August 26, 2007
In response to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2007 Draft Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl, The Wildlife Society submitted comments charging that the plan was “seriously flawed” and ignored the large body of spotted owl information and research. The draft recovery plan was released on April 26, 2007. Comments were due Aug. 24.
The plan, according to USFWS, identified criteria and actions to stop the owl’s decline, reduce threats and return the species to a stable, well-distributed population in Washington, Oregon and California. The agency cited competition from the barred owl as the most important threat facing the northern spotted owl.
Although native to eastern North America, barred owls moved west as human activities altered the landscape, according to USFWS. Since barred owls are less selective about their habitat and prey, they are out-competing northern spotted owls for habitat and food, causing spotted owl populations to decline, said the agency. The draft recovery plan calls for additional research, including the control of barred owl populations in certain areas of the spotted owl’s range.
The controversial spotted owl bird was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1990. In January 1992, the USFWS designated critical habitat for the northern spotted owl within 190 Critical Habitat Units, comprising almost 6.9 million acres 2.2 million acres in Washington state; 3.3 million acres in Oregon; and 1.4 million acres in California. In 1994, the broad Northwest Forest Plan became the key guiding document for conserving the northern spotted owl on 24.4 million acres of federal land in Oregon, Washington and California.
According to TWS, northern spotted owl populations are declining across their range in the Pacific Northwest at a rate of about 3.7 percent per year. Declines in Washington, said the group, are so significant that an “endangered” classification may be more appropriate for the bird.
TWS said that the 2007 draft plan does not adequately leverage the depth of information on one of the most studied of raptors. “There is no other species listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act for which such extensive information is available upon which to build a scientifically credible recovery plan,” said Dr. Michael Hutchins, executive director and CEO of TWS.
“This lack of attention to existing research, including some critical studies, has resulted in a seriously flawed plan for recovery.”
Because the Northwest Forest Plan appears to have slowed the general decline in the northern spotted owls across its range, the TWS argued that “… a recovery plan for the northern spotted owl should be based on the NWFP and should strengthen provisions of that plan which focused on spotted owls. Instead, the 2007 draft recovery plan substantially weakens virtually every provision for protection of the owls that is already in place.”
The draft plan, said the group, provides no justification for reducing conservation measures for northern spotted owls at a time when owl populations continue to decline.
The recovery plan provided two options for designating habitat. TWS was critical of both.
Option 1 reduces protection of habitat and known owl locations, said the group.
Option 2, while purporting to follow the same “rule set” as Option 1, has additional weaknesses, including a further reduction in acreage of habitat reserves for spotted owls, said TWS.
Additionally, the group cited an absence of ecosystem-wide considerations in the draft plan, as well as some errors in mapping and tabular presentations.
“There are many contradictions in the draft plan, including the perplexing assertions that both options, though substantially different, are the ‘best’ option for owl recovery,” said Hutchins. “Either option presented in this recovery plan, if accepted and implemented, would represent a significant step backward for a species that is clearly still in trouble. The Fish and Wildlife Service should start over with a fundamental commitment to using the best available science and with the goal of identifying viable solutions to the many potential threats faced by spotted owls, particularly the loss of old growth forest habitat.”
The draft plan is available on the USFWS Northern Spotted Owl web page.