Logging near Olympia delayed

Susan Gordon; The News Tribune


Olympia, WA - The Department of Natural Resources will postpone logging on between 14,000 and 15,000 acres of prime spotted owl habitat southwest of Olympia until at least 2007, spokesman Todd Myers said.

The delay is a key element of an agreement with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife to map out a way to manage 35,000 acres of publicly owned Southwest Washington forests for both owls and timber.

"With this agreement, we hopefully can move beyond politics toward good science," said Lands Commissioner Doug Sutherland. He runs the Natural Resources Department, which manages 2.1 million acres of forest statewide.

The agreement to create a conservation-oriented landscape management plan resolves a dispute between the departments that surfaced in 2001. That's when officials of the Department of Fish and Wildlife objected to Natural Resource plans to dissolve logging restrictions. Sutherland's predecessor, Jennifer Belcher, had set the limits to protect owls in Southwest Washington.

"We had no legal leverage," said John Mankowski, environmental policy director of the Department of Fish and Wildlife. "This is an obvious win for us."

Spotted owls have been listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act since 1990.

In 1996, Natural Resources adopted a federally approved habitat conservation plan, which allows it to continue to harvest timber while conserving habitat for the owls and other imperiled species.

The habitat plan governs management of 1.2 million acres of forests. But it does nothing to sustain owls in Southwest Washington, even though biologists say the region comprises about 30 percent of the owl's range.

Two years ago, after Sutherland took office, his key administrators insisted that the habitat plan provided sufficient protection for owls and proposed to set aside Belcher's rules.

Under the new agreement, the two departments will work together, and with other landowners, to develop a regional plan to conserve owl habitat, officials said.

In the meantime, the Natural Resources Department may thin some so-called owl circles that were previously off-limits to logging. The goal will be to create new habitat suitable for the owl, Myers said.

Dave Werntz, science director of the Northwest Ecosystem Alliance, an environmental advocacy group, called the agreement positive. "It certainly is a change for the state Department of Natural Resources to acknowledge that their lands have a role in the conservation of endangered wildlife," he said.

However, he said he is not convinced that sufficient lands have been set aside and that collaboration between the state agencies and private landowners will work.

Spotted owls inhabit old-growth forests, only remnants of which remain in Southwest Washington. No one knows how many spotted owls live in this state. A 1999 analysis suggested their numbers were dropping by 4 percent annually. Earlier scientific surveys identified 1,000 Washington sites where biologists found owls or believe they once lived.

Susan Gordon: 253-597-8756


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