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Expanding Northern Spotted Owl Habitat Will Inhibit Species Recovery

WASHINGTON, D.C., July 20, 2021 -

Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) issued a proposed rule to withdraw a 2021 Trump administration rule that would have excluded 3.4 million acres of critical habitat for the northern spotted owl.

"Yet again, this administration is backing an anti-science proposal that will only make the problem worse. The Fish and Wildlife Service has already proven that declining spotted owl populations are a result of barred owl competition and the loss of habitat due to wildfires, not because of sustainable timber harvesting. In fact, a single year of wildfires destroyed more acres of spotted owl habitat in one national forest than seven years of timber harvests in 17 national forests. But what is this administration proposing? Spending taxpayer dollars on locking up more land and ignoring habitat rather than controlling barred owls and implementing sound forest management, contrary to the Fish and Wildlife Service's own findings and recovery plan. Not only does this go against the scientific advice of local stakeholders, communities, tribes and many others on the ground in Oregon, but it also will make it more difficult for the northern spotted owl to actually recover. I strongly urge the administration to reconsider this decision." - House Committee on Natural Resources Ranking Member Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.)

"The mismanagement of the northern spotted owl has wreaked havoc on the Pacific Northwest. While our communities, forests, and local economies have suffered, so has recovery of the species. The Biden Administration’s decision to reject sound science will continue to impact our rural communities, directly contribute to increased threats of wildfires, and do nothing to improve the population or the habitat of the spotted owl. We will continue working in Congress to improve the Endangered Species Act, so – instead of allowing litigious environmentalists to dictate our land management policies – we can take meaningful actions to successfully recover endangered and threatened species." - Congressional Western Caucus Chairman Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.)

"I am extremely disappointed by the FWS decision. In Oregon, the 2020 fire season alone destroyed more owl habitat in one national forest than the previous seven years of timber harvests on 17 national forests! These tragedies show that the Obama-era approach of locking up lands for ‘conservation’ is killing the owl, not to mention uprooting the lives of many Oregonians who have lost their homes, businesses, crops, and livestock to preventable fires. With the Bootleg fire and others ravaging Oregon, it is clear that the destruction will continue until the Biden Administration recognizes that their misguided and politically motivated ‘management’ actions are killing our forests and the multitude of creatures within them. I know that the worst is yet to come, and I pray that the Biden Administration will see the urgency of this situation and reject the political posturing that is putting our forests, my constituents’ lives, and tens of millions of dollars of property at greater risk."  - U.S. Rep. Cliff Bentz (R-Ore.)


In January 2021, the Trump administration finalized a rule to right-size the critical habitat for the northern spotted owl by reducing it by 3.4 million acres. This rule was in response to the Weyerhaeuser v. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Supreme Court decision which clarified that to qualify as critical habitat, it must first actually be habitat of the species. The Trump administration's rule complied with Weyerhaeuser by significantly reducing the amount of non-habitat that was initially designated as critical habitat. The Trump administration rule was also consistent with the Northwest Forest Plan that promises a stable supply of timber from those federal lands identified as suitable for timber harvest. 

The Holiday Farm, Beachie and Lionshead fires in 2020 alone caused the loss of 45,220 acres of suitable northern spotted owl habitat on the Willamette National Forest. In comparison, the Northwest Forest Plan 20-year monitoring report indicated that 5,805 acres of suitable northern spotted owl habitat was lost annually across the entire range of the species due to timber harvest on federally managed lands. Over-expansive critical habitat designations are not helping the northern spotted owl and more active conservation work is needed, not less.

Contact: Committee Press Office 202-226-9019

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