Feds urged to step in to stop B.C. logging in refuge of last breeding pair of spotted owls

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

CBC

The Government of Canada says spotted owls in Canada are "highly vulnerable to extinction." (Ecojustice)
The Government of Canada says spotted owls in Canada are "highly vulnerable to extinction." (Ecojustice)

'It knows this is the last breeding pair and yet it continues to authorize logging,' says Ecojustice lawyer

Only three spotted owls are known to still live in the wild in B.C.

Despite this, conservationists say the province continues to log part of a southwestern B.C. watershed that's home to the last breeding pair, and a third solitary owl.

Ecojustice and the Wilderness Committee are demanding that the federal government take immediate emergency action to stop the logging in the Spuzzum Creek Watershed, about 50 kilometres north of Hope, B.C.

The two groups are calling on Ottawa to put an emergency order in place under the Species at Risk Act.

A mature northern spotted owl. Environmentalists say its habitat — old growth forests — needs better protection from logging in order for the species to recover. (Ecojustice)
A mature northern spotted owl. Environmentalists say its habitat — old growth forests — needs better protection from logging in order for the species to recover. (Ecojustice)

It's not clear exactly where the owls nest, as that information is protected, but conservationists say noisy logging trucks are active this week in the areas ideal for owls to nest or forage.

Wilderness Committee protected areas campaigner Joe Foy said that rare old-growth forests — the ideal habitat for spotted owls — are being logged in this area.

"The big trees are being dragged out and loaded onto trucks right now," Foy said in a news release.

Biologists say that spotted owls once thrived, nesting in trees that were up to 250 years old, numbering an estimated 1,000 before colonization and deforestation.

A Langley breeding facility has successfully reared owls and taken the last three chicks from the breeding pair near Spuzzum in the past two seasons to try to save the species.

But conservationists do not believe any of these owls have been successfully re-introduced to the wild.

"It doesn't take a scientist to recognize that cage-bred owls don't constitute a thriving population," Ecojustice lawyer Keegan Pepper-Smith told CBC on Tuesday.

He estimates there are about two dozen owls living at the Langley centre. But he fears the last remaining habitat the owls need to re-establish outside of captivity is under immediate threat.

In a letter on Tuesday, the conservationists called on Jonathan Wilkinson, the Federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change to take action, as they said they had lost faith in the province to protect the owls.

Pepper-Smith says B.C. Timber Sales, the province's agency, is currently logging the Spuzzum watershed area.

"The audacity of the B.C. government is truly shocking. It knows this is the last breeding pair and yet it continues to authorize logging throughout their habitat," said Pepper-Smith.

A logging road in the same watershed near Spuzzum Creek where a breeding pair of spotted owls are known to nest. (Joe Foy/Wilderness Committee)
A logging road in the same watershed near Spuzzum Creek where a breeding pair of spotted owls are known to nest. (Joe Foy/Wilderness Committee)

Moira Kelly, a spokesperson for the Canadian environment minister said the federal government is reviewing the request for an emergency protection order.

Provincially Tyler Hooper, a spokesperson for the Forests Ministry, said the ministry could not comment during an election, except to provide information on health and public safety or on "statutory requirements."

 

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An adult northern spotted owl photographed outside the Spuzzum Valley. The species has been considered functionally extinct in B.C. although environmental organizations recently learned about the existence of a breeding pair in a B.C. valley currently being logged. Photo: Jared Hobbs
An adult northern spotted owl photographed outside the Spuzzum Valley. The species has been considered functionally extinct in B.C. although environmental organizations recently learned about the existence of a breeding pair in a B.C. valley currently being logged. Photo: Jared Hobbs