PORTLAND — Environmental groups have filed a lawsuit seeking to preserve protections for 3.4 million acres of northern spotted owl habitat from the U.S.-Canada border to northern California, the latest salvo in a legal battle over logging in federal old-growth forests that are key nesting grounds for the imperiled species.
The 3.4 million acres in question include all of Oregon’s O&C lands, which are big timber territory. The more than 2 million acres are spread in a checkerboard pattern over 18 counties in western Oregon.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service cut the amount of protected federal old-growth forest by one-third in the final days of President Donald Trump’s administration, a move that was cheered by the timber industry. Democratic lawmakers called the reduction in logging protections “potential scientific meddling” and called for an investigation.
President Joe Biden’s administration has since temporarily delayed putting those new rules into effect in order to review the decision.
The tiny owl prefers to nest in old-growth forests and was listed as a federally threatened species in 1990, a decision that dramatically redrew the economic landscape for the Pacific Northwest timber industry and pitted environmentalists against loggers. The dark-eyed bird was rejected for an upgrade to “endangered” status last year by the Fish and Wildlife Service despite losing nearly 4% of its population annually.
“Even though there’s a decent indication that the (Biden) administration is taking a second look, we didn’t want to leave any room for error,” said Susan Jane Brown of the Western Environmental Law Center, a plaintiff in the lawsuit filed Tuesday in Portland.
Brown estimated there are fewer than 2,000 breeding pairs of the owls left in the wild, but no one is sure.
The timber industry has “made it very clear that they like the final rule and the elimination of 3.4 million acres of critical habitat,” she said.
Timber interests, including the American Forest Resource Council, filed a lawsuit earlier this month challenging the delay in implementing the new, reduced habitat protections and say the forest in question isn’t used by the northern spotted owls.
The existing protections on logging in federal old-growth forests in the U.S. West have cost Pacific Northwest communities that rely on the timber industry over $1 billion and devastated rural communities by eliminating hundreds of jobs, the group says.
The Fish and Wildlife Service agreed in a settlement with the timber industry to reevaluate the spotted owls’ protected territory following a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision involving a different federally protected species.
The Trump administration moved to roll back protections for waterways and wetlands, narrow protections for wildlife facing extinction and open more public land to oil and gas drilling.
For decades, the federal government has been trying to save the northern spotted owl, a native bird that sparked an intense battle over logging across Washington, Oregon and California. Old-growth Douglas firs, many 100 to 200 years old, that are preferred by the owl are also of great value to loggers.
After the owl was listed under the Endangered Species Act, earning it a Time magazine cover, U.S. officials halted logging on millions of acres of old-growth forests on federal lands to protect the bird’s habitat. But the population kept declining, and it faces other threats from competition from the barred owl and climate change.
The Fish and Wildlife Service has since said the northern spotted owl warrants being moved up to the more robust “endangered” status because of continued population declines. But the agency didn’t do so last year, saying other species took higher priority.
On Wednesday, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, in her first public appearance since being sworn in, briefly addressed actions by the Trump administration “to undermine key provisions” of the endangered species law without specifically mentioning the northern spotted owl.
“We will be taking a closer look at all of those revisions and considering what steps to take to ensure that all of us — states, Indian tribes, private landowners and federal agencies — have the tools we need to conserve America’s natural heritage and strengthen our economy,″ Haaland said.
Associated Press Writer Matthew Daly in Washington, D.C. contributed to this report.
Follow Gillian Flaccus on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/gflaccus
There is just one school board position in Douglas County that won’t have a candidate on the ballot for the May 18 special election.
The deadline to file was March 18 at the Douglas County Clerk’s Office. Reedsport School seat 3 was the only one left without a candidate.
At Roseburg Public Schools, vice-chair Steve Patterson announced his resignation Monday. He was to be up for reelection but had not filed.
“When I began my current term of service almost 4 years ago now, I had decided that it would be my last as a member of the board of directors,” Patterson wrote in his resignation letter.
The school board will formally announce the vacancy at its April 14 meeting, as per district policy, and discuss the process for appointing a new board member.
Ann Krimetz and Keith Longie are running against each other in the upcoming May election to take over the position that has been vacated by Patterson.
Krimetz is an instructional assistant substitute with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Longie is retired after a 41-year career in health service administration.
There are two other contested positions on the Roseburg Public School board of directors, while Howard Johnson is running uncontested for the No. 3 position.
