By Hilary Corrigan
Triplicate staff writer
Green Diamond Resource Company is seeking permission from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to displace more threatened in Del Norte and Humboldt counties for logging that cuts down the birds' habitat.
The company secured a federal permit in 1992 that allows it to displace 50 pairs of owls because of logging. The change would allow the company to displace another eight pairs.
Environmental activists and lawyers plan to review the request, questioning whether such changes could further decrease the falling population of an iconic northwest species. The federal pro-cess accepts public comments until April 27.
"We will definitely be submitting comments," said Scott Greacen, nat-ional forest program coordinator with the Environmental Pro-tection Information Center in Humboldt County.
Greacen noted steep declines in the owl's population over recent years in Washington and Oregon. Up to about 16,000 northern spotted owls remain and the owl has almost
disappeared from Canada.
Scientists attribute the fall to habitat loss and other threats, including wild fires and the larger, more aggressive barred owl that drive the spotted owl from its home along the northwest coast. The impact of West Nile Virus and sudden oak death could also harm the flailing population.
"We're not in a position to be dealing away the scarce habitat that spotted owls have now," Greacen said. "The existing plans aren't enough, so why are we looking at loosening them?"
Give and take
The ability to push some owls from their perches, though, may not push them from the region, according to Lowell Diller, senior biologist with Green Diamond Resource Co.
"That doesn't equate, necessarily, to a population decline," Diller said. "We're growing habitat at the same time we're taking it."
The company's 1992 permit runs until 2022 and had expected to displace the 50 pairs within the first decade, Diller said. A scheduled federal revision, now underway, could take another year or two. Until then, a permit change allowing the company to displace an extra eight pairs would let logging continue.
That work can prove difficult in the northern California region that boasts the highest density of spotted owls. With its old and new growth forests, high canopy and abundant prey such as wood rats, Green Diamond Resource Co.'s nearly 450,000 acres stretching along the west slopes of the Klamath Mountains and the Coast Range hosts more than 260 northern spotted owls.
"If you try to harvest timber in this part of the world, you just run out of room," Diller said, noting rules preventing any actions that could harm the threatened bird.
Data also has changed over time. When Green Diamond drafted the original plan, researchers pinpointed large, contiguous tracts of old growth forest where owls prefer to roost. They have since found that the owls especially depend on the stretches bordering new growth sections, where wood rats and other prey live.
"A mosaic of different types," Diller said of the bird's habitat needs. "We believe that's what the key is."
That patchwork scene suits Green Diamond's logging practices that clear cut sections smaller than 20 acres and leave pockets of new growth within old growth forests, Diller said. He wants the company's revised long-term plan to focus on habitat management instead of individual owl counts.
But Greacen wonders if the population can survive anymore relocation from stable home sites until that plan goes into play.
"The question is, can we afford it?" Greacen said of habitat loss. "I'm skeptical."
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will accept public comments on the plan until April 27. To comment, write Amedee Brickey, ES Program Manager, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1655 Heindon Road, Arcata, Calif., 95521 or fax 707-822-8411.