Feds axe acreage of spotted owl habitat
The amount of old-growth forest designated as critical habitat for the northern spotted owl was slashed 23 percent, or 1.6 million acres, by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Tuesday. One might think that means that spotted owls are doing well for themselves, but no: the spotted owl population is dropping by 4 percent each year. Despite widespread efforts to protect their Northwest old-growth home, the birds continue to lose habitat to logging, wildfires, and the aggressive barred owl. A federal study released last month warned that the remaining spotted owls lack genetic diversity, which may send them even more quickly toward extinction. “I have not lost hope for spotted owls,” says wildlife geneticist Susan Haig, “but I think we’re at a pretty serious crossroads.” The federal axing of critical-habitat acreage resulted from a settlement with the timber industry, which complained that the 5.3 million acres left as critical habitat is still too much.