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Feds Double Protected Habitat for Spotted Owl Despite Concerns of Job Losses

And even with the years-long battle over the habitat between environmentalists and loggers, the spotted owl faces a threat from their own kind instead of humankind.

Some spotted owl conservation plans, including a proposal earlier this year from Fish & Wildlife, have called for killing or removing the larger, hardier, more aggressive barred owls that have migrated from the East Coast to encroach on the spotted owls' territory and have been witnessed interbreeding or killing the little spotted birds, as well as taking their food and destroying nests.

Environmental groups cried foul, though, and accused land managers of using the barred owl as a scapegoat.

Conservation groups also said they were disappointed that the all private and most state lands were excluded from yesterday's rule.

Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said the land designation "marks the end of a dark chapter in the Endangered Species Act’s implementation when politics were allowed to blot out science."

“It is, however, deeply disappointing that the Obama administration has elected to exclude all private and most state lands, which are absolutely essential to the recovery of the spotted owl and dozens of other wildlife species," Greenwald said.

“The evidence is overwhelming that redwood forests are essential to the conservation of the species. Leaving them out of the final rule is a big mistake,” said Andrew Orahoske, conservation director for the Environmental Protection Information Center.

Conservation groups also remain concerned about statements in the proposed critical habitat rule calling for “active management” of spotted owl critical habitat, including logging.

“The owl needs these areas of protected habitat to survive,” said Steve Holmer, senior policy advisor for American Bird Conservancy. “We remain concerned, however, that Fish and Wildlife may allow increased logging in critical habitat, which could also imperil the threatened marbled murrelet, and help the spotted owl’s competitor, the barred owl.”

As both sides panned the decision as not going far enough to protect either the owl or the jobs, conservationists are far more likely to have greater pull with the administration in the end. Defenders of Wildlife, for one, hailed Obama's re-election as a win for environmentalists, then laid on the pressure.

"The president should reaffirm his past promise to let science guide natural resource policy in his administration. Important conservation policy decisions need to be grounded in and guided by sound science and not be driven by what is politically expedient," said the group's president, Jamie Rappaport Clark, earlier this month. "That should be something we all agree upon."

Hastings, though, is holding out for a deal that all sides truly agree on.

"We need a solution based on sound science that will allow for active management to improve forest health, increase economic opportunity and jobs for our rural communities and schools, while  also addressing the Barred Owl and protecting the Northern Spotted Owl from catastrophic wildfire," he said.