Agencies reach accord on plan to protect spotted owl

Wednesday, January 22, 2003
By ERIK ROBINSON, Columbian staff writer

State officials have reached an agreement designed to protect the northern spotted owl in Southwest Washington for the next few years, while still cutting enough trees to raise money for schools and counties.

The agreement leaves in place most of the territory covered by owl-protection circles put into place in 1999. Doug Sutherland, who was elected state lands commissioner in 2000 after running on a campaign to increase revenue from timber cutting, wanted a review of the owl circles.

"With this agreement, we hopefully can move beyond politics toward good science," Sutherland said Tuesday in a prepared statement.

The three-year agreement notes that the state has agreed to defer "significant" amounts of harvest on almost 35,000 acres of owl habitat in four broad circles identified by the Department of Natural Resources.

Any selective logging that occurs within those circles, located in Lewis and Wahkiakum counties, will be designed to enhance old-growth forest characteristics over the long term.

"The vast majority will be habitat enhancement," said Todd Myers, DNR spokesman.

Another seven circles designated in 1999 are spread throughout Southwest Washington, and state officials had no major timber sales planned in those areas for the next three years.

Officials with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife said they made the agreement based on existing protection for the threatened owl in the state's national forests.

That applies to 448,000 acres set aside in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in Southwest Washington.

"The agreement guarantees that key areas of high-quality spotted owl habitat in Southwest Washington will be protected for the next three years a guarantee we previously did not have," said Jeff Koenings, director of the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

When the DNR agreed to a federal Habitat Conservation Plan in 1997, it designated 56 owl circles across the state, but only two were located in Southwest Washington.

Later, another 85 owl circles, totaling about 200,000 acres, were added to further protect owls on state lands.

Soon after taking office, Sutherland initiated a review of the voluntary owl circles.

With the agreement announced Tuesday, Sutherland's department agreed to recognize the DNR's 11 voluntary owl circles in Southwest Washington for the next three years. In the meantime, Myers said the department will work with private landowners on protecting owls while the DNR formulates its own long-term strategy for all state lands.

Each circle where an owl is identified theoretically provides enough room for an owl to live, hunt, mate and raise young undisturbed.

Under state rules, no more than 40 percent of the landscape within a given circle is supposed to be logged.

Because the owl circles encompasses private as well as state land, Myers said it provides a "perverse incentive" for private landowners to rush to harvest.


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