U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to reduces owl habitat

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently proposed to reduce the critical habitat designated for the northern spotted owl in Oregon.

The agency proposed removing about 2%, or 205,000 acres, from the current critical habitat designation for the species. Approximately 9.6 million acres are currently designated as northern spotted owl critical habitat in Oregon, Washington and California.

The northern spotted owl (Strix occidentalis caurina) was first listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act in 1990. The USFWS initially designated 6.9 million acres of critical habitat for the owl in 1992, all on federal lands. The owl’s critical habitat was revised in 2003, 2008 and again in 2012.

The 2012 critical habitat designation was challenged in court by the lumber industry in 2013.  The industry argued that the USFWS had unlawfully designated areas that were not northern spotted owl habitat and that the agency failed to consider the designation’s economic impacts. Earlier this year, the parties in that case reached a settlement agreement, requiring the USFWS to propose revisions to the northern spotted owl’s critical habitat.

The 205,000 acres that are due to be removed from critical habitat are in Oregon, mostly managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Resource management plans for this land indicate it is primarily designated for commercial timber harvest. Although these areas would no longer be managed as critical habitat, the BLM’s resource plans do contain provisions to facilitate owl movement and survival between and through areas of nesting and roosting habitat.

The USFWS is accepting comments on the proposal until Oct. 13.

The USFWS also recently proposed a new definition of habitat, which has previously been undefined by both the ESA itself and the agency’s regulation. In the future, that definition and the agency’s application of the term will impact debates over critical habitat.


Header Image: A new U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposal would remove just over 200,000 acres from the critical habitat designated for northern spotted owls. Credit: Tom Kogud/USFWS