Green Diamond does it again! The company has gotten another sweetheart deal that allows them to clearcut with impunity, once again proving that the rules don’t apply to the big boys. Previously we reported on a deal struck with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife that would exempt the company from protections for the Humboldt marten. Today’s story is similar: the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has just released a draft Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) that would allow Green Diamond to clearcut more northern spotted owl habitat than otherwise permitted in exchange for a promise to shoot barred owls. We think this deal stinks. Here’s why:
Green Diamond is currently operating under an older HCP for owls, approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1992. Under that HCP, Green Diamond set up a series of 40 “reserves,” no-cut areas set aside for the benefit of the owl, totaling 13,243 acres and ranging from approximately 60 to 2,000 acres each. The set-asides were designed to be large enough to support multiple pairs of owls and were spread out across Green Diamond’s ownership.
Under the new HCP, the set-asides disappear in favor of a “dynamic” reserve system. Under the dynamic reserve system, the company will “protect” 44 owl nest sites, but just barely. The company will set aside 89 acres of forest around individual nest sites that are at minimum 46 years old and 233 total acres within .5 miles of the nest that are at least 31 years old.
You might think, “at least they have agreed to protect some habitat. Surely that’s better than nothing!” Sorry pal, you are mistaken. Absent the HCP, Green Diamond would presumably have to follow take avoidance guidance established by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for THPs in the redwood region. That take avoidance guidance would preserve 500 total acres of habitat within .7 miles of a nest site, including the 100 acres of the highest quality habitat near the nest site. In other words, we would preserve more habitat for owls if we did nothing and Green Diamond had to follow the law that everyone else is bound by.
A Habitat Conservation Plan is supposed to be what the name suggests: a plan to conserve habitat. Congress created these plans to incentivize landowners with protected species to manage their land to provide additional benefit to the species. In exchange, the landowner would be permitted to incidentally “take” (that is, kill, harm, harass, etc.) protected species. Here, there’s no habitat value added.
Why did the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agree to this? Green Diamond has agreed to kill barred owls on their property. Barred owls are a problem for our spotties and a limited experiment on Green Diamond land has shown that barred owl removal can help reestablish owl sites abandoned to barred owls. But is this deal enough? Under the worst case scenario, Green Diamond’s poor habitat retention would allow the number of owl sites to shrink from 196 sites to just 47.
The northern spotted owl is going extinct before our eyes. The rate of owl decline is increasing and in some areas, the owl has entered an “extinction vortex,” whereby owl declines reinforce processes that further hasten the owl’s decline, leading ultimately to its total extinction.
EPIC is on the case. We are drafting comments right now on the HCP and are mobilizing our legal and biological experts to help. This special treatment for Green Diamond has to end.