Demand protection for the Northern Spotted Qwl
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There are less than 100 pairs of Northern Spotted Owl left in British Columbia, Canada, 1,200 pairs in Oregon, 560 pairs in Northern California, and 500 pairs in Washington. Washington alone has lost over 90 percent of its old growth forest due to logging which has cause for a 40-90 percent decline of the Northern Spotted Owl population.
The worldwide IUCN Red List of Threatened Species status for the spotted owl species is "Near Threatened" with a decreasing population trend. As the IUCN Red List does not track subspecies, this status is applied to species across its whole range in Canada, the United States and Mexico.
The Canadian population, declared endangered by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada under the 2002 Species at Risk Act, now[when?] numbers less than 100 breeding pairs of birds. In British Columbia, Canada, as of 2010, only 6 pairs are known in the wild, down from historic numbers of 500 pairs.
The northern spotted owl was listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act throughout its range of northern California, Oregon and Washington by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service on June 23, 1990 citing loss of old-growth habitat as the primary threat. The USFWS previously reviewed the status of the northern spotted owl in 1982, 1987 and 1989 but found it did not warrant listing as either threatened or endangered. Logging in national forests containing the northern spotted owl was stopped by court order in 1991.
In 1990, the logging industry estimated up to 30,000 of 168,000 jobs would be lost because of the owl's status, which agreed closely with a Forest Service estimate. Harvests of timber in the Pacific Northwest were reduced by 80%, decreasing the supply of lumber and increasing prices. However, jobs were already declining because of dwindling old-growth forest harvests and automation of the lumber industry. One study at the University of Wisconsin–Madison by environmental scientists argued that logging jobs had been in a long decline and that environmental protection was not a significant factor in job loss. From 1947 to 1964, the number of logging jobs declined 90%. Starting with the Wilderness Act of 1964, environmental protection saved 51,000 jobs in the Pacific Northwest.
The controversy pitted individual loggers and small sawmill owners against environmentalists. Bumper stickers reading Kill a Spotted Owl—Save a Logger and I Like Spotted Owls—Fried appeared to support the loggers. Plastic spotted owls were hung in effigy in Oregon sawmills. The logging industry, in response to continued bad publicity, started the Sustainable Forestry Initiative. While timber interests and conservatives have cited the northern spotted owl as an example of excessive or misguided environmental protection, many environmentalists view the owl as an "indicator species," or "canary in a coal mine" whose preservation has created protection for an entire threatened ecosystem.
Protection of the owl, under both the Endangered Species Act and the National Forest Management Act, has led to significant changes in forest practices in the northwest. President Clinton's controversial Northwest Forest Plan of 1994 was designed primarily to protect owls and other species dependent on old-growth forests while ensuring a certain amount of timber harvest. Although the result was much less logging, industry automation and the new law meant the loss of thousands of jobs. However, new jobs were created for biologists conducting surveys for spotted owls and other rare organisms that occur in their range.
The debate has cooled somewhat over the years, with little response from environmentalists as the owl's population continues to decline by 7.3 percent per year. In 2004 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reaffirmed that the owl remained threatened, but indicated that the recognized causes of endangerment had changed, mostly as a result of invasion by barred owls into the range and habitat of the spotted owl.
In 2007, the USFWS proposed a new recovery plan intended to guide all management actions on lands where spotted owls occur, and to aid in recovery of the species. Early proposals were criticized by environmental groups as significantly weakening existing protections for the species. The Obama administration reversed proposals that would have increased logging on Bureau of Land Management administered lands. Recent discussion has been focused on two novel approaches. One of these would emphasize wildfire management as key to owl persistence on the east side of the Cascades, and in the Klamath province. Another proposal, on control of barred owlpopulations through culling, has been criticized by some animal rights and other activists.
Federal biologists were considering in 2010 whether to kill barred owls to see if that would help the spotted owls.
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