Forum Index > Public Lands Stewardship > Trump Opens Spotted Owl Habitat in the PNW to Timber Harvesting
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altasnob
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PostThu Jan 14, 2021 7:57 am 
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From NY Times, you can view the final rule here.

The Trump administration on Wednesday removed more than 3 million acres of Pacific Northwest land from the protected habitat of the northern spotted owl, 15 times the amount it had previously proposed opening to the timber industry.

The plan, issued by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, grew out of a legal settlement with a lumber association that had sued the government in 2013 over 9.5 million acres that the agency designated as essential to the survival of the northern spotted owl. The federal protections restricted much of the land from timber harvesting, which companies claimed would lead to calamitous economic losses.

But rather than trim about 200,000 acres of critical habitat in Oregon, as the agency initially proposed in August, the new plan will eliminate protections from 3.4 million acres across Washington, California and Oregon. What is left will mostly be land that is protected for reasons beyond the spotted owl.

“These common-sense revisions ensure we are continuing to recover the northern spotted owl while being a good neighbor to rural communities within the critical habitat,” Aurelia Skipwith, the director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, said in a statement.

Wildlife biologists expressed shock at the decision.

“I’ve gotten several calls from wildlife biologists who are in tears who said, ‘Did you know this is happening? The bird won’t survive this,’” said Susan Jane Brown, a staff attorney at the Western Environmental Law Center, a conservation group that advocates on behalf of the northern spotted owl.

The decision is the latest in a series of midnight regulations the Trump administration has pushed out in recent weeks that privilege industry over protecting the environment, including shielding industry from fines and prosecution if they kill migratory birds and reducing protections for animals and plants under the Endangered Species Act.

Conservation groups are almost certain to sue, and they said they would lean on House and Senate Democrats to use the Congressional Review Act — a procedural tool that allows lawmakers to nullify recently finalized regulations with a simple majority vote. But it could fall to the incoming Biden administration to do the slow work of unwinding the decision through the federal regulatory process.

Two people familiar with the spotted owl decision said the sharp increase in excluded land was done at the behest of Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and other senior Trump administration appointees and was not backed up by the months of biological analysis previously conducted by the agency.

The final rule does not provide new scientific analysis. Instead it says “the Secretary has exercised his discretion” to exclude millions of more acres of land from critical habitat. He concluded, it said, “based upon the best scientific and commercial data available” that the northern spotted owl would not be threatened with extinction.

Conservationists said that assertion was unsupported by the agency’s own evidence. In December, the Fish and Wildlife Service ruled that the northern spotted owl should actually be reclassified, as endangered rather than threatened, but the agency said it would not take steps to do so because it had “higher priority actions.”

Now the administration is taking away critical protection, scientists say.

Northern spotted owls live in forests with dense, multilayered canopies and other features that take 150 to 200 years to develop, the Fish and Wildlife Service has said. They typically mate for life and breed relatively slowly. Threatened by logging and land conversion, they came under protection in 1990 after a fierce political fight, but their numbers have continued to decline by an average of about 4 percent a year, according to the service.

While the preserved habitat offers “some protection,” the service’s Oregon branch wrote on its website, “past trends suggest that much of the remaining unprotected habitat could disappear in 10 to 30 years.” To make matters worse, the barred owl from the Eastern U.S. has presented a new challenge, entering its habitat and competing for the same resources. Wildfires worsened by climate change pose an increasing threat.

The logging industry argues that the federal government has been protecting millions of acres of forests that are not occupied by the owls. In April, the American Forest Resource Council, a regional industry group that presses for logging on public lands, announced that it had reached an agreement with the service that would kick off a re-evaluation of the owl’s protected habitat. In August, after what the service called “a review of the best available scientific and commercial information,” it proposed reducing the protected area by about 205,000 acres.

The forestry group applauded the much steeper reduction announced Wednesday that opens more than three million acres.

“This rule will better align northern spotted owl critical habitat with actual habitat, federal laws, and modern forest science at a time when unprecedented and severe wildfires threaten both owls and people from Northern California to Washington State,” Travis Joseph, president of the American Forest Resource Council, said in a statement.

