Spotted Owl Proposal Doubles Down on Policies that Harm Forest Health, Rural Economies and Ignores Barred Owl Impact
Washington’s 9 million acres of forests have long provided multi-use benefits for Northwest communities. These forests must be protected and managed responsibly to preserve this important resource for centuries to come.
Twenty years after the Northern Spotted Owl was added to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) list, and years of failed management under the Northwest Forest Plan, these forests and the benefits they provide are in jeopardy.
Timber harvests have been cut by 84 percent, shutting down mills that served as the top employers and revenues for countless rural communities and costing tens of thousands of jobs. Timber-dependent counties continue to face high unemployment, and local governments and schools struggle to provide even basic services, including protecting public safety.
The lack of federal management and endless lawsuits have had a devastating impact on the health of our forests, even on the owl habitat they were intended to protect. The Northwest has seen an average of 355,000 acres per year of our federal forests burn in wildfires since 1994.
For over a decade, scientists have concluded that the biggest threat to the Northern Spotted Owl is not a lack of old growth timber, but rather another, larger predatory species—the Barred Owl.
Instead of attempting to improve forest management, the federal government recently proposed a sweeping expansion of 13 million acres of new critical habitat designations where any type of logging would be forbidden. This includes 2 million acres of privately owned land, impacting 1,615 landowners with 10 or more acres in the State of Washington alone.
Last month, the House Natural Resources Committee that I Chair, which has jurisdiction over both our nation’s federal lands and ESA, held a hearing in Longview focusing on the impacts this sweeping proposal would have on local economies, schools, forest health, and the Spotted Owl.
Witnesses, including a County Commissioner from Skamania County and a rancher and timber owner from Klickitat County, testified about the devastating impact of this proposal on many of the same people that have already paid dearly for the failure of the policies from the ‘90s—and hundreds more.
The loss in economic activity caused by the original spotted owl plan caused an astounding decrease in federal tax receipts of nearly $700 million per year – all from rural Northwest communities.
These communities simply cannot absorb a proposed expansion of these failed policies. The federal government’s refusal to properly manage its forests requires a new course and an examination of the ESA.
Extreme groups file lawsuit after lawsuit that block job-creating economic activity tied to the forests, yet the result is more catastrophic wildfires, more diseased and dying trees, and more destruction of owl and species habitat.
The ESA must focus on species recovery, include peer-reviewed science instead of litigation, and focus scarce taxpayer dollars on the largest threats to species. In the case of the Spotted Owl, another massive land grab will not help recover the species. Our economy, and the health of our forests and wildlife, deserve better.