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Owl Concerns Won’t Fell Klamath Logging Plans

(CN) - Concern for the Northern spotted owl need not interrupt a fire-recovery project in Oregon's Klamath Mountains, the Ninth Circuit ruled Thursday.

The project at issue - created in response to the Douglas Complex Fire, which burned 48,000 acres in the mountains - involves the salvage logging of about 1,600 acres of fire-killed or injured trees, as well as the logging of interior forests for economic benefit.

Cascadia Wildlands and two other environmental nonprofits sought court review after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that the project was "not likely to result in jeopardy to the species or destruction or adverse modification of critical habitat."

Specifically, Cascadia said the service did not apply the "best available science" regarding the effect of barred owls on detecting the presence of spotted owls, and the effect of wildfires on spotted owl habitat and home range.

The environmental groups called for a preliminary injunction, but a federal judge in Oregon denied their motion, and the Ninth Circuit affirmed Thursday, finding that Cascadia did not demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits.

"Cascadia's mere disagreement with the result of the biological opinion does not mean that the service failed to use [the relevant] scientific data," Judge Johnnie Rawlinson wrote for a three-person panel in Seattle, Wash.

Indeed, "the record reflects that the service indeed relied upon the data of several surveys from an array of surveyors regarding the effect that barred owls have on the spotted owl," Rawlinson added.

As to Cascadia's contention on the wildfire's effect on the owl's habitat range, Rawlinson said "the record does not support a finding that the service failed to use the best available scientific information regarding the effect the wildfire had on the spotted owl's habitat use, or a finding that the service's conclusions were arbitrary."

"The service's own evaluation and the other available scientific data amply support the conclusion that the spotted owl may shift or expand its habitat post-fire, thus supporting the service's no jeopardy determination," the 22-page opinion states.

Rawlinson concluded the ruling by citing "the service's cautious, conservative and data-guided approach to salvaging."

"Although the spotted owl may increase its range post-fire, the service's no jeopardy determination complied with both the Endangered Species Act and the Administrative Procedure Act," she wrote.

Susan Jane McKibben Brown, an attorney for the environmentalists with the Western Environmental Law Center in Portland, Ore., said in a telephone interview that she is still reviewing the court's opinion and evaluating their next steps.

Scott Horngren represented the Boise Cascade Wood Products and other logging companies that intervened in the challenge, on behalf of the government.

An attorney with the American Forest Resource Council in Portland, Horngren said in a telephone interview that the circuit "thoroughly analyzed the record and reached the right conclusion that the plaintiffs wouldn't succeed on the merits of their claims challenging the salvage of burned timber."

"We're certainly pleased to see the outcome," Horngren added.

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