Leading environmental groups across Canada are condemning a temporary plan – that ends just after the 2010 Olympics – to address Canada’s critically endangered spotted owl population.
The controversial new plan by the British Columbia government allows logging of critical owl habitat and focuses on capturing and breeding owls instead of protecting the old forests the owls need to survive. The plan also ignores the recommendation of the government’s own spotted owl recovery team to protect enough habitat to recover the diminishing owl population to 125 pairs of birds. Under the plan, the B.C. government, through its Timber Sales Program, will continue as the largest logger of owl habitat.
“The B.C. government is choosing extinction of the spotted owl over recovery,” said Joe Foy, Campaign Director for the Western Canada Wilderness Committee. “Captive breeding without adequate habitat protection means young owls will be released into a landscape that can’t support them – and that is just bad science.”
In 2005, B.C. government biologists found only 6 pairs of owls, an 84 per cent decline in under a decade. Scientists believe that before industrial logging, 500 pairs of spotted owls lived in southwestern British Columbia, the only place in Canada they are found. The main threat to the declining spotted owl population is logging of its old-growth forest habitat, a circumstance that is jeopardizing B.C.’s forest dwelling species. For example, a recent paper in the scientific journal, Biodiversity, found that 17 other species in the range of the spotted owl were at risk of extinction.
The political sensitivity surrounding the spotted owl is high because the owls live within the geographic range of the 2010 Olympics, which British Columbia is hosting. If the bird were to become extinct in B.C. in 2010, as the government’s own recovery team predicted, it would be a high profile embarrassment for a provincial government that pledged the Games would be environmentally friendly.
“This is an obvious move to fool the public and the international community, considering the B.C. government’s plan ends right after the Olympics,” said Devon Page, Sierra Legal Defence Fund Staff lawyer. “This is about managing for extinction not saving the spotted owl. If the B.C. government truly intended to save the owl, it would protect enough habitat for recovery of the species.”
Environmental groups were prepared to support a recovery plan that included captive breeding only if it was complemented with adequate habitat protection and an endangered species law that protects the spotted owl and the other 1,364 species that are at risk in B.C. Although British Columbia has the most biodiversity in all of Canada, it is one of only two provinces in Canada without stand-alone endangered species legislation.