The 2017 spring spotted owl nesting season is now well underway. Our very wet and very cold winter and early spring here on the North Coast of California makes this year’s spotted owl nesting season a difficult one. EPIC has been advocating for protection and recovery of the spotted owl for the entirety of our 40-year history, and 2017 is no different. Here are some highlights of the work we’ve done, are doing, and will do in 2017 to protect and restore the spotted owl to their rightful place in the forests of Northwest California.
California State Listing Accomplished!
In August of 2017, after a four-year melodrama marred by delays and failures to meet statutory deadlines, the California Fish and Game Commission finally voted to list the spotted owl as a “threatened” species under the California Endangered Species Act. The Commission has failed to adopt finding to ratify this decision, however; EPIC will be in front of the Fish and Game Commission on June 20-21, at its meeting on the Smith River in Del Norte County to once again advocate on behalf of the spotted owl.
Spotted Owl Stakeholder Group Looks at Rule Changes
The state listing has yielded immediate results. EPIC has met twice with the California Department of Fish and Game, CAL FIRE, and the Board of Forestry to discuss changes to the Forest Practice Rules to protect the northern spotted owl. EPIC will continue to work with our state resource agencies to ensure our Forest Practice Rules are up to date. (Currently, the Forest Practice Rules allow for logging in excess of amounts that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has warned would result in the “taking” of owls.  Whoops.)
Additional Federal Protections Soon?
In 2012, EPIC also petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to “reclassify,” or “uplist” the spotted owl to “endangered,” under the federal Endangered Species Act. In April, 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service promised it would complete a new status review for the spotted owl and render a 12-Month Finding on our petition in the summer of 2017. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials now indicate that the status review and finding will be prepared and issued by early fall 2017.
Reforming Post-Fire Salvage Logging on Private Lands
In the wake of several large fires that burned a mix of public and private forests over the last several summers, private industrial logging companies have used an emergency logging provision that exempts their logging from the normal THP and CEQA review process. Some of these ministerial exempt salvage logging conducted by private timber companies including Fruit Growers Supply Company and Sierra Pacific Industries resulted in clearcuts without size restrictions that downgraded and destroyed suitable spotted owl habitat and resulted in logging in and around known owl activity centers. EPIC raised concerns with CAL FIRE, and eventually, having been stonewalled by CAL FIRE, brought a petition to the Board of Forestry in March 2017 aimed at tightening up the rules governing these post-fire emergency timber operations and their damage to spotted owls and owl habitat. Although EPIC’s petition was rejected by the Board of Forestry, CAL FIRE has now hired new staff and initiated an intensive review and monitoring program for all ministerial logging operations exempted from the normal environmental review process. This is a direct result of EPIC’s efforts to be the voice of the owl in the halls of Sacramento.