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Biden and the Spotted Owl


Northwestern timber interests remain bitter about the protection of the northern spotted owl. It’s all pretty ridiculous. Not only is there only tiny pockets of unprotected old growth timber left, but there aren’t even mills that can process trees of that size anymore, or not very many at least. The entire industry has moved fully into the forest plantation model, where trees are planted and cut at particular sizes that mills can easily process. But like with the decline of mining and fishing and the closing of industrial factories, it’s ultimately more of a cultural war than an economic one. Kill all the owls and cut down all the old growth and the rural Northwestern economy is exactly the same in 15 years as it is today, except without the trees that people will spend tourist dollars on.

Nonetheless, the completely bog standard industry hack appointees Trump made to environmental agencies moved to lessen protections on the northern spotted owl to open up old growth for cutting again. Luckily, we now have a president who wants the planet to survive. And so Biden is moving quickly to erase anything Trump tried to do to the northwestern forests.

The U.S. Interior Department is delaying and reviewing the Trump administration’s last-minute roll-back of federal protections for the imperiled northern spotted owl, which called for slashing protections from millions of acres of Northwest forests.

On Jan. 15, just days before leaving office, the Trump administration published a final rule revising Endangered Species Act protections for the northern spotted owl. The rule lifted critical-habitat protections for the bird from 3.4 million acres in Oregon, Washington and California. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s had proposed a far more modest revision, seeking to remove critical habitat status from a little over 200,000 acres in 15 counties in Oregon.

Earlier this month, Western Democrats led by Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley sent a letter to the Interior Department requesting an immediate federal review into the decision to slash millions of acres of the owls’ critical habitat. The letter also questioned whether the previous Interior Secretary David Bernhardt ignored scientific recommendations made by staff.

“David Bernhardt ended his corrupt and destructive tenure at Interior with this parting blow to science and the public interest, raising even more questions about scientific meddling by Trump political appointees,” Wyden said in an emailed statement. “I’m glad to see Biden’s Interior understands the urgency of stopping this dangerous rule from going into effect and is committed to science, not corporate interests.”

Wyden said he hopes other Trump administration rollbacks will be permanently reversed to protect the northern spotted owl and other threatened species.

On Monday, the Interior Department said it will be reviewing the changes and delaying the effective date of the rule from March 16 to April 15.

“Robust critical habitat protections are essential to ensuring the survival of the northern spotted owl. The Trump administration’s arbitrary and sweeping reduction of protected areas was conducted without public input or scientific basis. Interior is reviewing the Trump administration’s rollback of northern spotted owl critical habitat designations to adequately protect this threatened species and the habitat it needs for recovery,” U.S. Department of Interior spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

Those are pretty harsh words from the administration. There’s no way that an agency led by Deb Haaland is going to let this stand. And yet, there was absolutely nothing “Trumpy” about any of this. On 90% of policy, Trump was nothing more than a regular Republican, which is part of the reason why the party elites so quickly made their peace with him. He gave them everything they wanted. And this is why we have to grind the Republican Party into dust, defeating them election after election until they turn from their evil positions into something that doesn’t seek to destroy the planet for short-term profit.

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