Stakeholders decry spotted owl fallout
Updated: Thursday, June 21, 2012 10:29 AM
Jobs lost; crops lost; proposal would set aside more habitat
By STEVE BROWN
LONGVIEW, Wash. -- The 20-year-old plan to protect the Northern spotted owl is a "failure," Rep. Doc Hastings, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, says.
"Tens of thousands of jobs lost, and it has failed to recover the Northern spotted owl," the Washington state Republican said on May 21 as he convened a hearing of the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forest and Public Lands.
Hastings' committee has jurisdiction over most federal land use and water policies, including national forests.
At issue is the White House's new critical habitat proposal that would more than double the 6.9 million acres set aside for owl habitat in Washington, Oregon and California.
Klickitat County rancher Kelly Kreps, who has 3,200 acres in timber, said owl habitat on his land has expanded to 550 acres, and the proposed listing would restrict an additional 660 acres. About 800 acres of that total is prime timberland, he said.
"Our timber is our primary source of income and has subsidized our cattle operation eight of the last 10 years," he said. "This type of condemnation without compensation should be illegal."
"Those things that we value are in jeopardy," U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, who represents southwestern Washington, said. The original plan had "laudable initial intent," she said, but now it needs a science-based review.
Paul Pearce, a Skamania County, Wash., commissioner, said that in 1990 there were 1,200 jobs on the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Four mills operated in his county.
"Today there are few timber jobs and only one full-time mill," he said, blaming the cutbacks in part on reduced logging because of the owl management plan. "And they truck logs in, mostly from non-federal lands."
Federal forestlands are becoming a liability to the states, said Hal Salwasser, forestry dean at Oregon State University. "And they are a growing threat to adjoining landowners due to vulnerability to fire, insects and disease."
Tom Fox, president of the Family Forest Foundation, said the proposal to designate more acres as critical habitat for the Northern spotted owl "will only create disincentives for landowners to grow and maintain ... any type of species habitat."
Eventually, he said, the forestlands will be converted to uses that provide greater economic opportunity that "normally degrade wildlife habitat quality."
One consequence of preserving the owl's habitat has been loss of crops. Jim Murphy, a small forestland owner in Chehalis, Wash., said the inability to harvest timber on private and federal land has driven elk herds to lower elevations and onto farmland in search of food.
Mitch Friedman, of Conservation Northwest, urged that stakeholders in forest health not demand changes in federal timber policy.
"If your cake is mushy, don't blame the recipe. Allow the full baking time," he said. "With regard to constraints on timber production and jobs in the region, the big constraint is the market."
Hastings asked the nine panelists -- from agriculture, academia, the environmentalist community, government agencies, the hunting community and forest landowners --whether the Forest Plan had succeeded in five aspects: social and economic balance; science; timber harvest; ending gridlock; and protection of wildlife, forests and water.
Four of the nine responded "yes and no." Five replied with a "no."
Hastings said he will take the input from forestland stakeholders back to Washington. When asked about the likelihood of substantial changes in the plan or in the Endangered Species Act, Hastings said, "It's a work in progress."