Once an abundant and prosperous species, the Northern Spotted Owl has been in decline since at least the 1970’s and 80’s, primarily resulting from the logging of its old growth and mature forest habitat on both public and private lands. The Northern Spotted Owl was listed as a “threatened” species under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) in June of 1990, thus becoming the poster-child for the ongoing timber wars in the Pacific Northwest.
In May 1991, Federal Judge William Dwyer ruled in favor of environmentalists who challenged the adequacy of the U.S. Forest Service’s 1986 Forest Management Plan, enjoining 75 percent of the proposed timber sales on public lands in spotted owl critical habitat, and ultimately leading to the development of the Northwest Forest Plan. While the Northwest Forest Plan has somewhat curtailed logging of suitable owl habitat on public lands, habitat loss on these lands is still ongoing, while habitat loss for the owl on private lands continues virtually unabated to the present day.
When the Northern Spotted Owl became a federally-listed species, the State of California’s Board of Forestry and Fire Protection (Board of Forestry) scrambled to enact Forest Practice Rules that would avoid “take” of the owl as defined under the federal Act on private forestlands in the state. In the beginning, the implementation and enforcement of the Forest Practice Rules by CAL FIRE was augmented by consultation with the then-California Department of Fish and Game (now the California Department of Fish and Wildlife). In 1999, CAL FIRE requested that the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) provide “technical assistance” to the Department and private landowners to ensure that implementation of the Forest Practice Rules would not result in “take”