Critical habitat lives


In your story "Spotted owl or red herring?" you state that critical habitat for the northern spotted owl was never implemented (HCN, 3/20/06: Spotted owl or red herring?). While it is true that there is no critical habitat for the spotted owl on private or state lands, it does exist on federal lands.

Although the Fish and Wildlife Service’s position has been that the late successional reserves in the Northwest Forest Plan "superseded" critical habitat on federal lands, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected this argument in the 2004 case, Gifford Pinchot Task Force v. Fish and Wildlife Service. The court held that the reserves did not change the agency’s obligation to comply with the Endangered Species Act, and that law’s requirement to assess how logging critical habitat would affect the ability of the spotted owl to recover from the brink of extinction.

As a result of the Gifford Pinchot Task Force case, some timber sales were briefly held up, but unfortunately, the Service seems intent upon permitting the logging of thousands of acres of critical habitat throughout the Northwest. This approach is especially problematic in areas like southern Oregon, where the survival of the owl is in question due to checkerboard landownership patterns, historic logging, and recent wildfires.

Unless the Fish and Wildlife Service starts treating critical habitat as Congress intended — as "critical" to the recovery of listed species — we are likely to see the extinction of the Pacific Northwest’s most famous resident within a single generation.


Susan Jane M. Brown, Pacific Environmental Advocacy Center

Portland, Oregon