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Laura Bies

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reduces northern spotted owl habitat

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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a proposal to reduce the critical habitat designated for the northern spotted owl in Oregon by about 2% or 205,000 acres. Currently, 9.6 million acres are designated as northern spotted owl critical habitat in Oregon, Washington, and California. 

The change comes as a result of a settlement agreement between USFWS and the lumber industry, which challenged the agency’s 2012 critical habitat designation. The plaintiffs argued that the USFWS had unlawfully designated areas that were not northern spotted owl habitat and that the agency failed to consider the designation’s economic impacts. Earlier this year, the parties in that case reached an agreement requiring the USFWS to propose revisions to the northern spotted owl’s critical habitat by late December. The USFWS is accepting comments on the proposal until Oct. 13. 

Most of the 205,000 acres that will be removed from critical habitat are managed by the Bureau of Land Management and have been identified for commercial timber harvest under resource management plans. 

The northern spotted owl was first listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act in 1990. USFWS initially designated 6.9 million acres of critical habitat for the owl in 1992, all on federal lands. The owl’s critical habitat was revised in 2003, 2008 and again in 2012. 

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