USA: Gov tells judge they’re withdrawing from Bush-era Spotted Owl extinction plan

Government attorneys filed notice late Tuesday in federal district court in Washington D.C. asking to withdraw the owl recovery plan finalized last year as well as the accompanying changes to critical owl habitat areas. That could end up reversing a decision from last year that trimmed by about a quarter the amount of federal forest in the Northwest designated as critical habitat for the owl, which is in long term decline. And it has other implications for how much federal land will be readily available for logging in the future.

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“We applaud the government’s decision to reexamine Bush administration policies,” said Todd True, an attorney for Earthjustice in Seattle. “This is a victory for those who value sound government and scientific integrity.

“The government is being sued by conservation and industry groups over its changes to critical habitat; the former say it set aside too little, the latter argue it protects too much. Logging projects in critical habitat areas are subject to strict review by government scientists. In their filing, federal attorneys say they want 30 days to work with opponents to rework the plan.

“The government has concluded its review and has decided that it is
appropriate to seek a remand of the recovery plan and revised critical
habitat designation,” the filing said. The new Obama administration is
reviewing several endangered species policy changes instituted during
the Bush years, with particular attention to those influenced by Julie
MacDonald, the former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife
and Parks.

A Department of the Interior inspector general’s report found that MacDonald and others unduly influenced 13 endangered species decisions. Also this week, the Obama administration said it would not defend Bush cuts to bull trout habitat.

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