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Legal Settlement Leads To Review Of Spotted Owl Critical Habitat

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Pacific Region
Adult spotted owl

A legal settlement announced this week will start an environmental review that could shrink the amount of public land considered “critical habitat” for the northern spotted owl.  

Right now, 9.5 million acres of public land in Oregon, Washington and Northwestern California is designated as critical habitat for the spotted owl. Those are areas considered essential to the recovery of threatened or endangered species.

The agreement announced on Monday could substantially scale that back. 

A group of timber companies and Northwest Counties sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, saying too much land had been set aside as critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act. 

“Our view is that if you bring it better into alignment with what the ESA requires and says, and bring it better into alignment with the science, it should end up being somewhat smaller,” says Lawson Fite, an attorney with the timber industry group American Forest Resource Council.

The environmental group Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center says the agreement is an attack on longstanding protections for the owl and an attempt to open more public lands for timber harvesting.

“You would assume that if the timber industry and the Trump administration reach a settlement agreement to revisit spotted owl critical habitat, that the idea is that they’re going to eliminate a lot of it and log it,” says George Sexton, conservation director with KS Wild.

The new agreement is just the beginning of a regulatory rule change. A new proposal for spotted owl critical habitat will be open for public input later this summer.

Erik Neumann is JPR's news director. He earned a master's degree from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and joined JPR as a reporter in 2019 after working at NPR member station KUER in Salt Lake City.