The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has designated over 6 million acres of critical habitat, plus an additional 2 million acres within wilderness areas and national parks, for the northern spotted owl.
The move, announced in a press release Wednesday, complies with a settlement agreement with labor representatives, the timber industry and several counties within the range of the northern spotted owl.
“The Trump Administration and the FWS are committed to recovering all imperiled species, and the northern spotted owl is no exception,” FWS Director Aurelia Skipwith said. “These common-sense revisions ensure we are continuing to recover the northern spotted owl while being a good neighbor to rural communities within the critical habitat.”
Approximately 3.4 million acres have been excluded from the 2012 critical habitat designation in Washington, Oregon and California.
The excluded lands include all lands reinvested to the United States as Oregon and California Railroad Reinvested Lands, known as the O&C lands. They are to be managed primarily for sustained-yield timber production. The excluded lands also include those designated as matrix lands under the Northwest Forest Plan and are to be managed for multiple use and sustained yield.
“The Association of O&C Counties (AOCC) strongly supports the decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to exclude all O&C lands from the 9.5 million acres previously designated as ‘critical habitat’ for the northern spotted owl,” Tim Freeman, a commissioner of Douglas County and president of AOCC. “It has been a very long process and there is still more to do, but this is a major step in the right direction.”
The exclusions also include approximately 20,000 acres of tribal lands that were recently transferred to the Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians and the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians, as well as 211 areas within the White Pass Ski Area Special Use Permit.
The northern spotted owl is protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and as defined by the ESA, critical habitat contains the physical or biological features that are essential to the conservation of listed species. The ESA also specifies that lands may be excluded from a critical habitat designation if the benefits of exclusion outweigh the benefits on inclusion of those lands, so long as that exclusion will not result in extinction of the species.
Critical habitat does not provide additional protections for a species on non-federal lands unless proposed activities involve federal funding or permitting. Critical habitat designations also do not affect land ownership or establish a refuge, reserve, preserve or other conservation area, nor does it allow the government or public to access private lands.
The final rule is available online at https://public-inspection.federalregister.gov/2021-00484.pdf. For additional information regarding critical habitat and the Endangered Species Act, visit https://www.fws.gov/endangered/what-we-do/critical-habitats.htm.