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Sides Join Forces for Spotted Owl

July 8, 2008

By John Dodge, The Olympian, Olympia, Wash.

Jul. 8–The state Forest Practices Board threw its unanimous support Monday behind a group made up primarily of timber industry officials and conservationists to work on spotted owl habitat protection on private forestlands.

On a 10-0 vote, the board signaled a new approach to a controversial issue it’s been wrestling with little success for years.

“This is a breath of fresh air to see the timber industry and the conservation caucus come together as partners,” said Sherry Fox, a Lewis County timberland owner and member of the forestry board.

The group is committed to exploring voluntary, incentive-based measures that could help landowners remain economically whole when old trees are left standing.

In the past, timber interests and conservationists have wrangled before the forestry board and in court over rules, regulations and enforcement of forest practices designed to protect owls on private timberlands.

“There’s value in finding a new direction,” said Shawn Cantrell, executive director of Seattle Audubon Society.

“This is the right path forward,” agreed Josh Weiss, director of environmental policy for the Washington Forest Protection Association, a timber industry group.

Seattle and Kittitas Audubon Society chapters sued the state Department of Natural Resources and Weyerhaeuser Co. in 2006 over harvest of owl habitat in southwest Washington.

A confidential settlement of the lawsuit announced last week calls on the new spotted owl working group to find a long-range solution to managing owl habitat on private lands.

The northern spotted owl has been federally listed as a threatened species since 1990 and most of their nest sites and habitat are found on federal land. State and private forestlands play a secondary, but still important, role in owl recovery.

But owl populations continue to sharply decline with everything from habitat loss to invasion of the more-aggressive barred owl to blame.

More than 50,000 acres of suitable owl habitat has been logged on private forestland in the past 10 years, according to the Washington Forest Law Center. A similar amount of acreage on private land near known owl sites remains.

The policy group will consist of 11 to 17 members, conduct its work in public meetings and probably convene for the first time in September. It has until November 2009 to deliver recommendations to the board.

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Copyright (c) 2008, The Olympian, Olympia, Wash.

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