Douglas County got more bad news this past week. Its future livelihood will continue to be affected by a threatened and dwindling species, the northern spotted owl.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released its latest plan for helping the spotted owl recover so it would no longer need the protection of the Endangered Species Act.
That plan nearly doubles the acreage set aside in a previous plan as critical habitat for spotted owls, and that means more logging restrictions on 9.6 million acres in Oregon, Washington and California. To put it in perspective, the Umpqua National Forest that covers most of eastern Douglas County is nearly 1 million acres in size.
Looking at the Oregon map of critical habitat, it appears only the Willamette and Columbia River valleys are unaffected.
Maybe there’s one bright spot for our local world-class wood products industry that appreciates being able to harvest the Douglas fir trees that grow so well here: Many of the private and state lands identified as critical habitat in the preliminary plan released in February are no longer included.
But that’s not much consolation, considering another action that occurred last week. A federal judge halted 11 timber sales on the Elliott State Forest near Reedsport, indicating she expects conservation groups will win a lawsuit alleging the harvest would harm a threatened seabird, the marbled murrelet. The decision means harvest revenue for Oregon public schools from the forest will drop from $14.9 million to $3.8 million next year.
A nagging question remains concerning efforts to benefit the spotted owl. Can the owl numbers actually recover?
Logging has been curtailed drastically since the spotted owl was listed in 1990. Yet its population has declined by 40 percent over the past 25 years.
Federal officials know that another major factor threatening the spotted owls’ survival is the barred owl, which has gradually expanded its range into the Pacific Northwest and displaced the spotted owl. The barred owl is more aggressive, adaptable and reproduces more successfully than the spotted owl. When the two owls compete for food and nesting sites, the barred owl wins and the spotted owl numbers dwindle.
The recovery plan proposes shooting or capturing and relocating barred owls to see if the two owls can coexist, but at an experimental pace that seems unlikely to make a difference in spotted owl numbers.
Meanwhile, more habitat could be lost to catastrophic wildfire in our federal forests, which are overgrown and being destroyed by pests.
What’s missing from the spotted owl recovery plan is economic considerations. There appears to be no consideration for the jobs that will be lost in an effort to save a species that may never recover.