Spotted owl numbers declined, report says - Population down despite 15-year recovery effort, wildlife biologist says

Associated Press


OLYMPIA _ Washington's population of northern spotted owls has declined sharply, despite a 15-year recovery effort that reshaped forest management at a cost of thousands of timber industry jobs, a Washington state newspaper reported.

"There has been a precipitous decline in the owl population in areas of Washington state, including the Olympic Peninsula and Cle Elum study areas," Martin Raphael, chief research wildlife biologist at the U.S. Forest Service's Pacific Northwest Research Station, told The Olympian newspaper.

On the Olympic Peninsula, severe winter storms in 1998-99 apparently wiped out a number of the owls. In the following two years, almost none of the owls had chicks, according to research led by Oregon State University biologist Eric Forsman, whose work since the 1970s makes him the owl expert of the Northwest.

The studies Forsman led in 2002 showed that 38 percent of the 92 owl territories surveyed on the Olympic Peninsula supported owl pairs -- about half as many as were occupied from 1987 to 1992.

Forest activists argue that owl protection on 10 million acres of state and private land is inadequate, and too much timber is being cut.

"It's very, very well known that state wildlife rules are behind the times," said Peter Goldman of the Washington Forest Law Center in Seattle, a nonprofit public interest law firm. "They are in desperate need of revision."

Habitat is not the only issue. The barred owl, a relative newcomer to the forests of the Northwest, also appears to be raising havoc with the spotted owl, competing for its habit, eating some of the same prey, and perhaps even killing spotted owls.

Field researchers reported seeing 62 barred owls in the 2002 study, which suggests they now might outnumber spotted owls.

"It's habitat loss that drove the spotted owl population down," said state Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Joe Buchanan. "Now other factors are kicking in -- the barred owl, forest fires, insects and diseases in forest stands, maybe even the West Nile virus."

When a species already is in decline, it is less capable of withstanding other types of assaults, Buchanan said.

In 1990, the owl was listed as a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act, prompting the Clinton administration to declare millions of acres of federal forest land -- including 2.4 million acres of old-growth forest in Washington state -- off limits under the Northwest Forest Plan.

But the latest population studies on the Olympic Peninsula and in the central Cascade Mountains show owl numbers down 50 percent to 60 percent over the past 10 years.

Setting aside so much U.S. Forest Service land as critical habitat for the owl caused widespread pain in the timber industry and the communities that depended on it. As federal timber harvests were slashed 80 percent from the heyday of the 1980s, thousands of jobs were lost and dozens of mills closed.

Forest-related jobs in Washington and Oregon declined almost 25 percent, from 137,200 in 1986 to 104,600 in 2000.

Not all the job losses can be traced to the owl. But the flow of logs from the region's federal forests has slowed to a trickle since the owl was listed, a big blow to timber companies and mills that needed access to federal timber to survive.


In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, any copyrighted work in this message is distributed under fair use without profit or payment for non-profit research and educational purposes only. [Ref.]

Back to Current Edition Citizen Review Archive LINKS Search This Site