Trump administration severs protected habitat for threatened spotted owl

The Trump administration is planning to slash millions of acres of protected habitat that is home to a threatened species of owl.

The territories across Oregon, Washington state, and Northern California are designated to protect the imperiled northern spotted owl against the timber industry.

The tiny owl is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act and its species is still on the decline, with the bird losing nearly four per cent of its population annually.

Environmentalists have condemned the move, accusing the US Fish and Wildlife Service under Donald Trump of unjustly flexing power in their last days in office to benefit timber industries.

“This revision guts protected habitat for the northern spotted owl by more than a third,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director for the Center for Biological Diversity.

“It’s Trump’s latest parting gift to the timber industry and another blow to a species that needs all the protections it can get to fully recover.”

Timber groups have praised the decision, arguing the loss of their ability to log in areas protected for the spotted owl has devastated rural communities.

The dark-eyed owl prefers to nest in old-growth forests and old-growth Douglas firs, many 100 to 200 years old, which hold great value to loggers.

“This rule rights a wrong imposed on rural communities and businesses and gives us a chance to restore balance to federal forest management and species conservation in the Pacific Northwest,” Travis Joseph, president of the American Forest Resources Council said.

Mr Joseph said more thinning and management of protected forests is also necessary to prevent wildfires that devastated about 300 acres (121 hectares) of spotted owl habitat last fall.

The federal government has attempted to preserve the dark-eyed owl for decades and it received federal protections in 1990.

US officials halted logging on millions of acres of old-growth forests on federal lands to protect the bird’s habitat after it was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has said the owl warranted being moved up to the more robust “endangered” status because of continued population declines, but this was rejected by the agency last year.

That decision is facing a legal challenge led by the Center for Biological Diversity.

In 2018, the Fish and Wildlife Service under Mr Trump agreed in a settlement with the timber industry to reevaluate the spotted owls’ protected territory.

Reporting by the Associated Press

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