Ruling doesn't affect Stanislaus

February 12, 2003 12:00 am

By GENEVIEVE

BOOKWALTER

After a year-long review, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Monday that the California Spotted Owl does not need protection under the Endangered Species Act.

But that won't change how Stanislaus National Forest does business.

During the past decade, guidelines for logging in the Sierra Nevada have revolved around protecting the California spotted owl. Its cousin, the northern spotted owl, hit the federal Endangered Species Act "threatened" list in the 1990s. Since then, foresters have worked to keep the southern relative from a similar fate.

But even though Monday's announcement deemed that job a success, forest industry groups and the Forest Service say not much will change in logging operations on the Stanislaus.

"We've successfully kept the owl off the list for 10 or 11 years," said Matt Mathes, regional Forest Service spokesman. "They will continue to manage it the same way they've been managing it."

That means keeping protections in place, and not returning to widespread clear-cuts on public land, Mathes said.

The medium-size, brown, mottled owl still exists in all or most of its historic range, from the Sierra Nevada and central Coastal Range to the mountain ranges of Southern California. About 2,200 nesting sites or territories have been identified in recent surveys, the Fish and Wildlife Service said.

Ginger Armstrong, a consultant for Tuolumne County Alliance for Resources and Environment, Inc. — a Twain Harte-based wise-use group — agreed with Mathes that drastic changes aren't likely.

Even though logging officials have repeatedly said the owl was never in trouble, Armstrong said company foresters will keep detailed databases and strong protections on private land to prevent jeopardizing its habitat.

"Further restrictions based on the listing of this owl would probably close the forest products industry down," Armstrong said.