The Lewis County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously on Wednesday to team up with neighboring counties and a lumber lobbying group in an attempt to reduce the area protected for northern spotted owls, a threatened species.
They pledged $7,500 to chip in for an analysis that will illustrate the economic burden created by the “critical habitat” protected for the owl. The argument will likely center around lost logging opportunities.
The “critical habitat,” which spans California, Oregon and Washington, includes 50,000 acres in Lewis County. Lewis County Environmental Planner Ann Weckback said the county could reasonably ask for 20,000 acres to be released from that designation.
“All signs point to this being a worthy expenditure,” Chief Civil Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Eric Eisenberg told commissioners.
Last week, Eisenberg urged commissioners to make the decision quickly, as the deadline for public comment, set by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, is Oct. 13.
The county is now looking to hire an environmental consultant to develop an argument that some of the land, earmarked by the Clinton-era Northwest Forest Plan, has successfully been open for logging while also balancing wildlife concerns.
“That’s a little bit of a double edged word,” Eisenberg said. “Because I think there is some evidence that the spotted owl population has declined in many of the areas of the Northwest Forest Plan, but they have gone up where there have been barred owl removal plans.”