Northern Spotted Owl Critical Habitat Teleconference
In compliance with an order from a U.S. District Court, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a science-based critical habitat proposal for the northern spotted owl that begins a public review process to determine what forest lands should be designated as critical habitat in a final rule that will be published in November.
Northern Spotted Owl Transcription
Moderator: Frank Quimby
February 28, 2012
Coordinator: Thank you for standing by. At this time all participants are in a listen only mode. During the question and answer session you may press star 1 on your touchtone phone if you would like to ask a question. Today's conference is being recorded. If you have any objections please disconnect at this time. Now I'll be turning the meeting over to Mr. Frank Quimby. You may begin.
Frank Quimby: Welcome to Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar's News Media teleconference. Joining The Secretary on today's call are David J. Hayes, Interior Deputy Secretary, Bob Abby, Director of the Bureau of Land Management, Dan Ashe, Director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service and Thomas Tidwell, Chief of the US Forest Service, Department of Agriculture. There will be an opportunity for questions from the media following the announcement. The conference will begin with a statement from Secretary Salazar.
Ken Salazar: Thank you Frank. I'm joined here today by the Deputy Secretary of the Department of Interior, David J. Hayes and the Chief of the United States Forest Service, Tom Tidwell, along with the Director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Dan Ashe and Director of the Bureau of Land Management, Bob Abby.
A week ago Dan Ashe and the leadership of the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service visited with me in Medford, Oregon where we held a town hall meeting. And we visited a timber pilot project on BLM forests that is part of a new vision for responsible timber harvests in the Northwest.
At that project we saw folks at work cutting trees and harvesting good sized timber for the mills. They were applying ecological forestry principles. And in so doing, they were also leaving a forest behind that will be healthier, more diverse, more fire resistant and will supply better habitat for wildlife.
Thanks in large major to two experts who worked on this matter for a long time, Doctor Norm Johnson and Doctor Jerry Franklin. The two professors who helped me conceive of these projects.
The pilot we visited shows that there is in fact a way we can move beyond the paralyses and litigation that have tied up Northwest forests in knots for two decades.
The choice of clear cut versus no cut is in fact a false choice. It is one of the reasons our forests are too homogenous and too vulnerable to fire and insects.
But as Doctor Johnson and Doctor Franklin have shown, if we take a balanced approach to forestry and we use the best available science, we can both protect old growth and we can provide sustainable timber jobs restoring the health of our forests.
The promise of this new approach to forestry is why I announced last week that the BLM will move forward, and among their 150 timber sales planned over the next two years on BLM lands in Oregon. They will also have five additional timber sales over the coming year that will apply these ecological sustainable forestry principles to these sales.
BLM is also going to be undertaking revisions to its current resource management plans to incorporate these forestry principles and to ensure we're guided by the best available science and approaches to our efforts on BLM lands over the coming years.
Today, we're announcing two additional steps that will help bring our forest back to health and help the recovery of the Northern Spotted Owl. The Spotted Owl is still struggling today.
Overall Northern Spotted Owl numbers have been declining 2.9% on average per year, or an estimated 40% decline since 1985. Our scientists tell us that they're still declining for two reasons.
First because of the continuing impacts of losing old growth forests that were cut prior to the 1990s. And two, because of growing competition from the Barred Owl, which has move into its habitat. The Barred Owl is a bigger owl that basically is eating up a lot of the habitat that frankly would be eaten up by the Barred Owl.
So today the Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to move ahead with a combination of lethal and non-lethal control of the Barred Owl. They wanted to see whether removing the Barred Owl from certain areas could help the Spotted Owl's numbers improve.
This step is consistent with the 2011 recovery plan for the Northern Spotted Owl. And it is what I have heard in my visits into Oregon over the last several years that it is something that we need to deal with, and that is the Barred Owl.
Second, to comply with the order for the United States District Court, the service is announcing a science-based critical habitat proposal for the Northern Spotted Owl. Dan Ashe will speak more about that proposal in a moment. But I want to briefly here make a couple of comments about it.
First, it is based on the best available science. When I became the Secretary of Interior, the Department of Interior's Inspector General gave to me the reports that concluded that the 2008 Spotted Owl Recovery Plan. Which had been finalized under the previous administration, was potentially jeopardized by improper political influence.
This proposal that we are pushing forward today is based off the 2011 recovery plan. It is what the service completed last summer. And it reflects the tremendous work by our scientists and biologists.
And secondly, this critical habitat proposal recommends substantially increasing responsible, active management of course in areas designated as critical habitat.
This is an important change because it will allow us to do more work in the woods. It will mean sustainable timber jobs. And it means moving forward with the balanced approach to forestry.
