June 1990: FWS Officially Lists Spotted Owl as Threatened

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) officially listed the northern spotted owl as threatened under the ESA on June 23, 1990, but delayed ordering any specific management plan because of the immediate impacts that the ruling might have on the timber industry. The federal land management agencies started developing spotted owl management plans, and a number of bills were introduced to Congress on how to manage the forests. The FWS decided that logging could continue on federal lands until a long-term plan was adopted -- despite the knowledge that many owls would die from the logging and habitat loss. Environmentalists argued that the decision to maintain the status quo simply ignored the ESA and failed to implement required protections for the owl.

Because of the listing there was a lot of debate over the ESA in Congress. The law was severely criticized by the timber industry, which began to look to the Endangered Species Committee (nicknamed the "God Squad") for a special ruling that would modify federal protection for economic reasons, as in the 1979 whooping crane case. The Secretary of Agriculture created a task force to find a way to protect the spotted owl without crippling the Northwest’s timber industry. This group proposed to reduce logging by 20%, a level that the logging industry estimated would result in a loss of 14,000 jobs. Unfortunately, in a move that undermined public trust in agency motives, this meeting was held behind closed doors with no public input.

The ESA listing of the spotted owl also signaled mill owners that they must look to other solutions to save their industry. They proposed a ban on raw log exports to help keep U.S. mills running, but Japan strongly opposed the idea and it came only briefly into the spotlight.


Northern Spotted Owl news clippings 1990 (all months)