This week the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finalized a rule to implement an expansive critical habitat designation for the northern spotted owl.

“In another tone-deaf move, the Biden administration is backing an anti-science proposal that will hinder the recovery of the species, stifle job creation and lead to more catastrophic wildfires. The Fish and Wildlife Service has already proven that declining spotted owl populations are a result of barred owl competition and the loss of habitat due to wildfires. This administration’s hypocrisy extends so far as to suggest active forest management as a part of their recovery plan while they simultaneously make it increasingly difficult for land managers to implement forest thinning and other critical fire mitigation activities. I urge the Fish and Wildlife Service to reconsider their decision.” – House Committee on Natural Resources Ranking Member Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.)

“The Trump Administration worked with conservation partners throughout the Pacific Northwest to ensure the northern spotted owl’s designated critical habitat was exactly that: critical to the species’ restoration. This action by the Biden Administration once again disregards the species conservation efforts led by states and local communities and the congressional intent of the Endangered Species Act. By taking the reins away from states, local governments, and private conservation partners, the federal government is crippling the recovery of the northern spotted owl and threatening the economic well-being of rural communities in Oregon and throughout the region.” – Congressional Western Caucus Chairman Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.)

“I am extremely disappointed with the Biden Administration’s decision to override the scientifically backed, commonsense Northern Spotted Owl Critical Habitat definition established by the Trump Administration. I am currently traveling across Southern Oregon – a region that will be hit hard by this misguided, and likely disastrous, change in federal policy. This is exactly the type of bureaucratic ignorance that will put communities like Grants Pass, Medford, and others in even greater danger of forest fire. Federal policies that lock up our forests, combined with bureaucratic red tape and decades of poor forest management have led to millions of acres of forest burning across the American West. Now, the Biden Administration is doubling down on a disastrous recipe of overstocked forests and hot, fast-moving fires that will sterilize the soil, prevent reforestation, and choke off communities and the economies that sustain them.” – U.S. Rep. Cliff Bentz (R-Ore.)

Background

In January 2021, the Trump administration finalized a rule to right-size the critical habitat for the northern spotted owl by reducing it by 3.4 million acres. This rule was in response to the Weyerhaeuser v. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Supreme Court decision which clarified that to qualify as critical habitat, it must first actually be a habitat of the species. The Trump administration’s rule complied with the Weyerhaeuser decision by significantly reducing the amount of non-habitat that was initially designated as critical habitat. The Trump administration rule was also consistent with the Northwest Forest Plan that promises a stable supply of timber from those federal lands identified as suitable for timber harvest.

The Holiday Farm, Beachie and Lionshead fires in 2020 alone caused the loss of 45,220 acres of suitable northern spotted owl habitat on the Willamette National Forest. In comparison, the Northwest Forest Plan 20-year monitoring report indicated that 5,805 acres of suitable northern spotted owl habitat was lost annually across the entire range of the species due to timber harvest on federally managed lands. Over-expansive critical habitat designations are not helping the northern spotted owl. More active conservation work is needed, not less.

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