We've launched with Doctor Johnson and Doctor Franklin's input on these pilot projects. So let me reiterate that. This is simply a proposal for critical habitat. It is based on the best science available. And it is not the final acreage at the end of the day.
And second, the critical habitat moves forward with an active management of the forestry of the forest which contemplates that sustainable timbering will occur in these forests.
I now would like to turn it over to Deputy Secretary David Hayes who has worked long and hard on this issue. And he will speak to a Presidential Memorandum and Directive which we have received, which will usher in one of our major reforms under the Endangered Species Act, David J. Hayes.
David Hayes: Thank you Mr. Secretary. As the Secretary noted, the President today with a memorandum dealing with two important aspects of the proposed revised habitat rule that is coming out today.
The thrust of the Presidential Memorandum is to reinforce the approach taken in the rule, which is to minimize regulatory burdens associate with this rule.
And in particular the President underlines the importance of taking a pragmatic, flexible and science-based approach to critical habitat as we are proposing to do.
It reaffirms the approach that we're taking toward restoring the health of Northwest forests through responsible, active management such as the type of logging that Doctor Johnson and Doctor Franklin have demonstrated with the pilot project that the Secretary just referred too, including in critical habitat areas.
Second, the President today is asking us to take a look at how as a department we do critical habitat proposals as part of our reform agenda. Right now we're operating under a three decade old rule that came out in 1984 that says that we should first publish a proposal for critical habitat and then do the economic analysis for it.
The President has asked us, and we are enthusiastically agreeing with the President that we should change that rule. So that hence forth, once the new rule is in place, we will have the economic analysis ready as part of the proposal so that the public can comment both on the proposal and also on the economic analysis associated with it.
So what the President is suggesting in the memorandum that will be available shortly is fully consistent with the type of common sense reforms. And we're working through the Endangered Species Act here at the Department of the Interior as part of the President's regulatory review initiative. So thank you Mr. Secretary.
Ken Salazar: Director Dan Ashe.
Dan Ashe: Thank you Mr. Secretary. It seems for as long as most of us can remember this debate has been cast as owls versus jobs. But now with the combined commitment of the Fish and Wildlife Service, US Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, we're not seeing it become a discussion about jobs and owls.
As the Secretary discussed the Fish and Wildlife Service is committed to helping restore our forests and to recovering the Spotted Owl, which remains in decline despite tremendous efforts over the last two decades.
With this proposal today we've employed a science-driven framework. And along with our recovery partners here today, the Fish and Wildlife Service has worked to identify the most important things that need to be done to recover the Spotted Owl.
And we believe there are three things that are keys to the owl's recovery. We need to protect the best of its remaining old growth habitat. We need to actively manage forest landscapes to restore their health. And we need to manage competition from the Barred Owl.
Both the steps we're taking today will help achieve these goals. And both are key elements of the 2011 Spotted Owl Recovery Plan that we put forward last summer.
So first I want to talk about the critical habitat proposal itself. The proposal we're announcing today identifies lands that are potentially eligible for critical habitat designation.
That of course doesn't mean they'll necessarily be included in the final designation. So over the coming months the service is going to conduct economic analysis, assess additional scientific information and receive public input that's going to help us - that's going to inform which of these potential areas may be included in the final critical habitat.
In fact today we are proposing to exclude several categories of lands from the final critical habitat designation including around 4 million acres of state lands, private lands and federal lands such as national parks and wilderness areas which are already managed for conservation purposes.
The service will also use public and stakeholder feedback, as well as the information from economic analysis to assess additional areas for exclusion from the remaining approximately 10 million acres that are initially eligible for proposed critical habitat designation.
I do want to underline one important point that the Secretary made. In this critical habitat proposal we are recommending that land management agencies encourage appropriate timber harvest consistent with ecological forestry principles.
And I think this is a major change from previous approaches to critical habitat. So why are we encouraging active management in these forests? Because the science is telling us that unmanaged, fire-prone forests aren't healthy for either the landscape or the spotted owl.
In some places you need fuels treatment to reduce the threat of severe fire. You may need thinning to help older trees grow faster. Or you may need the type of ecological forestry the Secretary and I saw last week where around 50% of the vertical biomass in that forest was being removed.
But overall the habitat for the Spotted Owl was being protected and enhanced. So we don't believe that a hands off approach to critical habitat I the right approach for Spotted Owl recovery.
Second I want to talk one moment about Barred Owl control. We can't ignore the mounting evidence that competition from Barred Owls is a major factor in the Spotted Owl's decline.
That's why consistent with our recovery plan for the Spotted Owl, we're proposing experimental removal of Barred Owls from certain areas throughout the Spotted Owl's range.
