Western Members Of Congress Call For Investigation Into Slashed Spotted Owl Protections By Interior

A northern spotted owl. CREDIT: Todd Sonflieth/OPB
A northern spotted owl. CREDIT: Todd Sonflieth/OPB

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Western Democrats in Congress want a federal investigation into the Trump administration’s decision to remove northern spotted owl protections across vast stretches of Northwest forestland.

Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Sen. Jeff Merkley and U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer joined with colleagues from Washington, California and Arizona Tuesday in sending a letter to the U.S. Department of Interior. In it, they requested an immediate federal review into the previous administration’s decision to remove 3.4 million acres of the Northern spotted owl’s critical habitat in Oregon, Washington and California.

The letter states the decision was a far cry from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposal in August to reduce the owl’s critical habitat by 200,000 acres. The lawmakers want an immediate review of the decision to determine whether then-Secretary of Interior David Bernhardt ignored scientific recommendations made by staff.

“In less than two brief years under David Bernhardt’s leadership, the Department has been mired in one ethical scandal after another. Bernhardt and his loyalists have demonstrated a willingness to insert themselves into the scientific process in order to achieve preferred policy outcomes, withhold information from the public, and even mislead Congress,” the lawmakers wrote.

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The lawmakers stated the decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service appears to fit a larger pattern of wrongdoing by the former administration’s political leadership.

Before slashing the species’ critical habitat, the Trump administration ruled against upgrading the northern spotted owl’s Endangered Species Act protection from threatened to endangered late last year. According to the agency, the species warranted that change, but other species on the list had a higher priority. The decision was based on a scientific report that was peer-reviewed by academic and industry experts.

“Federal agencies cannot be in the business of thrusting special-interest politics into decisions that should be based on science,” Wyden said in an emailed statement. “Given the Trump administration’s long and sorry record at the Interior Department, I’m confident the Biden administration will review this last-minute decision by its ethically challenged predecessors and determine if scientific recommendations were followed in this instance.”

Other lawmakers that joined Wyden in the request are U.S. Sens Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., Patty Murray, D-Wash., and U.S. Reps. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., and Jared Huffman, D-Calif.

The Fish and Wildlife Service did not respond to a request for comment.

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit opb.org

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A northern spotted owl. CREDIT: Todd Sonflieth/OPB

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