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7 minutes reading time (1494 words)

Service Releases Draft Economic Analysis of Proposed Critical Habitat Designation For the Northern Spotted Owl

Service Releases Draft Economic Analysis of Proposed Critical Habitat Designation For the Northern Spotted Owl

May, 21, 2008.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today released a draft analysis of the economic effects of the proposed revised critical habitat for the threatened northern spotted owl. The analysis estimates the cost of the proposed revised designation at between $2.41 million and $3.78 million in current dollars over the next 20 years. The proposed revision would designate 5.3 million acres of federal land in Washington, Oregon and California as critical habitat for the owl as compared to its current critical habitat of 6.9 million acres.

Comments on the draft economic analysis and the proposed critical habitat revision will be accepted for 30 days and must be received by close of business June 20, 2008. Comments already submitted on the critical habitat proposal do not need to be resubmitted.

The draft analysis addresses economic impacts on government agencies, private businesses and individuals and finds that the costs would be borne entirely by federal agencies. It analyzes only the additional economic impacts associated with the proposed revised critical habitat designation and not those associated with listing of the species under the federal Endangered Species Act. The analysis quantifies costs associated with timber management, federal agencies’ required consultations with the Fish and Wildlife Service, northern spotted owl monitoring and management of competing barred owls.

The Forest Service is predicted to bear more than 60 percent of the total anticipated costs, the Fish and Wildlife Service about 30 percent, and the Bureau of Land Management about 10 percent.

The proposed revised critical habitat designation was based on the recommendations of the 2007 draft recovery plan for the northern spotted owl and used the owl conservation areas identified in that plan. The network of conservation areas is designed to support a stable number of breeding pairs of northern spotted owls over time. The conservation areas are distributed to allow for the effective movement of owls across the network. Additional revisions to the original critical habitat designation reflect information gathered through advanced mapping and modeling technologies, resulting in a more-precise definition of owl conservation areas, as well as changes in land-use allocations since the original critical habitat designation in 1992.

The northern spotted owl was federally listed as a threatened species in 1990 and critical habitat was designated in 1992. The species’ need for continued federal protection was confirmed by a scientific review in 2004.

The proposed revision to critical habitat was initiated in response to a lawsuit filed by the Western Council of Industrial Workers, the American Forest Resource Council, the Swanson Group and Rough and Ready Lumber Company.

Critical habitat identifies geographic areas that contain features essential for the conservation of a threatened or endangered species and that may require special management considerations. For the northern spotted owl, these features include particular forest types of sufficient area, quality and configuration to support the needs of territorial owl pairs throughout the year distributed across the species’ range, including habitat for nesting, roosting, foraging and dispersal. The designation of critical habitat does not affect land ownership or establish a refuge, wilderness, reserve, preserve or other conservation area. Under the Endangered Species Act, all federal agencies must ensure any action they authorize, fund, or carry out does not adversely modify designated critical habitat.

All comments on this proposal are welcome by June 20, and will be carefully considered by the Service in making its final decision on the proposed critical habitat revision.  The deadline for making a final decision had been June 1, 2008, but the Service is seeking an extension to the end of July.

Information and comments are being sought concerning the following:
     --The reasons any habitat should or should not be determined to be critical habitat as provided by section 4 of the Endangered Species Act, including whether the benefit of designation will outweigh any threats to the species due to designation;
     --Specific information on the amount and distribution of northern spotted owl habitat, as well as what features are essential to the conservation of the species and why;
     --Land use designations and current or planned activities in the subject areas and their possible impacts on proposed revised critical habitat;
     --Information on the extent to which any state and local protection measures referenced in the draft Economic Analysis (EA) may have been adopted largely as a result of the species’ listing;
     --Information on whether the draft EA identifies all state and local costs and benefits attributable to the proposed revised critical habitat designation, and information on any costs or benefits we may have overlooked;
     --Information on whether the draft EA makes appropriate assumptions regarding current practices and any regulatory changes likely if we designate revised critical habitat;
     --Information on whether the draft EA identifies all costs that could result from the revised designation;
     --Information on whether the draft EA correctly assesses the effect on regional costs associated with any land use controls that may result from the revised critical habitat designation;
     --The extent to which the description in the draft economic analysis of economic impacts to public land management and other activities is complete and accurate;
     --Information on areas that the revised critical habitat designation could potentially impact to a disproportionate degree;
     --Economic data on the incremental costs of designating any particular area as revised critical habitat;
     -- Information on any quantifiable economic or other potential benefits of the proposed revised designation of critical habitat. Factors that may be considered may include, but are not limited to, aesthetic considerations, recreational use, biodiversity, aquatic resources, intrinsic values and benefits to local communities;
     --Any foreseeable economic, national security or other relevant impacts resulting from the proposed revised designation and, in particular, any impacts on small entities and the benefit of including or excluding areas that exhibit these impacts. Other impacts in addition to economic effects that may be considered in the designation of critical habitat may include, but are not limited to, social factors, ecological factors, impacts on forest management, impacts on fire management, and impacts on local communities;
     --The potential impact, if any, of the proposed revised designation on the receipt of federal timber-based revenues by counties, including, but not limited to, counties receiving timber-based revenues under the O&C Lands Act of 1037. Such impacts may include, but are not limited to, effects to the stability of county programs due to fluctuating or uncertain timber revenues;
     --Any foreseeable economic or other type of potential benefit resulting from the proposed revised designation. Factors which may be considered under the potential benefits of critical habitat may include, but are not limited to, aesthetic considerations, recreational use, biodiversity, aquatic resources, intrinsic values and benefits to local communities;
     --After considering the potential impacts and benefits of the proposed revised critical habitat designation, whether the benefits of excluding any area from critical habitat outweigh the benefits of specifying such an area as critical habitat;
     --Whether our approach to designating critical habitat could be improved or modified in any way to provide for greater public participation and understanding or to assist us in accommodating public concerns and comments; and
     --Whether we could improve or modify our approach to designating critical habitat in any way to provide for greater public participation and understanding, or to better accommodate public concerns and comments.

In addition, the Final Recovery Plan for the northern spotted owl is now available and can be found on the following website: http://www.fws.gov/pacific/ecoservices/endangered/recovery/NSORecoveryPlanning.htm . The public is invited to use the Final Recovery Plan to inform their comments on the critical habitat proposal and the draft Economic Analysis. We also encourage the public to use any other relevant information that has become available since the last comment period, such as the Scientific Review of the Draft Northern Spotted Owl Recovery Plan prepared for the Service by Sustainable Ecosystems Institute, to inform their comments.

The Notice of Availability of the draft Economic Analysis is expected to be published in tomorrow’s Federal Register. The draft Economic Analysis and the proposed revised critical habitat are available for download from the Internet at http://www.fws.gov/pacific/ecoservices/nsopch.html or by contacting the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Office, 2600 SE 98th Ave., Suite 100, Portland, OR 97266 (503-231-6179).

Comments and materials concerning this proposal may be submitted by the following methods:
     Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov.  Follow the instructions for submitting comments. This method will be available beginning on the day of Federal Register publication. U.S. mail or hand-delivery: Public Comments Processing, Attn: RIN 1018-AU37;
     Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite 222; Arlington, VA 22203.

E-mail or faxes will not be accepted. We will not accept anonymous comments. All comments will be posted on http://www.regulations.gov including any personal information provided.

#####

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov

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