The Biden administration is proposing to restore protections for millions of forests home to the northern spotted owl in the Pacific Northwest, the latest reversal of environmental protections undone by the Trump administration.
In a Federal Register notice Tuesday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined there was “insufficient rationale and justification” behind the Trump-era removal of protections. The affected 3.4 million acres stretched across nearly 45 counties in Oregon, Washington and Northern California.
The agency said it would instead curtail protections on about 200,000 acres in Oregon, following up on a 2020 proposal.
The environmental group Oregon Wild said that while the reversal was necessary, it was shy of the action needed to protect the species.
“We’re not going to get any new critical habitat out of this,” Steve Pedery, the group’s conservation director, told The Washington Post. “This is great, it absolutely needs to happen, but it’s not, in and of itself, going to recover spotted owls or protect salmon.”
Meanwhile, the timber industry has argued expanding protected forests prevents controlled forest management, which is often used as preventative measure against forest fires, the number one threat to the owl.
"We strongly support the Biden administration's move, but it is important to recognize this is still going to result in the loss of hundreds of thousands of acres of mature and old-growth forest habitat on public lands," Steve Pedery, the group’s conservation director, told The Hill. "It's like worrying that your bank account was overdrawn by $3.4 million, then being happy it is only $200,000."
"If the administration is going to meet its climate goals, and protect rare species like the owl, it needs to go much further in protecting ancient forests on public lands," he added. "A good start would be a moratorium on logging mature and old-growth in the temperate rainforests of the Pacific Northwest. They have already taken this step in the Tongass, but they need to think more broadly."
The announcement comes days after the administration announced it would both restore and expand protections for Tongass National Forest in Alaska, halting large-scale sales of wood harvested from the forest’s old-growth trees.
“This approach will help us chart the path to long-term economic opportunities that are sustainable and reflect Southeast Alaska’s rich cultural heritage and magnificent natural resources,” Agriculture Tom VilsackTom VilsackUSDA: Farm-to-school programs help schools serve healthier meals OVERNIGHT MONEY: House poised to pass debt-ceiling bill MORE said in a statement last week. Environmentalists had long warned the forest was a major so-called carbon sink and that increased logging there could have drastic implications for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Updated at 4:23 p.m.