New Proposals For Post-Fire Logging Fail To Protect Northern Spotted Owls

Thursday, November 21, 2013
Northern Spotted Owl
Northern Spotted Owl
- photo by USFWS

In a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, a coalition of forest and wildlife conservation groups on Thursday called on the Obama administration to implement measures in the final Northern Spotted Owl Recovery Plan to protect post-fire forest habitats and structures used by the threatened owls and their prey.

The November 21 letter notes that “action is needed as a result of legislative proposals, such as H.R. 1526, that would expedite post-disturbance logging and because of projects currently being considered by federal agencies.” H.R. 1526 has been passed by the House and similar legislation to expedite post-fire logging, S. 1479, has been introduced in the U.S. Senate.

“Plans to boost post-fire logging in Spotted Owl habitat ignore the best-available science and would cause harm to old-growth forests,” said Steve Holmer, senior policy advisor with American Bird Conservancy. “Government scientists have concluded that in order to recover the rapidly declining Northern Spotted Owl population, protection is needed for forest structures created by fires such as large standing dead trees that are used by the owls to nest in,” he said.

An Oct. 31 letter to Congress endorsed by 250 scientists says “legislation to expedite post-disturbance logging is inconsistent with the current state of scientific knowledge, and would seriously undermine the ecological integrity of forest ecosystems on federal lands.”

“Cutting down burned trees after a fire negatively impacts Northern Spotted Owls,” said Randi Spivak with the Center for Biological Diversity. “But the harm goes beyond owls because it impedes natural tree growth, causes erosion and, when tree plantations are put in place, increases risk of future fires.”

The final revised recovery plan for the Northern Spotted Owl includes recommendations to recover the species so that it can be removed from the list of Threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. Notably, Recovery Action 12 in that plan addresses post-fire management actions and specifically says that: “In lands where management is focused on development of Spotted Owl habitat, post-fire silvicultural activities should concentrate on conserving and restoring habitat elements that take a long time to develop (e.g., large trees, medium and large snags, downed wood).”

“We urge that Recovery Action 12 be implemented to protect owl habitat in burned forests,” said Steve Pedery of Oregon Wild. “Projects such as the Pole Creek Fire Salvage Project on the Deschutes National Forests which plans to log over 900 acres of Northern Spotted Owl critical habitat needs to be substantially revised to comply with Recovery Action 12.”

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