1988: Newspaper Articles and Events
In February, a group of environmental organizations filed a public notice that they would sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) if the spotted owl was not listed as endangered or threatened by the end of a 60-day period. When at the end of this period the spotted owl still had not been listed, the group went forward with their lawsuit. They claimed that the process that the FWS used to consider the owl for federal listing was flawed, and the decision not to list the owl in December of 1987 was improper. They accused the FWS of using economic and political considerations, when by law only biological data can be allowed.
The FWS officials had in fact acknowledged that economics and politics played a role in their decision not to list the owl. The environmental groups said that if this were true, then the decision was illegal. The groups also sought to establish a precedent for future cases that might involve similar issues. It was also unclear if the environmentalists had legal standing and were allowed by law to challenge the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM's) actions. The case was initially thrown out by a trial court for this reason, and was then brought to appeals court in July. The judge planned to make a decision later the same year.
Meanwhile, about 1000 acres of spotted owl habitat were being lost every day to logging. In May, a court ruling temporarily prevented the BLM from offering any western Oregon timber sales that included old-growth trees. The timber industry continued to argue that thousands of jobs would be lost from measures like this temporary ban and the proposed management plans.
In August, a controversy arose over Forest Service Chief Dale Robertson when he changed the management plan that was supposed to be implemented by adding to the amount of old growth forests to be protected for spotted owl habitat. Yet some accused him of truly being on the side of the loggers, claiming he had said that the owls really were not in danger of extinction, and he was still not providing enough protection for the spotted owls. Also in August, the Forest Service, FWS, BLM and the National Park Service agreed to coordinate research and management information. Many praised their efforts, but predicted it would not actually save any owls until the required forestland was preserved from logging.
In November, the judge came forth with his decision on the spotted owl suit. He ruled that the FWS’s decision in December 1987 not to list the owl under the ESA was arbitrary, and noted that the agency neglected expert opinion stating that the spotted owl faced extinction. The FWS countered that they did not have enough information to prove that the owl was threatened or endangered. But the judge ruled that this was not sufficient to explain why the owl should be listed or not listed. The judge gave the FWS 90 days to explain its decision of the previous December and the FWS then asked for an additional 60 days to do another analysis of the situation, based on new data.
In December, the Forest Service officially stated that the new management plan would be Alternative F, and states affected should begin to implement this new plan immediately.
Another complicating factor in the spotted owl debate came when The Wilderness Society released results from a study showing that the Forest Service had overestimated the remaining acreage of old growth forest in Oregon and Washington by 100%. The study showed only 1.14 million acres actually existed, instead of the agency's accounting of 2.54 million. The Forest Service contended the discrepancy was due to differences in the definition of what constituted “old growth," such as how wide the trunks of the trees should be, how tall, and what species.
Below are some newspaper articles describing several of the events taking place in 1988:
Date: 2/23/88 “Owl Backers File Notice of Suit” From: The Oregonian, OR.
Date: 5/6/88 “Spotted Owl Seeks Spot on Endangered List” From: The Oregonian, OR.
Date: 7/19/88 “Judges Hear Spotted Owl Arguments” From: Medford Mail Tribune, OR
Date: 8/2/88 “Revamped Forest Plan Adds Acres to Owl Protection” From: The Oregonian, OR.
Date: 12/9/88 “Forest Service to Protect Spotted Owl Habitats.”
Date: 12/11/88 “Owl Advocates React to Hatfield” From: Register-Guard, OR.
Date: 12/14/88 “Forest Service has Overestimated Amount of Old Growth” From: Newstab, OR.
*Please contact the Forest History Society collections staff if you would like copies of these or other articles*
Northern Spotted Owl News clippings 1986 - 1989