USFWS Finalizes Rule Reversing Trump Administration’s Critical Habitat For Spotted Owl, Adds Millions Of Acres

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is finalizing a revised designation of critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act for the northern spotted owl, returning to the designation millions of acres excluded by the Trump Administration.

“After a thorough review of scientific and commercial information and evaluation of public comments received on the proposed rule, we are withdrawing the January 15, 2021 rule which would have excluded 3.4 million acres of designated critical habitat through section 4(b)(2) of the ESA. This final rule excludes 204,294 acres of the 9.6 million acres of critical habitat, which is approximately 2% of the 2012 northern spotted owl designation,” said the agency this week.

The northern spotted owl is protected as a threatened species under the ESA, and a critical habitat designation identifies those areas that are essential to recovery of the species. The Service found that the 3.4 million acres excluded in the January, 2021 revised designation would have left too little habitat to conserve the species, ultimately resulting in the extinction of the northern spotted owl.

Critical habitat does not provide additional protections for a species on non-federal lands unless proposed activities involve federal funding or permitting. Critical habitat designations also do not affect land ownership or establish a refuge, reserve, preserve or other conservation area, nor does it allow the government or public to access private lands.

The agency says the final rule will help conserve and recover spotted owls by identifying habitat needed for recovery of northern spotted owls in the long-term.

Active management of forests and invasive barred owl populations “to make forest ecosystems healthier and more resilient to disease, insect outbreaks and the effects of climate change, such as increased frequency of droughts and catastrophic wildfires, will be vital,” said USFWS.

“The importance of maintaining high quality habitat for northern spotted owls cannot be overstated in light of the challenges we’re facing with climate change and increasing competition from the invasive barred owl,” said Robyn Thorson, Service’s Regional Director for the Columbia-Pacific Northwest. “This designation provides a healthy and resilient landscape for the spotted owl and other native Northwest wildlife while still supporting sustainable timber harvest.”

This exclusion includes 184,133 acres of Bureau of Land Management-administered lands allocated for timber harvest in 15 Oregon counties. Their revised Resource Management Plans for western Oregon incorporate key aspects of the Northern Spotted Owl Recovery Plan that will continue to help conserve and improve habitat for the owl over time on these lands.

Additionally, approximately 20,000 acres of Indian lands are included in the exclusion. These are lands recently transferred under the Western Oregon Tribal Fairness Act to the Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians and the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians.

The final rule is available online at: https://www.federalregister.gov/public-inspection/current

Also see:

— CBB, July 22, 2021, LONG-TERM STUDY SHOWS REMOVAL OF LARGER, INVASIVE BARRED OWLS SLOWS DECLINE OF ESA-LISTED SPOTTED OWLS https://www.cbbulletin.com/long-term-study-shows-removal-of-larger-invasive-barred-owls-slows-decline-of-esa-listed-spotted-owls/

— CBB, March 4, 2021, TRUMP ADMINISTRATION’S LAST MINUTE MOVE ON REDUCING SPOTTED OWL CRITICAL HABITAT GETS ANOTHER LOOK, FINAL RULE DELAYED https://www.cbbulletin.com/trump-administrations-last-minute-move-on-reducing-spotted-owl-critical-habitat-gets-another-look-final-rule-delayed/

— CBB, Feb. 5, 2021, NORTHWEST SENATORS SEEK INVESTIGATION INTO INTERIOR SECRETARY’S DECISION ON SPOTTED OWL CRITICAL HABITAT DURING LAST DAYS IN OFFICE https://www.cbbulletin.com/northwest-senators-seek-investigation-into-interior-secretarys-decision-on-spotted-owl-critical-habitat-during-last-days-in-office/

— CBB, Dec. 17, 2020, USFWS SAYS MOVING SPOTTED OWL FROM THREATENED TO ENDANGERED LISTING WARRANTED, BUT NOT RIGHT NOW https://www.cbbulletin.com/usfws-says-moving-spotted-owl-from-threatened-to-endangered-listing-warranted-but-not-right-now/

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