Tuesday, August 22, 2006

ENV: Canadian Spotted Owls

Spotted owl population dwindling
Mating pairs of Canada's rarest bird drop from six to three in space of one year
Larry Pynn, Vancouver Sun, Published: Monday, August 14, 2006

The number of known mating pairs of Canada's rarest bird, the northern spotted owl, has dropped to three from six and the overall population to 17 from 22 since last year, says the Sierra Legal Defence Fund.

The organization is urging the B.C. government to act immediately to save the endangered species. "If 17 birds doesn't constitute an imminent threat to survival, nothing does," staff lawyer Devon Page said in an interview.

"If they don't step in to save the spotted owl, they won't step in to save any species."

Spotted owls are the "most studied bird in Canada," said Page. "It's time to do something."

Page said the province continues to allow logging of spotted owl habitat while failing to protect proven nest sites, failing to expand monitoring for spotted owls, and failing to implement a strategy to augment the population, perhaps through captive breeding or relocation of birds from the U.S.

"If this is what the most endangered bird in Canada gets, how will all the other endangered species fare?"

Page said only two of the three known mating pairs had offspring this year, and one of those chicks died when the tree containing its nest fell over in the wind.

Historically, 300 to 500 pairs of spotted owls are thought to have lived in B.C.

Sierra Legal is among a coalition of environmental groups now before the Federal Court of Canada, trying to force the federal government to step in and save the owl under the Species At Risk Act given the provincial government's unwillingness to do so.

The coalition says logging in spotted owl areas increased from 492,746 cubic metres in 2001 to 602,773 cubic metres in 2004. It seeks to suspend logging of remaining forests 140 years and older that are under 1,000 metres of elevation in southwest B.C.

In response to the lawsuit, Page said, the province has provided Ottawa with a list of activities underway to save the owl. But he argued little has been done to date, and that B.C.'s actions amount to "a lot of sound and fury" that have the effect of allowing logging to continue in spotted owl habitat.

"They are clearly trying to impact timber harvesting as little as possible," he said.

Page noted the spotted owl also suffers because it is the responsibility not of the Environment Ministry but of Agriculture and Lands. "It's a divide and conquer thing," he said.

In April, the B.C. government announced it would spend $3.4 million on a five-year spotted owl recovery program that focuses on captive breeding and releases to the wild.

Environmental groups said the government plan does not do enough to protect the forest habitat of spotted owls.

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