EUGENE, Ore. (CN) – A federal plan to clear 85 percent of the canopy from 149 acres of old-growth forest would hurt northern spotted owls and the red tree voles they eat, environmentalists claim in Federal Court. Cascadia Wildlands and Oregon Wild say the U.S. Forest Service needs to do a new environmental assessment for the Trapper Timber Sale in Willamette National Forest.
The plan, involving logging of 149 acres of mature forest, would leave behind only 15 percent of the forest canopy, the groups say.
This would hurt the northern spotted owl and red tree vole, both of which are highly sensitive to forest disturbance.
The groups cite demographic data indicating that the total population of the owl, which ranges from southern British Columbia to northern California, has been declining by 3 percent a year. Within the project area, the decline appears to be as high as 30 percent since 1988.
Old-growth forest is disappearing due to habitat loss and fragmentation, largely from logging. This led to listing of the northern spotted owl as a threatened species in 1990.
The government’s environmental assessment did not take into consideration that owl nesting sites have changed since the first environmental assessment for the project was done, in 1999. Owls now are nesting “in close proximity to the logging units,” the groups claim.
On top of that, the assessment did not consider effects to another old-growth-dependent species: the red tree vole. A crew of volunteer surveyors found 40 nesting sites for the tree-dwelling rodent in 2006.
This new information requires a new environmental assessment, the groups say. The 9th Circuit already has invalidated two assessments, from 2004 and 2005, which claimed the logging would have no effect on the species.
Represented by the Western Environmental Law Center in Portland, the groups seek declaratory and injunctive relief.
Northern spotted owls need multilayered and multispecies tree canopy with a combination of open space and cover to hunt their prey, which includes the red tree vole.
Red tree voles spend nearly their entire lives in the canopy of old-growth trees, feeding on pine needles and passing on intricate, multilevel nests to younger generations. Both the owl and the vole are sensitive to disturbance of the forest.