eight years of legal wrangling, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
has settled one of the Southwest's most embittered endangered
species debates - or has it? On Jan. 18, the Fish and Wildlife
Service designated 4.6 million acres in Arizona, New Mexico,
Colorado and Utah as critical habitat for the Mexican spotted owl.
Forest Service and BLM managers will have to consult with the Fish
and Wildlife Service before allowing any logging, grazing or mining
in these "safety zones."
had hoped for more. The final designation is only a third of the
13.5 million acres proposed in an earlier draft, and excludes the
national forests of New Mexico and Arizona, home to nearly 90
percent of the owls (HCN, 2/3/97: Injunction lifted in the
Southwest). Kieran Suckling of the Center for Biological Diversity,
which has sued repeatedly to force designation of critical habitat,
says the Service's "logic like swiss cheese" leaves prime owl
habitat fair game for the ax. "The maps look like they were drawn
by the timber industry," he says.
Rinkevich, wildlife biologist with the Fish and Wildlife Service,
says designating Arizona and New Mexico national forests as
critical habitat would be redundant, because the 1995 Mexican
Spotted Owl Recovery Plan is already incorporated into forest
management plans. Danny Salas, wildlife biologist in New Mexico's
Lincoln National Forest, home of 134 spotted owl pairs, agrees.
"The recovery plan is more restrictive than the critical habitat
designation," he says.
The Center for Biological
Diversity is not convinced, and has filed a notice of intent to sue
to force a revision.