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Today President Obama continued his knack for finding a controversial topic, splitting the difference between sides, and not satisfying anyone.
The new plan for protecting the endangered northern spotted owl was released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the reaction so far is that environmentalists think it's too little, too late and loggers think it's too much, too soon.
The plan calls for a three-step approach in protecting the owl: "Protecting the best of its remaining habitat, actively managing forests to improve forest health, and reducing competition from barred owls."
Shawn Cantrell, executive director of the Seattle Audubon Society, a group dedicating to protecting bird species, tells Seattle Weekly that Obama's plan is a "step forward from the Bush-era plan," but also that the Bush administration set an "incredibly low bar," so that's not saying much.
"It's a mixed bag," says Cantrell. "In some regards [the plan] takes important steps forward. It talks about the need for non-federal land owners to do more and it points at gaps in the regulatory structure of non-federal lands. It also recognizes the importance of protecting the remaining high-quality forest we still have. But on the downside, in some places, particularly on the east side of the Cascades, they seem to open the door to much more logging, saying we have to cut down the forest in order to save the forest."
One of the principal arguments between loggers and conservationists in the spotted owl fight has been what emphasis to put on protecting habitat versus eliminating the owl's principal competitor--the barred owl.
Barred owls are larger, more aggressive, and more adaptable than the spotted owls, and in areas where the two species share habitat, the barred owl is able to drive out its smaller cousin by snatching up more of the food.
Recently, plans to shoot barred owls have been carried out in Oregon and elsewhere, and loggers would rather see more shooting than have additional forest land closed off.
Under the new plan, both the elimination of barred owls and the preservation of forest land are used.
Jerry Bonagofsky, CEO of the Washington Contract Loggers Association, says that protecting spotted-owl habitat at this point is useless, and that the Obama plan will hurt the economy and kill jobs.
"Given that the barred owl is now part of the equation, it's not clear that protecting habitat will help at all," Bonagofsky tells us. "I think the Bush plan, given time, could have worked. In the present economy, locking up more timber land will have a huge effect on rural communities, jobs, and families."
All told, it would appear that environmentalists did get a bigger bone thrown to them under the new plan than the loggers did.
And for that, Cantrell says he's pleased.
But whether any of this will actually work in improving the population of an endangered species that decades of previous federal policy has utterly failed to protect, remains unknown.