Recovering the spotted owl: the road ahead

and Ed Shepard

Beginning Tuesday in Roseburg, a series of public meetings in Washington, Oregon and California will give citizens the chance to comment on the federal government's draft plan for recovering one of our region's icons, the northern spotted owl. We urge people to attend.

Based on the best available science, and developed with the help of a diverse group of experts, the draft recovery plan outlines the steps needed to recover the spotted owl.

The conservation of northern spotted owls in the Pacific Northwest is not easy. In the 1990s, the bird became synonymous with lost livelihoods and accusations that the Endangered Species Act was broken. Few issues in the Pacific Northwest have shaped federal land policy like the conservation of the northern spotted owl.

Recovering the owl is certainly one of the most significant conservation challenges in the Northwest. Demands on regional natural resources have never been greater, and we can expect them to increase as our human population grows.

Federal land managers work hard to balance the needs of the owl with the needs of society, and we have made great progress. But no amount of habitat protection will save the northern spotted owl if we don't address the biggest threat it now faces: competition with the barred owl, which has invaded the Northwest. Given the urgency of this threat, the draft recovery plan lays out an aggressive research program that will likely include a barred owl control strategy.

The varied nature of the major threats facing the spotted owl — barred owl competition, habitat loss, fire — stresses a critical point: Recovery of the species will require a long-term, concentrated effort by many partners committed to finding solutions that balance a myriad of competing interests.

We need a recovery plan based on adaptive management, a plan that identifies recovery needs and provides the context for federal land managers to plan for both recovery of the spotted owl and the other outputs expected from federal forests. We believe the draft recovery plan does this.

The draft recovery plan differs from the Northwest Forest Plan in that it specifically defines actions needed to recover the northern spotted owl to the point where it no longer needs federal protection. The recovery plan is a road map to help protect adequate habitat and ensure a large, well-distributed population that can withstand natural catastrophes.

To generate the broadest discussion about recovering owls and their habitat, the draft recovery plan presents two alternatives for conserving spotted owl habitat, both based on the same sound science. One method identifies areas where specific actions will be taken to promote recovery. The other method provides federal land managers with a set of rules for designating areas where the same actions would be taken.

This recovery planning effort has been a scientifically rigorous process and, equally important, it will fully engage the public before completion. We invite the public to review the draft plan at, give us your comments and attend one of the public meetings. The Roseburg meeting is scheduled for 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Douglas County Fairgrounds Complex Conference Hall, 2110 S.W. Frear St.

While the draft recovery strategy primarily relies on federal land, to be successful the effort will require long-term partnerships with federal and state agencies, conservation organizations, the timber industry and individual citizens over the next few decades. Together we can pursue the goal of recovering the northern spotted owl and ultimately restore one of the most extraordinary and complex ecosystems in the nation.

Ren Lohoefener is Pacific regional director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Linda Goodman is Pacific Northwest regional forester with the U.S. Forest Service. Ed Shepard is state director for Oregon and Washington for the Bureau of Land Management.

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