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The Bush administration's latest plan for saving the northern spotted owl from extinction while allowing a boost in old growth logging was better, but still not good enough, according to three leading professional organizations of wildlife scientists.
The Wildlife Society, the Society for Conservation Biology and the American Ornithologists Union said in peer reviews to be released today that the final plan adopted in May was better than the draft they flunked a year ago, but there was still no scientific basis for allowing more logging of the old growth forests where the threatened bird lives.
"Given that the northern spotted owl has been experiencing about a 4 percent annual rate of population decline for the last 15 years, any reductions from current levels of habitat protection cannot be justified," the joint review by the Society for Conservation Biology and American Ornithologists Union said.
The reviews estimated the recovery plan allows for destruction of 20 percent to 56 percent of the spotted owl habitat currently protected.
The spotted owl was declared a threatened species in 1990 due primarily to heavy logging in the old growth forests where it nests and feeds in Washington, Oregon and Northern California. Lawsuits from conservation groups led to a reduction of more than 80 percent in logging on federal lands.
Working with the timber industry under a lawsuit settlement, the Bush administration has been trying to increase logging levels, but has repeatedly been stymied by court rulings.
The owl recovery plan produced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is a key underpinning of plans by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to ramp up logging in Western Oregon old growth forests.
A new threat from the barred owl, a native of the Eastern United States that has pushed spotted owls out of their territory, has led to arguments from the timber industry that it is no longer necessary to protect so much old growth if there are no spotted owls living in it.
The Wildlife Society warned that going ahead with this recovery plan would dismantle the Northwest Forest Plan, adopted in 1994 to protect national forest habitat for the owl, salmon, and other species, and would likely lead to a "nightmare" scenario of more species going on the endangered species list and Fish and Wildlife losing its credibility.
The Society for Conservation Biology and American Ornithologists Union said the latest recovery plan was an improvement over the last effort, but was still inadequate for restoring healthy spotted owl populations because it would allow the loss of more habitat to logging.
After the draft plan was flunked a year ago, Fish and Wildlife redrafted it, reducing the emphasis on threats from the barred owl and providing for more habitat protection.
Scientists say spotted owl plan not good enough
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