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Feds Chipping Away at Owl Habitat

MEDFORD, Ore. (CN) - The federal government is illegally allowing logging on nearly 1,100 acres of habitat for the threatened northern spotted owl, three environmental groups claim in Federal Court. The groups claim the project would "downgrade" about half of the project area, making it marginally usable for the owl, which requires old forests to nest and forage.

The Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Oregon Wild and Cascadia Wildlands say the biological opinion statement for the Spencer Creek Project, which would log 1,084 federal acres of owl habitat in the Klamath Falls Resource Area, contains numerous flaws. The land to be logged is controlled by the Bureau of Land Management.

The defendant U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service did not specify how many owls the project would harm, and failed to establish a proper baseline for the number of owls taken altogether, the groups say.

Fish and Wildlife also ignored trends and the status of the owl, including the fact that real rates of population decline are far worse than a worst-case scenario presented in the Northwest Forest Plan, according to the complaint.

The groups cite reports that the northern spotted owl has declined by up to 60 percent in some Washington areas.

Fish and Wildlife also fails to acknowledge that project area constitutes an important "stepping stone" between the Oregon Cascades and the Klamath Mountains, the groups say.

It's especially important to protect the owl since the District of Columbia Federal Court refused to vacate a 2008 rule reducing critical habitat for the owl, which the Fish and Wildlife Service itself declared indefensible, the complaint states.

The groups, represented by the Western Environmental Center in Portland and Earthjustice in Seattle, want the courts to set aside the 2010 biological opinion.

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