Judge Rules in Favor of Owls; Forest Service Not so Owl-Friendly

Two recent developments on the spotted-owl front: On Friday, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals delayed and possibly killed several planned timber sales in the Pacific Northwest by ruling that current regulations meant to protect the northern spotted owl “blatantly” contradict the Endangered Species Act by assessing possible threats to critical habitat only in terms of their impact on the survival of threatened species. Judge Ronald M. Gould reminded the feds that the ESA was intended “not merely to forestall the extinction of species … but to allow a species to recover to the point where it may be delisted.” This higher standard may prompt the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reconsider several of its “biological opinions,” or assessments of the possible impact of timber sales. Meanwhile, a longtime U.S. Forest Service employee said that the agency has exaggerated the impact of wildfire on the spotted owl in order to justify logging large trees in Sierra Nevada forests.