Bush spotted owl plan flunks review

GRANTS PASS, Ore. – The Bush administration’s plans for saving the northern spotted owl from extinction have flunked a peer review by scientists.

Under a contract with the administration, the Society for Conservation Biology and the American Ornithologists’ Union said the government did not consider all the best available science, a requirement of the Endangered Species Act, before making room for more logging in old-growth forests.

The organizations reviewed a draft recovery plan that rates the invasion of the barred owl into spotted owl territory a greater threat than habitat loss, as well as a proposal to reduce critical habitat for the owl by 22 percent.

The two proposals are key to plans to bring back clearcut logging in old-growth forests on U.S. Bureau of Land Management forests in Western Oregon, aimed at increasing timber production and restoring timber revenue to county governments.

The reviewers of the recovery plan said there appears to be a scientific consensus that the plans would not only fail to bring back owl populations but also would result in downgrading its status from threatened to endangered.

The bird has suffered over the long term from logging in its old-growth forest habitat, and in the last few years it has faced a threat from an invasive relative, the barred owl.

“The recovery team failed to make use of the best available science and, in fact, appears to have selectively cited from the available science to justify a reduction in habitat protection,” they wrote. “Based on current information, far too much emphasis is placed on the adverse effects of barred owl range expansion.”

A separate review of the proposal to reduce critical habitat for the owl by 22 percent earned an even harsher review, expressed in a letter from society North American Section President Reed Noss and society policy director John Fitzgerald in a letter dated Friday to Fish and Wildlife Field Supervisor Kemper McMaster.

“Our main recommendation to (Fish and Wildlife) is to scrap the draft recovery plan, convene a panel of independent scientists and ecologists to redo the recovery plan, and place on hold related forest policy decisions … until a new recovery plan is completed based on the best available science,” they wrote.

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