As a Global Forest and Paper Summit heads into its second day, the provincial government is being accused of putting forest industry profits ahead of endangered species by keeping the latest information about the decline of the spotted owl secret. Sierra Legal Defence Fund and the Wilderness Committee are demanding the findings be handed over now.
Each spring the Ministry of Water, Land, and Air Protection provides spotted owl population data from the previous year’s monitoring. But the 2004 numbers have been withheld. Documents obtained by Sierra Legal under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act show the government gave the logging industry over $200,000 to do owl surveys in a bid to find more owls. Conservationists believe this move was designed to refute government data indicating a dramatic population decline. The Wilderness Committee (WCWC) and Sierra Legal believe the logging industry didn’t find any owls and that is why the information has not been made public.
“Documents we obtained show that the government is paying the logging industry to discredit its own research which shows a serious decline in the owl population,” said Sierra Legal staff lawyer Devon Page. “Why is the government withholding the data? Because it is embarrassing and because the forest industry wants to continue logging owl habitat.”
Just over a month ago, WCWC and Sierra Legal released startling video footage from BC’s forests showing heavy logging within a kilometre from Canada’s most successful spotted owl breeding pair of spotted owls. Sierra Legal and the Wilderness Committee believe that only 8 breeding pairs remain in BC, making it one of Canada’s most endangered species, and are asking forest industry leaders to address the issue at their current summit.
“The global forest summit is a three-day event, and although the agenda briefly brings up sustainability and a green building initiative, there’s no mention of endangered species,” said WCWC Endangered Species Coordinator Gwen Barlee. “The name of this year’s conference – Delivering the Bottom Line – says it all. We are calling on industry and government to work with us to save the spotted owl before it’s too late.”
The forestry summit takes place in downtown’s Westin Bayshore Resort & Marina hotel, wrapping up on Friday evening. Over 500 forestry executives, as well as Industry Minister David Emerson and Premier Gordon Campbell, are attending. Sierra Legal Defence Fund and the Wilderness Committee are completing a comprehensive report on BC’s spotted owls to be released shortly.