Report says spotted owl still on the decline in Northwest

Friday, September 24th 2004, 8:32 pm
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Fourteen years after coming under federal protection, the northern spotted owl continues on the decline in the Pacific Northwest, a study shows.

The report said the owl, an icon of the Northwest timber wars, no longer faces the threat it once did from logging. It faces new ones, however, principally the wildfires that rage through overgrown forests and the barred owl, a relative of the spotted owl, which rapidly is taking over spotted owl habitat in the West.

The study, conducted by a private firm for the Fish and Wildlife Service, appears to strike a blow at timber industry efforts to loosen restrictions on federal forest logging in Washington, Oregon and northern California.

Overall, northern spotted owls declined annually by about 3.7 percent from 1985 to 2003, the report suggests.

The decline was especially steep in Washington state, where the number of birds went down by about 7.3 percent per year. Barred owls seem to have an especially strong effect on spotted owls in that state, the report said.

Owls declined by 2.8 percent per year in Oregon and 2.2 percent in northern California.

Environmentalists said the report showed that Bush administration efforts to increase logging of old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest contradicted scientific findings on the owl's habitat needs. The bird has been the focus of bitter debate in the region since federal officials sharply reduced logging in the early 1990s to protect the spotted owl and other threatened species.

``What this report says to me is the spotted owl is in crisis, especially so in Washington state,'' said Susan Ash, conservation director for the Audubon Society of Portland.

But a timber industry representative said the report shows that trying to protect owls by limiting logging does not eliminate risks to the species.

``What's encouraging is that all of the original reasons for listing the spotted owl (as threatened) have been found to be either invalid or not a problem anymore,'' said Ross Mickey, Western Oregon manager for the American Forest Resource Council, an industry group that sued the Fish and Wildlife Service to reconsider owl protections.

The report was submitted Friday to the wildlife agency, which will decide by Nov. 15 whether the owl should continue to be protected by the Endangered Species Act.