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For Immediate Release, August 11, 2008


Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, (503) 484-7495
Francis Eatherington, Umpqua Watersheds Inc., (541) 643-1309
Dan Kruse, Cascadia Wildlands Project, (541) 870-0605

New Threats to the Spotted Owl Prompt Lawsuit on the Elliott State Forest

PORTLAND, Ore.— Four conservation groups filed suit today against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to reconsider how logging mature and old-growth stands of trees in the Elliott State Forest harms the northern spotted owl, in light of new information showing the owl is facing increased threats from the combination of habitat loss, the barred owl, and disease.

“New information shows threats to the spotted owl have increased dramatically, yet the Oregon Department of Forestry is plowing ahead with clearcutting the owls’ habitat on the Elliott,” said Noah Greenwald, science director at the Center for Biological Diversity. The Center, along with Umpqua Watersheds Inc., Cascadia Wildlands Project, and Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, filed the lawsuit.

“Oregon could do more to protect the owl and old-growth forests and still provide funds for schools,” Greenwald said.

In 1995, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a permit to the Oregon Department of Forestry to log in spotted owl habitat in the Elliott Forest and to “take” owls – permit activities that would result in the death of owls – based on mitigation measures proposed in a state habitat conservation plan. The permit allowed the Department to log 22,000 acres of spotted-owl habitat, which was expected to contribute to the loss of 43 owls in at least 22 owl territories over 60 years. That would have left, at most, 13 owl territories.

A 2003 survey found that after just eight years, all owls in the 22 territories had indeed died and the remaining owls were already limited to 13 territories. The survey also found that barred owls – which prey on spotted owls – were present within six of the 13 territories, and within two territories where spotted owls were no longer found.

“The barred owl presents a substantial new threat to the spotted owl that was not anticipated in 1995,” said Francis Eatherington, conservation director of Umpqua Watersheds. “Continued clearcutting of the limited spotted owl habitat on the Elliott should stop until it can be shown that it will not further endanger the spotted owl.”

The 93,000-acre Elliot State Forest, located in the Coast Range east of Coos Bay, includes some of the last, best habitat for the spotted owl, marbled murrelet, coho salmon, and other threatened species in the Coast Range.

About 90 percent of the Forest is designated Common School Fund Lands – lands intended to generate revenues for education. The Oregon Constitution requires that Common School Fund Lands be managed “with the object of obtaining the greatest benefit for the people of this state, consistent with the conservation of this resource under sound techniques of land management.” The Oregon attorney general has stated that this provision authorizes management of these lands to secure both economic and non-economic values. Thus, state law allows managing the Elliott to preserve wildlife habitat, clean water, and other values, in addition to generating revenues for schools.

“The Elliott could be managed to balance preservation of old forests and protection of the spotted owl with the need to provide funds for Oregon’s schools,” said Josh Laughlin, conservation director of Cascadia Wildlands Project. “The current management of the Elliott, however, does not achieve this balance.”

Although logging in the Elliott’s spotted-owl habitat would cause tremendous harm to the species, there is no problem with continued logging in other areas in the Forest. In fact, since 2005, the state has fallen behind in conducting required “plantation thinning” on about 3,000 acres in the Elliott.

The Oregon Department of Forestry has been working on a new habitat conservation plan that is expected to be completed this winter. However, rather than providing additional protection for old forests and the wildlife species that depend on them, the plan reneges on protections spelled out in the 1995 plan. In particular, the new plan will allow increased logging in 10 basins that were supposed to be reserved for “long-rotation” logging over 135-240 years.

“At a time when the spotted owl is faced with declining populations and increased threat from barred owls and continuing loss of habitat, the Oregon Department of Forestry is moving to weaken protections for the owl and old forests,” Eatherington said. “This does not represent sustainable management of state forests.”

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