California Land Sale Flouted Threatened Owl

     (CN) - The U.S. Forest Service disregarded the habitat of the threatened northern spotted owl and other species when it sold more than 3,000 acres of the Six Rivers National Forest for timber and fuel treatment, an environmental group says in a federal lawsuit.
     The Environmental Protection Information Center and Conservation Congress say a commercial logging and fuel reduction project in Six Rivers National Forest involves "lands that serve important roles in ensuring the survival and recovery of the northern spotted owl."
     The groups say the Fish and Wildlife Service did not use the best scientific information available when it allowed the logging project to go through, because it "did not properly consider the effects of the presence of barred owls in combination with habitat degradation on the northern spotted owl."
     Twelve out of thirteen of owl territories in the national forest are below the Fish and Wildlife Service's thresholds for nesting and roosting habitats, and the environmentalists say the agency did not consider how the northern spotted owl's habitat would be affected in the short term.
     The Six Rivers National Forest spans over 950,000 acres in northwestern California, and the Beaverslide Project would thin trees on more than 2,000 acres. The project also includes fuel treatments to improve protection from wildfires and maintenance on 63 miles of forest roads.
     The environmental groups say the Forest Service and Fish and Wildlife Service did not "mention or analyze any potential adverse effects from the presence of barred owls on northern spotted owls in combination with or without the actions proposed in the Beaverslide Project."
     "(I)t is becoming evident that securing habitat alone will not recover the northern spotted owl, and...based on the best available scientific information, competition from the barred owl poses a significant and complex threat to the spotted owl," the complaint says.
     The groups say the habitats of several other sensitive and threatened bird species are within the planning area of the logging project and there is not enough evidence that the species will not be affected by the project. These species include the Pacific fisher, American marten, pileated woodpecker and Western screech owl.
     The groups sued for injunctive relief to prevent the agencies from going through with the Beaverslide Project, and sought a declaration that the groups violated the Endangered Species Act.
     In addition to the Fish and Wildlife and Forest Services, the environmentalists sued Nancy Finley, the field supervisor at the Fish and Wildlife Office in Arcata, and Tyrone Kelley, the forest supervisor at Six Rivers National Forest.
     The groups are represented by Rene Voss and Sharon Duggan.