WASHINGTON (CN) – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a court-ordered critical habitat proposal for the endangered northern spotted owl that emphasizes “active management” of habitat, which includes logging and shooting the invasive barred owl, or “hoot owl.”
The proposal, which preliminarily identifies areas to be included in the final habitat designation, stresses the benefits of excluding any private lands and importance of economic considerations in indentifying suitable habitat, according to a statement from the Department of the Interior.
Reinforcing Interior’s own emphasis on excluding as much land as possible from designation, President Barack Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar ordering him to pay special attention to the impact on jobs of any plan, and to “give careful consideration to providing the maximum exclusion [of land] from the final revised critical habitat.”
In addition, Obama ordered Salazar to break with 30 years of practice and produce an economic impact statement on the proposed rule at the same time the critical habitat designation is made.
The proposal identifies nearly 14 million acres of land in California, Oregon and Washington that meet the definition of critical habitat for the spotted owl. However the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has already proposed to exclude 2.6 million acres of national parks and federal wilderness areas where protections for the spotted owl already exist, and nearly 1 million acres of state and private lands already subject to conservation agreements.
The northern spotted owl was first listed as a threatened species in 1990 and the USFWS designated nearly 7 million acres of federal lands as critical habitat in 1992, effectively ending timber sales from those lands.
A decade of law suits ensued and, in 2008, as part of a settlement agreement with timber groups, the USFWS agreed to revise its 1992 critical habitat designation, and published a new recovery plan for the spotted owl.
The habitat revision and recovery plan were in turn challenged in court, and the Inspector General of the Department of the Interior issued a report concluding that “the integrity of the agency decision-making process for the spotted owl recovery plan was potentially jeopardized by improper political influence.”
As a result, the USFWS asked the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to remand the 2008 plan and designation. In 2010, the D.C. Circuit remanded both. It ordered the service to reissue a proposed plan in nine months and a new critical habitat proposal by Feb. 28, 2012.
The USFWS says it will publish the proposal in the Federal Register in the next two weeks.
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