Brandon Bishop and Samantha Frost will vie for the No. 1 position at Roseburg, which is a two-year term. Bishop is a physician who was selected to the Roseburg school board in July 2020, Frost is a substitute teacher for Roseburg Public Schools and precinct committee person since 2019.
Andrew Shirtcliff and Micki Hall will go up against each other for the No. 2 position at Roseburg. Shirtcliff is the president of Shirtcliff Oil Co. with a degree in business administration, Hall is a retired teacher and current board member.
At Winston-Dillard School District all seats will see two candidates on the ballot. John Poore and Jamine Geyer for the No. 2 seat, Lorna Quimby and Erin Saylor for the No. 3 seat, and Jeremy Mitchell and M’Liss Shrum for the No. 4 seat.
Glide School District will also see contests for each seat, with Jeffery Brown and Kara Wever on the ballot for No. 2, Candice Voynick and Kris Malek on the ballot for No. 3, and Dan Metz and Rebecca Beam contesting No. 5.
There are three candidates on the ballot for the South Umpqua School District No. 2 seat: Jeannie Weakley, Van Roose and Sharyse Williams.
Scott McKnight and Bill Ratledge are on the ballot for Sutherlin School District’s two-year term in No. 2, while Michael Boehm and Leonard Bodeen vie for the No. 5 position.
At Days Creek School District, Todd Vaughn and Valerie Anderson are both on the ballot for No. 5 — Tiller and Chelsie Hopkins and Charlie Sawyer are on the ballot for No. 7 — Days Creek.
Bill Boal and Caroline Lydon are on the ballot for a two-year term seat at Glendale school district.
In Yoncalla, Trinity Benito and Della Orcutt will vie for a two-year term.
COMMUNITY COLLEGE DISTRICTSUmpqua Community College’s board chair Steve Loosley is running an uncontested race, as is Guy Kennerly.
The Zone 4 race will see Erica Mills and Kat Stone on the ballot.
Mills has a degree in public health and was elected to the UCC board in July 2019.
Stone is a registered nurse, who got her degree at Umpqua Community College. She has been elected to the Douglas County Transportation District Board twice and was appointed to the Robert’s Creek Water District budget committee in 2017.
EDUCATION SERVICE DISTRICTSDouglas Education Service District’s at-large position will see Gina Stewart on the ballot.
Harry McDermott is running for Zone 2 and Anita Cox is running in Zone 5.
Michael Keizer and Gwen Feero will run against each other for the Zone 4 position.
Keizer is an educational consultant and former teacher, principal and superintendent who has served on the Douglas ESD board as well as the Glide Senior Center board and was in charge of the UCC Alumni Association. Feero is a science teacher, and former special education teacher, elementary teacher, charter bus company owner, machinist assistant and fast food worker.
Bodie, Brooklyn and Harper waited for instructions in the safety course of the bike clinic, before they got their chance to use hand signals and make some tricky turns on their bicycles.
“I really like riding my bike,” said 5-year-old Bodie Prock, of Sutherlin.
His sister, 7-year-old Brooklyn Prock, and their friend, 5-year-old Harper Woods, all agreed that doing the safety course with the hand signals was their favorite part of the bike clinic that took place at the basketball courts in Stewart Park on Wednesday.
“It’s also fun because I get to do it with my best friend,” Brooklyn said. “I’ve known her since she was born.”
The course designed to teach children bicycle skills, such as learning how to make sharp turns and sudden stops, while using hand signals was enjoyed by many young cyclists.
Lian Leninger, 6, was excited to try out the course. He said he didn’t ride his bike very much anymore, but that he was very good at riding and making turns.
Lian also got a quick lesson in hand signals from Owen and Evan Kruse before getting to take on the course.
Teaching children how to use hand signals on bicycles was just one aspect of what Safe Routes to School Facilitator Janelle Newton had in mind for the clinic.
“We typically partner with schools directly, and a lot of the things you see right now we usually do in the schools,” she said. “But with COVID, as you can imagine, it’s been really hard to get into school to teach kids how to ride bikes safely. So we’re basically improvising.”
City of Roseburg Parks & Recreation Department allowed the organizations to use city parks and spaces that are open to the public, even amid the pandemic.
Newton, who works for the Douglas Education Service Department, partnered with community organizations, such as Umpqua Valley Bicycle Outreach and Blue Zones Project, to teach children about bicycles.
“The things that we really want to focus on are traffic, traffic signs, fitting your bike properly, fitting your helmet properly, and teaching the kids hand signals,” Newton said.