Changes to the Northern Spotted Owl Critical Habitat  designation on federal lands are on the horizon – a process that county supervisor Michael Kobseff said “will probably be a bumpy ride.”

US Fish and Wildlife Service personnel made a presentation to the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors at its regular meeting Tuesday regarding the proposed CH designation revision.

USFWS Field Supervisor Erin Williams explained that the USFWS is under an order from the US Tenth Circuit Court to revise the CH designation by November 2012.

“This is only being proposed for federal lands,”?USFWS Forest Resources Branch Chief Brian Woodbridge said at the meeting. “No private lands are being considered.”

Woodbridge’s comments were met with relief from meeting attendees, some of whom were under the impression that the USFWS’s proposal included stricter regulations on private lands.

Woodbridge stated during a follow-up interview that roads through federal forests would not be impacted by the revision, nor would the revision impede public access, recreation or firefighting capabilities on those lands.

“The only difference between CH designated areas and non-CH designated federal forest land is long-term planning of projects,” Woodbridge said.

This is due to the tighter restrictions on CH designated land.  

Currently, over five million acres throughout Northern California, Oregon and Washington are designated CH for the spotted owl, which has been protected under the Endangered Species Act since 1990.

According to information obtained from the USFWS website, 1.2 million acres in California are designated as CH, and 219,300 of those acres are in the western Klamath and Siskiyou mountains. Woodbridge told the Daily News that he is unsure of the exact number of acres in Siskiyou County designated as CH.

Woodbridge said that although the revision will modify the CH locations, the number of acres affected by the revision will not rise.

Siskiyou County Natural Resource Policy Specialist Ric Costales said the revision could affect federal government matrix lands, which are loosely regulated to allow for timber harvest.

“Mills rely heavily on matrix land for federal timber supply,” Costales said.

Siskiyou County Counsel Thomas Guarino said that although Woodbridge stated that roads would not be impacted by the revision, the timber industry could face stricter regulations if logging trucks must travel through newly designated CH areas.

Revision process
Williams explained the process by which the USFWS will move forward with the revision. The steps are as follows:

• Scientific data will be gathered and used to determine modification of the current CH based on owl habitat need. A draft of the proposed CH changes is anticipated to be complete in January.
• The draft will be subject to a 90-day public comment period.
• During those 90 days, Williams said that a peer review of the draft – conducted by a panel of biologists – will be completed.
• A firm will be awarded a contract to complete a Draft Economic Analysis (DEA), which will examine the social and economic impacts of the proposed CH designation revision. The DEA will help the USFWS determine whether the proposed changes pose a threat to private industry. Some of the proposed CH changes may qualify for exclusion from the final designation on the basis of serious economic impact.
• The DEA will be made available to the public, and it will be subject to a 60-day review period beginning in April 2012.
• Following that review period, USFWS will conduct an analysis of potential CH designation exclusions and refine the designated acreage on maps.
• The USFWS’s goal is for the CH revision to be finalized by Nov. 15, 2012, which is the court deadline.
• Williams said that USFWS is anticipating that it will hold at least one workshop in Northern California to answer the public’s questions regarding the CH designation changes.

Questions/comments
All the supervisors agreed that one public workshop in Northern California is not enough to engage the citizens in this matter.

“One meeting is not enough. There should be a minimum of three,” Supervisor Ed Valenzuela said.

District 1 Supervisor Jim Cook said that he has concerns regarding the peer review of the CH designation revision draft, and he stressed the importance of including biologists  who have owl expertise in the review panel.

“Your modeling has been incredibly flawed in the past,” Cook said regarding the original CH designation process in 1992. “I don’t have much faith that you are going to have biologists looking at this.”

Williams responded that the USFWS is coordinating with various other federal agencies for the CH designation revision.
“We have excellent scientists working on this,” she said.

District 5 Supervisor Marcia Armstrong commented, “We have people with economic interests in this county. When we have an agency come in with their interests, we have to temper that with the local needs. We have a concern. We have a lot of foresters in Siskiyou County.”

District 4 Supervisor Grace Bennett commented, “We are very conscious of not being able to use forest resources and what that is doing to this county.”

“We could be economically dependent if we were able to use our forest resources responsibly,” commented Kobseff. “This is another avenue to shut down more land.”

Cook asked Woodbridge if the spotted owl population has risen since being added to the endangered species list.
“We do not have extensive survey coverage of Siskiyou County,” Woodbridge replied. “I wouldn’t be able to answer that question.”

Coordination meeting
At the close of the question-and-answer period, the board of supervisors voted to schedule a coordination meeting with USFWS staff.

The board also voted to organize an advisory group to study the CH designation revision plan.