By Jeff Barnard
The Associated Press
GRANTS PASS, Ore. Logging in spotted owl habitat is coming to a halt on 72,000 acres of federal lands in Western Oregon until government biologists come up with a better scientific basis to saying that cutting the trees will not harm the .
Based on an appeals court ruling last month, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this week pulled five documents known as biological opinions that authorized the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to log in owl habitat stretching from Mount Hood to the California border, Fish and Wildlife spokesman Phil Carroll said.
The biological opinions gave BLM and the Forest Service authority to kill some spotted owls in the course of logging on the Mount Hood, Willamette and Rogue River-Siskiyou national forests and the Salem, Eugene, Roseburg and Medford districts of BLM and the Columbia River gorge national Scenic Area, Carroll said.
The ruling pertained to a challenge of logging on BLM's Medford District, but the same reasoning was used in all five documents, which are also being challenged in court. Carroll said those were withdrawn in expectation they would be struck down as well.
"I hope they come back with a plan that actually protects owls, salmon, clean water and other values folks care about," said Steve Pedery, spokesman for Oregon Wild, a plaintiff in the lawsuit that led to the logging halts.
No one could say immediately how much timber was involved.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that what is known as an incidental take permit issued by Fish and Wildlife had no scientific foundation, lacked a specific estimate of how many owls would be killed.
by the logging and had no trigger for deciding whether too many owls had been killed. It characterized the document as arbitrary and capricious and sent it back to be revised.
An incidental take permit allows the destruction of habitat that would likely lead to some owls dying, but not enough to threaten the survival of the species. Owl numbers are declining across its range despite an increase in habitat.
Mary Smelcer, associate director of BLM's Medford District, said they were eager to get to work with Fish and Wildlife to resolve the problem. She added that the sales involved were not just cutting down old growth forest, but included thinning projects designed to improve owl habitat.
Lawsuits demanding protection of habitat for the spotted owl forced an 80 percent reduction in logging on federal lands in the Northwest in the 1990s. Under the Northwest Forest Plan, national forests and BLM lands were divided into areas devoted to fish and wildlife habitat and areas devoted to logging.
Conservation groups have been battling to stop cutting patches of old growth forest that stand in the areas designated for logging while the Forest Service and BLM have been struggling to offer the volumes of timber set by the Northwest Forest Plan. A series of recent rulings has stopped logging in old growth forests and spotted owl habitat around the Northwest.