We want to test the effect of removal on Spotted Owl population trends. We are considering combinations of both lethal and non-lethal methods for removing Barred Owls.
We're concerned that Spotted Owls could go extinct in certain parts of the range without Barred Owl management. So if this experiment proceeds, we'll gain the information that we'll need to make broader Barred Owl management decisions in the future.
Before either of these proposals, critical habitat or Barred Owl control are finalized, we'll be refining them with the benefit of further scientific review, thorough consideration for economic impacts, public input and additional coordination with the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and other partners.
The bottom line basis for both proposals is that this is where the science is leading us. This is what the forest ecosystems need to be healthy and resilient. And this is what the Spotted Owl needs. Thank you.
Ken Salazar: And with that, Chief Tom Tidwell.
Tom Tidwell: Mr. Secretary, thank you. This proposal is welcomed and will definitely help us to move forward to resolve a lot of the controversy that's been around forestry and when it comes to the Spotted Owl.
It's very consistent with our efforts to increase the amount of restoration that needs to be done on our forests today. But this proposal recognizes the benefits of restoring these forests that forest health, resilient forests also make good Spotted Owl habitats. Tracks very well with the efforts that we have been taking on over the last two years.
And so we look forward to continuing to work, you know, through this effort. And just want to, you know, thank the service for their leadership to (unintelligible)...
Ken Salazar: Director Bob Abby.
Bob Abby: Thank you Mr. Secretary. And I'll keep my remarks brief. But I'd like to begin by reminding people what you said last week in Oregon. That it's time to move beyond the lawsuits and court battles and focus our collective energies on restoring healthy habitats and providing sustainable timber harvests and revenues.
Today's announcement by the Fish and (wide) service is consistent with the BLM's commitment to applying ecological forestry principles more broadly.
While the Fish and Wildlife Service actions will also help ensure a strong scientific foundation for future BMLs laying these planning efforts in the Pacific Northwest.
Beginning in 2012, which is this year, we will be undertaking plenty of revisions that will provide goals, objectives and direction for the management of approximately 2 million 500 thousand acres of BLM administered lands in Western Oregon.
The planning area has populations of several key threatened and endangered species, including the Northern Spotted Owl, the Marbled Murrelet and several salmon species.
Our forestry pilot projects mentioned by Secretary Salazar will also help to inform the revision of plans for (bill) and administered lands throughout Oregon.
We appreciate the Fish and Life Service reaching out to the Bureau of Land Management early in this process. And for recognizing the importance of active forest management.
We welcome today's announcement as another step toward meeting our duel obligations of protecting the Northern Spotted Owl and providing a sustainable flow of timber in Western Oregon.
Ken Salazar: Thank you Tom and Bob and Dan and David. And with that, Frank we'll open it up for questions.
Frank Quimby: (Heather) we're ready to take questions.
Coordinator: Thank you. If you’d like to ask a question please press star 1 on your touchtone phone. Please un-mute your phone, record your first and last name clearly when prompted.
To withdraw your question press star 2, one moment for our first question. Our first question comes from Bellamy Pailthrop with KPLU public radio. Your line is open.
Bellamy Pailthrop: Hi gentlemen. Could I just get a little bit more detail about how you'll proceed with the Barred Owl on those two approaches of both lethal and non-lethal? Where will it start? Where will it go from here? Just a little bit more detail.
Ken Salazar: Director Ashe.
Dan Ashe: Well we're, the first step will be to publish our draft environmental impact statement, which we'll do in a couple of weeks. And then the - they will take public comments on the proposal.
The proposal includes a number of experimental designs. So we would select among several alternatives, potential alternative experimental designs. And then we would implement experimental control over a period of about three to ten years.
So this is going to be a lengthy process of experimentation so that we learn Number 1, can we control them effectively? What are the most effective methods of control? And do - does control have an affect on increasing the Barred Owl and stabilizing, or increasing the Spotted Owl and stabilizing the Spotted Owl population over time.
So what we're talking about is an experiment. If successful that then would lead to the broader design of a controlled program for Barred Owl throughout the Spotted Owl range. And would become an integral part of our recovery plan for the Northern Spotted Owl.
Bellamy Pailthrop: What's the best way to lethally control the Barred Owl? Do you shoot them? Do you poison them? What do you do?
Ken Salazar: You shoot them. And do whatever you got to do to deal with them. I remind Dan Ashe, this is Ken Salazar, that when he was born the Barred Owl did not occupy the range in these western forests.
And so the occupation of that range and what they are doing to compete with the habitat with the Spotted Owl seems to be a very significant factor in the challenges on the recovery of the Spotted Owl.
