OLYMPIA, Wash., Feb. 29, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) released its proposed critical habitat designation for the Northern Spotted Owl, doubling the amount of land from 6.9 million acres to nearly 14 million acres across three states (Oregon, Washington and California), and for the first time includes nearly 2 million acres of state and private working forests. Critical habitat designation is a regulatory mechanism to contribute to the conservation of threatened and endangered species. This is the third time the Service has designated critical habitat since 1992. In Washington State alone, there are already more than 13 million acres of federal, state, tribal, county, and private lands with designated owl conservation measures. That is more than three times the size of the state of Hawaii.
There is no need for an additional federal overlay on lands that already have conservation designations such as parks, wilderness areas, Habitat Conservation Plans, Safe Harbor Agreements, and State Forest Practices Rules. We strongly encourage the Service to finalize critical habitat by excluding all private lands, all state lands, and all Congressionally reserved natural areas, which is one of the options on their proposal. The federal government has never included state and private working forests in its critical habitat designation as they encouraged landowners to seek other measures of conservation, such as voluntary Habitat Conservation Plans, and state forest practices rules – which have been done.
The backbone of owl recovery is the federal Northwest Forest Plan, which set aside more than 80% of the federal land across three states -- Oregon, Washington and California -- to protect "habitat" for Northern Spotted Owls. Federal harvest was reduced by 98% in Washington State alone. This was supposed to be a 50-year plan to provide abundant old growth habitat for the spotted owl, and 1,000 other old-growth dependent species.
Private, state, and county lands followed suit and developed Habitat Conservation Plans, Safe Harbor Agreements, state forest practices rules and voluntary land exchanges, all to complement the federal owl conservation and recovery efforts. With the redesignation of critical habitat and now inclusion of private lands, the federal government once again upends conservation by changing the rules of the game.
The social cost of the set-aside was thousands of people who relied on forestry to support their rural communities found themselves abruptly without jobs or any form of income to support their families. The result was devastation of a culture of hard working folks that relied on forestry to support their families. We don't want that to happen again. For every 1,000 acres of private working forestland taken out of production, there are 12 jobs lost. The current proposal includes 1.27 million acres, which represents more than 15,000 jobs across the three states.
We applaud the Service for taking seriously the impact of the barred owl on the spotted owl's survival, and the importance of active management of forests to both continue revenues for local jobs, and to maintain the health of the forest.
"With the presence of the barred owl, scientists say that setting aside even more land will do little to help the spotted owl thrive, and may make matters worse by making even more room for the barred owl to flourish," said Mark Doumit, Executive Director of the Washington Forest Protection Association.
We need to work on creating the environmental conditions for the spotted owl to thrive, which includes honestly recognizing that the barred owl is having a devastating impact on spotted owl populations. Simply setting aside more land is not the answer.
The Fish and Wildlife Service is under a court order to redesignate critical habitat by November 15, 2012. The public is invited to comment for the next 90 days. To learn more about how the spotted owl is protected in Washington State, go to www.northernspottedowl.org.
About the Washington Forest Protection Association. Founded in 1908, WFPA members are large and small private forest landowners that grow and harvest trees on more than 4 million acres in Washington State. Forestry provides more than 140,000 family wage jobs in the state. www.wfpa.org
SOURCE Washington Forest Protection Association