Friends of Owl Say Agency Can't See Forest for Lumber

From United Press International

A congressional report to be released today questioned the scientific objectivity of a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision not to classify the northern spotted owl as an endangered species.

The environmental group GreenWorld had asked the agency to so designate the northern spotted owl, which lives primarily in mature forests of Northern California, Oregon and Washington state.

Environmentalists said the owl is rare and should be protected by law, but the agency decided in December, 1987, against such action. Environmental groups filed suit and a U.S. District Court in Seattle ruled that the agency had no scientific basis for its decision and gave it until May 1, 1989, to present additional evidence to justify its position.

Rep. Gerry Studds (D-Mass.), chairman of the House subcommittee on fisheries, wildlife conservation and the environment, asked the General Accounting Office to review the Fish and Wildlife decision.

U.S. Forest Service data showed that if the northern spotted owl were classified as endangered, up to 2.6 million acres of forest--representing 27% of national forest lands in the Northwest suitable for timber-cutting--could be off limits to loggers.

By law, the service is required to make decisions "solely on the basis of the best scientific and commercial data available," but Studds said the GAO found political, not scientific, grounds for the service's conclusion.

The GAO reported finding ". . . several factors that raise questions about (the Fish and Wildlife Service's) thoroughness and objectivity in considering the petition to designate the spotted owl an endangered species."

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