Environmentalists plan to sue over California Spotted Owl ruling
Environmental groups immediately said they will sue to overturn the ruling.
The decision by the Fish and Wildlife Service relies in part on owl protection plans contained in a Clinton administration document.
The Forest Service says those plans will likely be substantially altered by the Bush administration, including allowing increased timber harvesting that will lessen the risk of habitat-destroying wildfires.
"The overall magnitude of current threats to the California spotted owl does not rise to a level requiring federal protection," the Fish and Wildlife Service concluded after a yearlong review.
The closely related northern spotted owl, which became a symbol in the fight over old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest a decade ago, already is listed as "threatened" under the act, as is the Mexican spotted owl.
The California owl is currently recognized as a "sensitive" species by the Forest Service, and as a "species of special concern" by the state Department of Fish and Game.
Steve Thompson, manager of the Fish and Wildlife Service's California-Nevada office, said the service is "keenly aware" the Clinton framework is being reviewed by the Bush administration.
"Because the outcome of these efforts could substantially affect California spotted owls, we will ... review the effects at a later date, if necessary," he said.
Increased logging should help protect the owl from catastrophic wildfires like the one near several Giant Sequoia National Monument groves that destroyed nesting sites last year, said U.S. Forest Service spokesman Matt Mathes.
Both Mathes and Thompson said there may be "difficult trade-offs" by doing short-term harm to some owl habitat to prevent wildfires that could wipe out that habitat in the long run.
Noah Greenwald, of the Center for Biological Diversity, said his organization will sue. Among other things, the ruling ignores extensive planned clear-cutting in the Sierra, he said.
Forest Service officials met Monday with owl scientists and wildfire experts to review proposed revisions, and will meet this week with other federal officials before coming up with a final proposal next month.
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