Biden Administration Ignores Science on Critical Habitat for Northern Spotted Owl

WASHINGTON, D.C.- Chairman Dan Newhouse (WA-04), Vice Chair Bruce Westerman (AR-04), and Rep. Cliff Bentz (OR-02) released the following statements after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) issued a proposed rule to withdraw a 2021 Trump Administration rule that would have excluded 3.4 million acres of critical habitat for the northern spotted owl:

"The mismanagement of the northern spotted owl has wreaked havoc on the Pacific Northwest," said Chairman Newhouse. "While our communities, forests, and local economies have suffered, so has recovery of the species. The Biden Administration’s decision to reject sound science will continue to impact our rural communities, directly contribute to increased threats of wildfires, and do nothing to improve the population or the habitat of the spotted owl. We will continue working in Congress to improve the Endangered Species Act, so – instead of allowing litigious environmentalists to dictate our land management policies – we can take meaningful actions to successfully recover endangered and threatened species."

"Yet again, this administration is backing an anti-science proposal that will only make the problem worse," said Vice Chair Westerman, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Natural Resources. "The Fish and Wildlife Service has already proven that declining spotted owl populations are a result of barred owl competition and the loss of habitat due to wildfires, not because of sustainable timber harvesting. In fact, a single year of wildfires destroyed more acres of spotted owl habitat in one national forest than seven years of timber harvests in 17 national forests. But what is this administration proposing? Spending taxpayer dollars on locking up more land and ignoring habitat rather than controlling barred owls and implementing sound forest management, contrary to the Fish and Wildlife Service's own findings and recovery plan. Not only does this go against the scientific advice of local stakeholders, communities, tribes and many others on the ground in Oregon, but it also will make it more difficult for the northern spotted owl to actually recover. I strongly urge the administration to reconsider this decision."

"I am extremely disappointed by the FWS decision," said Rep. Bentz. "In Oregon, the 2020 fire season alone destroyed more owl habitat in one national forest than the previous seven years of timber harvests on 17 national forests! These tragedies show that the Obama-era approach of locking up lands for ‘conservation’ is killing the owl, not to mention uprooting the lives of many Oregonians who have lost their homes, businesses, crops, and livestock to preventable fires. With the Bootleg fire and others ravaging Oregon, it is clear that the destruction will continue until the Biden Administration recognizes that their misguided and politically motivated ‘management’ actions are killing our forests and the multitude of creatures within them. I know that the worst is yet to come, and I pray that the Biden Administration will see the urgency of this situation and reject the political posturing that is putting our forests, my constituents’ lives, and tens of millions of dollars of property at greater risk."

In June, Chairman Newhouse and Rep. Bentz hosted a virtual forum to highlight the mismanagement of the northern spotted owl in the Pacific Northwest and its impacts on local communities, economies, and forests. Click here to learn more and watch the forum.


The northern spotted owl was listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), which included a designation of 6.8 million acres as critical habitat for the species. In 2012, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) designated 9.5 million additional acres as critical habitat, including millions of acres of federal land that are not critical habitat for the owl.

The Trump Administration finalized a rule revising the the designation of critical habitat, excluding 3.5 million acres in Washington, Oregon, and California and maintaining 6.8 million acres of critical habitat on federal land in line with the best available science.

Earlier this year, the Biden FWS announced the delay of the implementation of this revised rule with the intent to revise or withdraw the policy. Rep. Bentz (OR-02) led a letter urging the Administration to immediately implement the revised rule in order to adhere to the intent of the ESA, lessen the negative impacts on rural communities, and improve recovery of the species.

Read more about Rep. Bentz’s leadership in the Medford Mail Tribune.

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