Conservationists accused the Interior Department of violating federal administrative law by not giving the public a chance to comment on the significant change from proposed to final ruling.

“How in the world have they gone from a couple hundred thousand acres to three million acres and it wasn’t announced?” said Kristen Boyles, a staff attorney at Earthjustice, an environmental group. “That will be a primary focus of any legal challenge, and it will be challenged. There is no question.”
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kitya
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PostThu Jan 14, 2021 9:09 am 
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frown.gif
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Kim Brown
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PostThu Jan 14, 2021 9:16 am 
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I wasn't able to look at the cited map. Can anyone else? For all I know, some of this is within areas that have other protections, so logging won't happen anyway.

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Randito
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PostThu Jan 14, 2021 9:30 am 
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Is anyone suprised ?  I'm sure there will be a boat load industry favorable executive orders issued between now and Jan 20th.
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Ski
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PostThu Jan 14, 2021 9:44 am 
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Only thing that's going to come out of this is better job security for lawyers.
Take a deep breath.
Relax.

and as Randy points out, this is just the tip of the iceberg.
e.g., "You ain't seen nothin' yet."

Executive orders are easily brushed aside by a signature from a succeeding Chief Executive.
Relax.

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PostThu Jan 14, 2021 2:33 pm 
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Here is the meat of it:

"The Secretary may exclude an area from critical habitat if he determines that the benefits of such exclusion outweigh the benefits of specifying such area as part of the critical habitat designation, unless he determines, based on the best scientific data available, that the failure to designate such area as critical habitat will result in the extinction of the species [...] Because exclusions of these particular areas will not result in the extinction of the northern spotted owl, based upon our consideration of the best scientific and commercial data available, we are making the exclusions set forth in this rule.

Bolding is mine.

So you look at each change you want to make, and if that particular change does not single-handedly cause the species to go extinct - if even one bird is likely to survive - the change can be made.  Then you can go down the list and remove all protections one by one under the same rationale until there are no protections left.  It is OK at that point if the species goes extinct because you followed the guidance as you interpreted it.

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jinx'sboy
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PostThu Jan 14, 2021 2:47 pm 
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Maybe i am not reading this correctly, but looking at pg 51 of the FR text, it looks like all the ‘excluded’ lands (the 3.4 million acres) lie in OR and CA, other than a few acres around White Pass Ski Area in WA.
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Joey
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PostThu Jan 14, 2021 4:22 pm 
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Right near the start the rule says: (emphasis added)

"We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), revise the designation of critical habitat for the northern spotted owl (Strix occidentalis caurina) under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act) by excluding approximately 3,472,064 acres (1,405,094 hectares) in Whatcom, Okanogan, Skagit, Chelan, Snohomish, King, Kittitas, Pierce, Yakima, Lewis, Cowlitz, Skamania, Clark, and Klickitat Counties in Washington; Tillamook, Washington, Multnomah, Hood River, Wasco, Yamhill, Clackamas, Marion, Polk, Lincoln, Linn, Jefferson, Benton, Lane, Deschutes, Douglas, Coos, Klamath, Curry, Jackson, and Josephine Counties in Oregon; and Del Norte, Siskiyou, Humboldt, Trinity, Shasta, Tehama, Mendocino, Glenn, Lake, and Colusa Counties in California, under section 4(b)(2) of the Act."

But there is a federal statute that allows an incoming administration to cancel various things the outgoing administration did toward the end of their term.  Not sure if this is the type of thing that can be cancelled.
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jinx'sboy
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PostThu Jan 14, 2021 4:26 pm 
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Thanks, Joey.  I saw that description, too.  But it doesnt square within that chart - which doesnt have have ‘excluded’ lands in those WA Counties.    In Fed-speak, I’m thinking all the WA Counties were listed only because they do contain some of the habitat.
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Joey
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PostThu Jan 14, 2021 5:31 pm 
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OK, let's dig into this a bit.
Follow the data.

