Feds aim to double spotted owl habitat

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photoIn this May 8, 2003, file photo, a northern spotted owl named Obsidian by U.S. Forest Service employees sits in a tree in the Deschutes National Forest near Camp Sherman, Ore. The Obama Administrationís overhaul of the strategy for saving northern spotted owls has been completed, and it nearly doubles the amount of forest designated as habitat critical to the owlís survival four years ago by the Bush administration

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GRANTS PASS, Ore. — The last building block of the Obama administration's strategy unveiled Wednesday to keep the northern spotted owl from extinction nearly doubles the amount of Northwest national forest land dedicated to protecting the bird by the Bush administration four years ago.

Still, conservation groups that went to court to force the overhaul said key gaps remain, such as an exemption for private forest lands and most state forests.

The full critical habitat plan will not be published until next week, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that 9 million acres of federal forests in Oregon, Washington and Northern California will come under its provisions.

The amount is down from nearly 14 million acres proposed last February but still exceeds the 5.3 million acres proposed in 2008.

Officials revised the latest plan to make room for thinning and logging inside critical habitat to reduce the danger of wildfire and improve the health of forests.