Spotted owl continues to decline, says 'experts'


KONP Radio

(Port Townsend, WA) -- Experts say despite efforts to stabilize their dwindling numbers, the spotted-owl population has continued to decline in Washington state.

Spotted-owl counts are dropping from 5 to nearly 8 percent a year in state forests, worse than even a worst-case scenario predicted in the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan, which revamped logging practices on federal lands to protect the 18-inch-long owl.

Despite increased protections, the owls are doing far worse than anyone expected, and some fear the downward spiral will continue. Eric Forsman of the U.S. Forest Service says it's possible we may see some lessening of the rate of decline and adds you have to be cautious not to jump to conclusions, but he says it's been pretty scary. Population estimates are based on data compiled between 1992 and 2002.

The information offers only a short-term picture, but to biologists who discussed the studies Tuesday at the annual meeting of the state Wildlife Society at Fort Worden State Park, the discovery was not encouraging. While spotted-owl populations appear to be stable in Oregon, their decline in Washington state is occurring in forest lands on both sides of the Cascades, in national parks and on state and private land.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is responsible for protecting the spotted owl, which is listed as a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act. A status review the agency is conducting is scheduled for completion by the end of the year and could lead to the owl being listed as endangered rather than threatened. Spokeswoman Martha Jensen says whether the agency will have the authority to make a recommendation for a status change is unclear.


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