Lawsuit brings up owl habitat

September 05, 2003 12:00 am

By GENEVIEVE

BOOKWALTER

In a move loggers say could destroy their industry, eight environmental groups will likely sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for not listing the California spotted owl as an endangered species.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this spring announced it would not list the owl under the federal Endangered Species Act. After a 12-month study, Fish and Wildlife scientists said they found no evidence the raptor's population is declining and that it doesn't need the Act's protection.

California spotted owls live in conifers and hardwood forests of California, primarily on the west side of the Sierra Nevada, from Shasta County south to the Tehachapi Pass. The bird is recognized as a sensitive species by the U.S. Forest Service and a species of special concern by California Department of Fish and Game — both of which set up protective buffer areas around nests and monitor the animal to keep owl populations large enough so endangered species list protection would not be needed.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said those protections are working.

But the Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Nevada Forest Protection Campaign, Earthjustice and five other environmental groups disagreed, and filed notice of their intent to sue on Wednesday.

The Sierra Nevada Framework — a Clinton-era management plan that puts a high priority on conservation in Sierra Nevada National Forests — included specific requirements for protecting the owl.

But the Framework is under review by the Forest Service. If it changes this fall to allow more logging, said Craig Thomas, executive director of the Sierra Nevada Forest Protection Campaign in Sacramento, the bird's numbers could take a nosedive.

"The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service relied on the Framework to deny protection for the owl, even though they knew these protections were on the Bush Administration's chopping block," said Noah Greenwald, conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity — an environmental group based in Tuscon, Ariz., with a regional office in Oakland. "This decision flies in the face of common sense."