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“Through outside-the-box thinking and actions, PFT has done a great job of representing trees in the hallways of Washington, D.C., and pioneering important conservation measures for forests in California, Washington and Oregon.”

—Thomas J. Vilsack, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture

Land Trust Alliance


'All Lands' Approach Key for Northern Spotted Owl Recovery

PFT Supports Proposed Revision to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Plan for Species Recovery

SAN FRANCISCO (May 26, 2011) – The Pacific Forest Trust (PFT) has endorsed a draft version of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s plan for promoting the recovery of the Northern Spotted Owl, a threatened species. The Service’s revised Spotted Owl Recovery Team’s Revised Recovery Plan—due out by court order on June 1st—recommends essential actions for conserving and improving the habitat necessary for recovery of the Northern Spotted Owl. These actions also will improve conditions for many other forest-dwelling species dependent on similar habitat to survive, especially in the face of climate change.

The Service’s revised plan contains new proposals for strengthening a range of measures, both regulatory and voluntary, intended to help the endangered species survive. PFT supports the Service’s emphasis on the need to take an “All Lands” approach, including both federal and private lands in their plan. Private landowners have a key role in helping restore and conserve habitat for the threatened owl as property boundaries cut across their natural habitats.

“The revised plan’s ‘All-Lands’ approach is inclusive of privately owned lands that comprise almost half of the total forests in this region. Consideration of these lands is essential to a successful recovery effort for the owl,” says PFT President Laurie Wayburn, who endorsed the plan in a recent letter sent to federal officials including Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

“Specifically, we think that Recovery Action 10, which calls for retention and restoration of habitat…across all ownership types… is essential given the current rate of population decline.” The letter also commends the plan’s actions that call for state officials in Washington and Oregon to protect existing owl territories while enhancing incentive mechanisms “to allow private landowners to make positive contributions to owl recovery.”

PFT and several other Pacific Northwest conservation groups including Audubon California, Seattle Audubon, Audubon Society of Portland, Conservation Northwest, EPIC (Environmental Protection Information Center) and the Washington Environmental Council all praised the draft plan in a group letter to Fish and Wildlife Officials that went out today. The letter also supported the Service’s focus on the importance of private lands in the draft plan, urging the USFWS to “retain language and recovery actions—both regulatory and voluntary, federal and state—focused on these key portions of the non-federal landscape.

"Without such contributions, recovery of the species may not be possible,” the letter states.

Today, many timber-producing landowners use forest management styles that actually discourage owls from nesting on private property, to avoid the possibility of regulatory restrictions on harvest operations in the vicinity of threatened species.

However, there are voluntary incentives already in place that can ease the way for private landowners to be part of the owl solution. Wayburn notes that this has already been demonstrated with working forest conservation easements—voluntary agreements that protect working forests with willing landowners—which can be used as the foundation for Safe Harbor Agreements (SHA). These permits provide operational certainty to landowners under the Endangered Species Act.

With this approach, on-going forest and harvest operations are allowed when undertaken in concert with the provisions of a permanent conservation easement. PFT successfully demonstrated this approach on the Van Eck Forest in Humboldt County, CA, where a conservation easement was used to qualify for a 99-year SHA — the maximum term — ensuring sustainable timber operations on the land will continue along with long-term habitat restoration.

“The Van Eck Safe Harbor Agreement is a triple win,” says PFT President Laurie Wayburn. “Owls—and all other creatures dependent on the same older natural forests—win, because their habitat is enhanced and conserved. Landowners win, because they can manage their forests to encourage biodiversity without fear that doing so will cripple their operations if they’re too successful in voluntarily attracting wildlife. The public, state and federal regulators win because this cooperative approach helps meet their goals of permanently preserving threatened species and their habitat. Working forest conservation easements are an efficient, effective way to help a broad range of species that rely on complex, natural forests.”

These types of voluntary, collaborative conservation efforts between regulatory agencies and private landowners could help protect important corridors of habitat across an increasingly fragmented, checkerboard landscape of public and private forestland. Such agreements exemplify the type of private-public partnerships called for in the recent America’s Great Outdoors report that outlines the Obama Administration's “21st century” conservation vision.

“This Safe Harbor Agreement is an innovative example of how a private landowner and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can work together to bring about meaningful and lasting conservation changes,” said Ren Lohoefener, Director of the USFWS Pacific Southwest Region, when the Van Eck agreement was approved. “This SHA with the Pacific Forest Trust can be a model for other landowners and timber companies. Under this agreement, timber can continue to be harvested, but it will be done so in a way that will ultimately grow more habitat for Northern Spotted Owls.”

The USFWS and PFT currently are working on expanding this effort in Washington State, Wayburn added.

Copies of both PFT’s letter of support and the group stakeholder letter regarding the Spotted Owl Recovery Plan revision can be found on PFT's website.

The revised draft recovery plan is expected to be released by June 1st, in compliance with a federal court order. For more information visit USFWS's website.

MEDIA: PFT President Laurie Wayburn and Paula Swedeen, Ph.D., PFT’s Director of Ecosystem Services, are available to comment on FWS draft recovery plan for spotted owls. Tours of the Van Eck Forest are available, along with photos and additional information about the Van Eck Safe Harbor Agreement. Call Chris Harrison at 415-561-0700 ext. 13 or e-mail for more information or to arrange an interview.