P.51 has a column "Critical habitat units".
Look at WCC and WCN.  Note there is no state listed.

This page lists those units with links to maps.
https://www.fws.gov/Oregonfwo/articles.cfm?id=149489681

WCN and WCN are both Washington state.
Ouch!

edit: If I am reading it right, the maps that start on p.85 are the revised (i.e. smaller) areas designated as critical habitat.
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Joey
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PostThu Jan 14, 2021 5:42 pm 
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Ski wrote:
Executive orders are easily brushed aside by a signature from a succeeding Chief Executive.

Yes, but....

This decision is not an executive order.  Instead, it is a formal regulation.
This article:
https://khn.org/news/article/bidens-first-order-of-business-may-be-to-undo-trumps-policies-but-it-wont-be-easy/
says:

"Harder to change are formal regulations, such as one effectively banning Planned Parenthood from the federal family planning program, Title X. They are governed by a law, the Administrative Procedure Act, that lays out a very specific — and often time-consuming — process. “You have to cross your t’s and dot your legal i’s,” said Nicholas Bagley, who teaches administrative law at the University of Michigan Law School."
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jinx'sboy
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PostThu Jan 14, 2021 6:31 pm 
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Thanks, Joey.

I found the chart on pg 45, 46 more helpful - using the maps at the bottom of the document. Looks like about 600,000 ac out of the 3.4 million are in WA (the units and subunits in NCO, WCN and WCC and some of the units in ECN). I think I’m counting that right......

If there is a silver lining, there is still a process that proposed projects (logging as well as other projects) have to go through.  Agencies, like the USFS or BLM will still have to consult with USFWS in a formal way, regardless of the amount of habitat designation.
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PostThu Jan 14, 2021 6:36 pm 
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Joey wrote:
Yes, but....

I'm not going to engage in a discussion about the politics of this, other than to say I see no need or reason to panic at this time.

Given the course of recent events, and the consequent results that have already and will happen henceforth, I would posit that there's a very good possibility we will be seeing something other than the normal "business as usual" thing coming from our dearly beloved elected officials, lest they also find themselves under the wheels of the proverbial bus along with those to whom they up to this point swore their undying fealty.

Aside from that, I'm not the least bit concerned about Spotted Owls. Perhaps Center for Biological Diversity or Conservation Northwest can run to their rescue, but with the Barred Owl displacing them from their historic habitat range, that may well prove to be a masturbatory exercise in futility.

Thanks, Joey, for the clarification for those who may not understand the details of how things work in our munificent government. wink.gif

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treeswarper
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PostThu Jan 14, 2021 6:45 pm 
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Remain calm.  It would take quite a while to get timber sales prepped and ready.  The Forest Service gutted the timber and engineering shops some time ago.  Experienced people are gone.  Schools no longer have Forestry degrees, they are environmental science degrees. 

It takes training and experience to do the prep work.  At the least, all the work would have to be contracted out, and that makes more work to develop the contract, and budgets have to be increased to get the work done and so forth.

It would take up time, and then the lawsuits start and...we're back to using budgets to pay lawyers. 

The part that I found funny was the wildlife biologist with tears in their eyes.  What do they think happened to all the people who had to find another line of work back in the 1990s? 

The NWFP has been a joke when it comes to producing timber.  Nowhere near the amount of timber that was "planned" for in it was put up for sale.   It was a good hiring program for 'ologists and a purging of timber people and engineers. 

If the harvest was increased, we would see roads being repaired and maintained, but it ain't gonna happen.

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treeswarper
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PostThu Jan 14, 2021 6:48 pm 
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Joey wrote:
"Harder to change are formal regulations, such as one effectively banning Planned Parenthood from the federal family planning program, Title X. They are governed by a law, the Administrative Procedure Act, that lays out a very specific — and often time-consuming — process. “You have to cross your t’s and dot your legal i’s,” said Nicholas Bagley, who teaches administrative law at the University of Michigan Law School."

But, funding has to be obtained.   You cannot put out timber sales without funding.

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