So we'll take all majors and be as expeditious as we can to deal with the Barred Owl challenge that we have.
Frank Quimby: Next question.
Coordinator: Our next question comes from Eric Mortenson with the Oregonian Newspaper. Your line is open.
Eric Mortenson: Thank you. Perhaps from Mr. Ashe or Secretary Salazar, I wonder if you could talk about the (descale) dilemma of killing one species to benefit another?
And as a follow up to that, I hear a lot of people make the argument that we should just let nature take its course. That is the Barred Owl has displaced the Spotted Owl. And that's the way it goes.
Ken Salazar: Eric let me start out and then I'll turn it over to Dan. You know, I think that is why it is important that this be done carefully and be done with the right kind of science.
And so, you know, there are places where, for example the Everglades where we dealt with the giant constrictor snakes. In my mind, you know, a huge effort in restoring the squirrel heritage site was very much in danger because we had the Burmese Python in a position where it was killing off the native habitat.
And killing off the native species which we're working so hard to restore in the Everglades. And we have a major challenge down there. It's going to take some time for us. But we now have snake-sniffing dogs that hopefully are going to go out and help us find these cryptic creatures so we can get rid of them.
But we're going to do it right in the Everglades. And in the same way we're going to do it right in the western forests that are involved here.
And Dan you go ahead and speak as well to Eric's question on ethics.
Dan Ashe: Yes I think there are ethical dimensions. And that's why we'll be interested in comments as we go through the process on ethical dimensions. But as the Secretary had mentioned, control of competing forms of wildlife is not new.
For instance we control raccoons and wild hogs that are preying on sea turtle nests. We control Brown Headed (Calberts) that are competing with endangered Warblers and other birds.
And so this is not new to wildlife management. But it is - it would be undertaken on a scale that is probably unprecedented in our experience. And so it's something that we need to think about, we need to do good experimentation and see if it can be an effective part of recovery.
Frank Quimby: Next question.
Coordinator: Our next question comes from Jeff Barnard with the AP. Your line is open.
Jeff Barnard: Hi. How much did jobs play into the decisions made on these efforts to promote Spotted Owls? Do you have a jobs could be had from more logging and critical habitat?
Ken Salazar: I've spoken to the economic issues here and with a view that we can do both that we can have jobs as well as conservation. David has worked very hard on this. So I'm going to have the Deputy Secretary respond to your question Jeff.
David Hayes: Jeff the proposal here is a science-based proposal. The - we are of course very mindful of the jobs issue. The President is very focused on it. And we are in a happy circumstance here where the science lines up with the need to find job opportunities.
And the science points the way toward a fundamental change in how we deal with the forestry issues and the habitat issues. To some extent the background laid out by the Fish and Wildlife Service in connection with this proposed rule demonstrates that the idea of a fortress approach to protecting large lots of forests with the benefit of the Spotted Owl really does not work.
And does not help the owl. So we're in a good situation where we can help the owl and we can bring more jobs back to the Pacific Northwest at the same time.
Frank Quimby: We have time for one final question.
Coordinator: Our next question comes from Amelia Templeton with the Oregon Public Broadcasting. Your line is open.
Amelia Templeton: Thanks. I'm interested in the critical habitat designation. Can you tell me specifically what state and private forest lands are currently proposed as critical habitat in Oregon and Washington?
Ken Salazar: Let me go ahead and have David and Dan give you their specific answer Amelia.
David Hayes: The specific acreage is laid out in the proposed regulation. The - what I would emphasis is this. As you know, we're talking about a large landscape here involving three states.
What we are asking for comment in in the proposal is whether and if so how much of a particular state and private land needs to be included at all as...
Amelia Templeton: I guess I understand that this is going to go through a review and that you're seeking public comment. But you've indicated for months that state and private land may have to be considered.
And now that we have a plan, I'm looking for more of a direct answer to my question.
David Hayes: I don't have the exact figures. But there are at least a couple of million acres of private estate land that are potentially to be excluded or included from critical habitat. That gives you a bit of a range.
Dan Ashe: I think in the entire proposal there's about 1.6 million acres of state and private land that are being included in the proposal. And we are proposing, as David said, a significant portion of those for exclusion in the proposal as well.
David Hayes: If I could just give one additional sidelight on that. The rule specifically notes that there are potential advantages to not including private land in the final critical habitat designation because we want to encourage private landowners to engage in good habitat behavior.
And as a result we are asking for a comment on that point. And there are zero private lands in Oregon that are part of this proposal I should say. The only private lands involved are in Washington and California.
Frank Quimby: That concludes today's teleconference. Thank you for your participation.
Coordinator: Thank you for participating in today's conference. Please disconnect at this time.