A Draft Habitat Conservation Plan (DHCP) for California timber giant Sierra Pacific Industries (SPI) has been released with a companion Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for public comment with a comment deadline of July 1.
The Draft SPI HCP would authorize the company to “take” federally-listed Northern Spotted Owl, and federal candidate for listing, the California Spotted Owl, a genetic and geographic near relative of the Northern Spotted Owl, in conjunction with its timber harvest and related activities on its California timberlands.
The DHCP proposed by SPI looks very much like the HCP for Northern Spotted Owl put forth by Fruit Growers Supply Company that was eventually nullified upon legal challenge in federal court.
Like Fruit Growers, SPI timberlands are located in the checkerboard matrix lands where alternate square ownership parcels are owned by SPI, mixed with other ownerships, most notably, the United States Forest Service. Like the Fruit Growers HCP, SPI appears to be creating habitat retention and support areas for Northern Spotted Owl that incorporate adjacent Forest Service lands and rely upon assumptions of adjacent Forest Service lands management and conservation when devising SPI protected areas and calculating SPI’s proposed Incidental Take and mitigation obligations to satisfy criteria for allowance of Incidental Take contained in the Endangered Species Act.
The SPI DHCP would cover SPI for Incidental Take of both NSO and CSO over nearly two-million acres of timberland in California most of which is intermixed with public lands. SPI is offering the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service the carrot of a long-term collection, removal, and study program for barred owls (Strix varina) a non-native direct competitor for NSO and likely also CSO, whose range continues to expand southward and into California forests occupied historically by both species of spotted owl.
However, it is highly speculative and rather unlikely that SPI can or will actually be able to attain the permits necessary under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) or the California Fish and Game Code to allow SPI to “take” barred owls for experimental and collection purposes, at least for the duration contemplated in the DHCP, which is 50-years.
The SPI DHCP also contains many of SPI’s oldest and best tricks aimed at either confusing, misrepresenting or outright withholding critical information and analysis behind its proposed plans and their anticipated impacts to NSO and CSO.
EPIC joined with conservation allies, many of whom were involved in the Fruit Growers Supply Company HCP and legal challenge, to submit extensive and critical comments of SPI’s DHCP and the companion DEIS put forth by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in advance of the July 1 comment deadline. The comments as submitted can be read here. 
Stay tuned for updates on the SPI HCP and EIS through the rest of 2019 and beyond as we wait for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to consider and address our comments.