Species Not So Endangered? Disappearing owl trick may be a red herring after all

Liberty Matters News Service


Maybe the old disappearing owl trick was a red herring after all.

U.S. District Judge Owen Panner recently ruled that logging can proceed in national forests in southwestern Oregon, siding with the opinion of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) biologists that no harm would come to the overall population of the owls.

The decision was a blow to the Oregon Natural Resources Council and other environmental groups who sued to deny legitimate logging operations within areas designated for harvest on federal lands.

Joan Jewett, speaking for FWS, praised the decision saying; "We're confident our scientists always do the highest quality work and are glad the judge agrees." (Now that's a switch for a bureaucrat.)

A lawyer for Earthjustice (Sierra Club) groused that the FWS was just going along with the Bush administration's policy of giving short shrift to environmental protection.

Lawsuits protesting endangered species designations are popping up all over California, too. Public officials and private citizens in Santa Barbara and Sonoma counties are fed up with regulations that impede development and interfere with farming and want the tiger salamander removed from the endangered species list. They claim the critical habitat designations are based on "junk science."

The Santa Maria Public Airport is considering climbing onto the lawsuit bandwagon, too. Habitat protection for the salamander has delayed construction of a light industry complex and a golf course on the airport's property. Lompoc Valley has its own critical habitat flap and has filed a federal lawsuit aimed at removing protection for the western snowy plover.


Airport board joins effort to sue over strict salamander rules

By Janene Scully -- Staff Writer
Pulitzer Newspapers


Sonoma County, CA - The Santa Maria Public Airport has become the first local agency to sign onto a team looking to sue the federal government over strict rules protecting the California tiger salamander.

General Manager Gary Rice said the airport board agreed to join the effort spawned in Sonoma County in a legal maneuver to get the salamander removed from the endangered species list.

Many public officials and private citizens in Santa Barbara and Sonoma counties are angry that salamander protection measures have interfered with development and farming, and they contend the protections are based upon "junk science."

Santa Barbara County's population of tiger salamanders was designated as endangered in 2000, with similar protections issued for Sonoma County's salamanders last year. However, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed reclassifying salamanders in both counties as threatened, a lower designation than endangered, and putting the same protections on all tiger salamanders in Central California.

A Sonoma County consultant involved in mustering salamander protection foes didn't return calls for comment on the lawsuit, which is expected to be filed soon.

One of the highest-profile projects stalled by the critter is the airport district's Santa Maria Research Park, a combination of light industry and golf course that it is proposing to develop near Blosser and Foster roads.

Although the board voted to join Sonoma County efforts in special meeting Feb. 2, Rice said Thursday night that local involvement remains stalled pending receipt of a final copy of the citizen complaint letter seeking an end to salamander protections, a draft of the lawsuit, and confirmation of a strategy to settle the issue out of court.

Rice said the airport board put a limit on how much it will spend for the Sonoma-led legal action, but declined to identify the amount, which he contends is confidential for now.

If the city council decides to join the effort, the decision would be discussed behind closed doors as allowed under state law, she said.

Other northern Santa Barbara County agricultural, business and development organizations reportedly are weighing whether to join the Sonoma effort.

"Right now we're not taking part in this suit," said Vic Tognazzini, an agribusinessman and Santa Barbara County Farm Bureau member. "It has nothing to do with the merits of the case. We certainly agree with them."

In a similar action, a Lompoc Valley-led effort is trying to get the western snowy plover removed from endangered species protection lists under a federal lawsuit filed recently.

Staff writer Janene Scully can be reached at 739-2214 or by e-mail at janscully@pulitzer.net.


Judge OKs logging in owl habitat

By Associated Press
Feb 14, 2004 - 01:16:11 am PST

GRANTS PASS, Ore. -- National forests in southwestern Oregon can sell timber that stands within critical habitat for the northern spotted owl if the areas also are designated for logging under the Northwest Forest Plan, a federal judge has ruled.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Owen Panner in Portland was a defeat for the Oregon Natural Resources Council and other environmental groups trying to protect old growth timber within the area designated for harvest on federal lands in Oregon, Washington and Northern California.

In dismissing the lawsuit, the judge upheld the biological opinion from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that declared logging on 60,000 acres of the Rogue River and Siskiyou national forests and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's Medford District would not harm the overall population of spotted owls, which are a threatened species.

One major logging project targeted by the lawsuit was the BLM's Kelsey-Whisky timber sale on the north side of the Rogue River near the community of Galice, which calls for cutting 12 million board feet of timber on 5,000 acres to produce logs for local mills, reduce wildfire danger, improve pond habitats and decommission 10 miles of old logging roads.

"Although plaintiffs believe too high a percentage of habitat loss is occurring in southwestern Oregon, or that certain critical habitat units are experiencing more than their share of logging, the (Fish and Wildlife Service) has explained why this is occurring and concluded that the harvest levels will not jeopardize the species as a whole," Panner wrote.

Joan Jewett, spokeswoman for the Fish and Wildlife regional office in Portland, said the ruling completely upheld the agency's scientific evaluation of the logging's impact on owls.

"We're confident our scientists always do the highest quality work and are glad the judge agrees," she said.

Environmentalists had argued that Fish and Wildlife failed to show that alternate habitat areas where commercial logging is not allowed were sufficient to support owls displaced by the timber harvest.

Kristin Boyles, a lawyer for Earthjustice, an environmental public interest law firm, said Fish and Wildlife was going along with a Bush administration policy downplaying the importance of critical habitat for restoring threatened and endangered species.

Environmentalists argue that the standard of protection under critical habitat is greater, because it calls for the recovery of a species to a sustainable population, while a listing just prohibits further harm.

As a result of a lawsuit brought by environmentalists, the Forest Service and BLM adopted the Northwest Forest Plan in 1994. The plan reduced logging by more than 80 percent.

The northern spotted owl was listed a threatened species in 1990, due primarily to loss of old growth forest habitat to logging. In 1992 Fish and Wildlife designated nearly 7 million acres of federal forest lands in Oregon, Washington and California as habitat critical to its recovery. Its numbers have continued to decline.




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