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Oregon judge rules against U.S. Fish and Wildlife clearance on timber sales

The northern spotted owl is on a slow but steady course toward extinction.
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The northern spotted owl

FWS claimed in 2019 that two logging projects by the Bureau of Land Management in southern Oregon would not harm the endangered northern spotted owl.

When the Bureau of Land Management consulted with FWS about old-growth logging in two timber sales totaling nearly 18,000 acres, FWS ruled that this work would not affect the endangered bird species.

But on Sept. 30, District Judge Ann Aiken disagreed, ruling that FWS’s claim, called a Biological Opinion, violated the Endangered Species Act by not protecting crucial owl habitat.

Sangye Ince-Johannsen, an attorney at the Western Environmental Law Center, represents the three plaintiffs in this case, which are the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Oregon Wild, and Cascade Wildlands.

"This was not a case where the logging was going to benefit forests in terms of fire resiliency," Ince-Johannsen said. "The impacts to sensitive wildlife, and especially the northern spotted owl, really was not consistent with the law."

Ince-Johannsen said some logging has already occurred, but he hopes the BLM will now be ordered to stop logging on these two properties, the Poor Windy and Evans Creek timber sales.

"Any further logging at this point under either timber sale is unlawful. It's not clear on the face of Judge Aiken’s order that she's ordering the agencies to stop. I hope that they will voluntarily stop all logging. I hope they already have," he said.

“This ruling should serve as a wake-up call to the BLM,” George Sexton, conservation director for KS Wild, said in a press release. “It’s time for the BLM to work with stakeholders to thin second-growth timber plantations to reduce fire hazard instead of chasing around controversial old-growth timber sales in the backcountry.”

The plaintiffs did not seek any monetary damages and instead asked the agencies to set aside the 2019 decision and re-initiate consultation.

Judge Aiken also found that the BLM and FWS illegally failed to consult on the effects of two wildfires that burned crucial habitat in the area.

Jane Vaughan began her journalism career as a reporter for a community newspaper in Portland, Maine. She's been a producer at New Hampshire Public Radio and worked on WNYC's On The Media. Jane recently earned her Master's in Journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.