeks to reduce competition from barred owls, actively manage forests to achieve forest health and protect the best of the owl's remaining habitat, Fish and Wildlife stated in its release.
Northern Spotted Owl Recovery Information Site: www.fws.gov/oregonfwo/Species/Data/NorthernSpottedOwl/main.asp