The Trump administration has once again rolled back an important policy regarding the protection of birds. Only about a week ago, the administration stripped protections of migratory birds from accidental deaths by oil companies. This week, it has removed over 3 million acres of Pacific Northwest land from northern spotted owl protected habitat. This means that the land will now be opened to loggers, a situation that exposes the owl to more threats. The decision is the latest in a series of environmental rollbacks by the Trump administration.
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The decision, which has been made public by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, was born out of a 2013 case challenging the protection of 9.5 million acres for the owls. The case was filled by a lumber association, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided to loosen its grip on part of the protected land. Initially, the agency had proposed to release about 200,000 acres from protection; however, in a recent turn of events, it has opted to release a whopping 3.4 million acres from protection.
“These common-sense revisions ensure we are continuing to recover the northern spotted owl while being a good neighbor to rural communities within the critical habitat,” Aurelia Skipwith, the director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, said in a statement.
The decision by the agency to release such a huge amount of the habitat from protection has raised an uproar from wildlife conservation groups. According to Susan Jane Brown, an environmental lawyer at Western Environmental Law Center, conservationists are protesting the move and have vowed to sue the agency.
“I’ve gotten several calls from wildlife biologists who are in tears who said, ‘Did you know this is happening? The bird won’t survive this,’” Brown said.
Data provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service itself is contradictory to the move. Its own research shows that the northern spotted owls are on the decline, despite having a designated habitat. Although they have been protected since 1990, the owls have been declining at a rate of 4% per year.
Photography by Shane Jeffries / USFWS