“A Finer Paintbrush” for Spotted Owl Habitat

The Methow Valley District of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest is proposing to eliminate Late-Seral Reserves (LSRs), areas designated by President Clinton in the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan to protect old-growth habitat for federally-endangered northern spotted owls. Over 280 species depend on the large-diameter trees and standing dead trunks, known as snags, that exist in LSRs, where logging and firewood harvest are prohibited. Kent Woodruff, wildlife biologist for the Methow Valley District, thinks LSRs are outdated. He points to Goat Creek Watershed, a vast LSR where no spotted owl has ever been found. Here, one in every ten Douglas-firs stands dead due to tussock moths. Allowing locals to harvest firewood would reduce forest-fire risk and garner support without impacting the snag habitat required by species such as pine martens and northern goshawks. Federal LSR policy fails to recognize both the absence of owls and the abundance of snags. “We need to work now with a finer paintbrush,” says Woodruff. He envisions a dynamic forest plan in which habitat is preserved based on the presence of certain species. Climate change, fires, and invading barred owls are forcing spotted owls to change their habitat choices, and wildlife managers need flexibility to respond. Furthermore, nonsensical policy diminishes trust of local citizens who must now drive 30 miles to harvest firewood. The outdated LSRs, says Woodruff, “are ammunition for people to say we are mismanaging our forest.” Environmental groups, citing distrust of Forest Service accountability, oppose the Methow Valley District’s proposal to eliminate LSRs. Currently, the proposal is stalled at the Regional Office, and that’s where it’s likely to remain.