The northern spotted owl has been declining for two decades. A Bush-era recovery plan proposed increased logging in the threatened raptor's old-growth habitat, and blamed wildfires and competition with invasive barred owls for its problems (HCN, 8/4/08, "Hostile Takeover").
The Obama administration tossed the old plan last year, citing political meddling, and asked three scientific societies to review its own draft. In December, reviewers concluded that the draft is an improvement but retains many of the old plan's flaws; it "exhibits an earnest and legitimate attempt to incorporate science," but overemphasizes wildfire and skimps on analyzing forest thinning's impacts. Although it acknowledges the importance of high-quality habitat (a change from the Bush plan), details about habitat protection won't be available until the final version is released early this year -- too late for peer review. That's a "disturbing sign that the Fish and Wildlife Service remains uncertain as to the role of 'best-available science,' " wrote reviewers.