Protecting the few remaining owls

last updated September 18, 2023

2 baby northern spotted owlets in CA. Photo by Carlos Porrata

We filed a new lawsuit to stop a Forest Service logging project that will harm a successful breeding pair of the imperiled northern spotted owl. Photo by Carlos Porrata.

New lawsuit challenges logging project in fragile owl habitat

New case filed! On behalf of three environmental and forest defense organizations, Crag filed a new lawsuit challenging a Northern California logging project that will harm one of the few successful breeding pairs of the northern spotted owl left in the Shasta Trinity National Forest.  

What’s at stake

The northern spotted owl is on a path to extinction. After losing 88% of its habitat from logging, development, and other factors, the northern spotted owl was listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act in 1990. Unfortunately, owl numbers continue to decline at an alarming rate. Current estimates peg the entire rangewide population (from California to British Columbia) at less than 3,000 individuals. Therefore, preserving the remaining successful breeding pairs is critical to their survival.

In October 2022, the Forest Service announced a plan to commercially log over 2,000 acres in the Shasta Trinity National Forest, 99% of which is in an area designated for northern spotted owl habitat (called the Chanchelulla Late-Successional Reserve). Northern Spotted owls need big trees to perch on, snags (dead trees) to nest and roost in, and wood on the ground to forage in. The Forest Service plans to commercially log this area and cut down large trees, remove snags, perch, and roost sites, and take away wood on the ground where northern spotted owl’s prey lives.

 The Forest Service’s logging plan will bring heavy commercial logging trucks to remove living trees, snags, and downed wood that northern spotted owls need to shelter, hunt, and roost. Photo by Klamath Forest Alliance.

The lay of the land

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires agencies to prepare Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) and Environmental Assessments (EA) for any projects or activities that may pose significant environmental effects.

The Forest Service, however, is skipping the step of preparing an EIS or EA here by claiming this logging project (called the McFarland project) falls into one of the exceptions to the law-so they don’t need an EIS or EA.

How? The Forest Service is billing the McFarland logging project as a “wildlife habitat improvement” project, and claiming that its effects do not require detailed analysis.

But here is the huge problem with the Forest Service’s reasoning: The expert wildlife agency, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, reviewed the McFarland project and found that it would harm one of the few successful breeding pairs of northern spotted owl in the area and their offspring, and damage their habitat by removing places they can shelter and hunt in. 

There are estimated to be less than 3,000 owls across the species entire range, from California to British Columbia, and their numbers continue to decline at an accelerating and alarming rate. Photo by Matt Nichols, USFS.

Our case

To protect these owls and hold the Forest Service accountable, we are taking the Forest Service to court! Imagine if a federal agency demanded to remodel YOUR bedroom–for the next 5 years. No one would accept such a disruption. A federal agency tasked with responsibly managing our public lands shouldn’t be allowed to harm a threatened species in this manner, either.

The Forest Service needs to go back to the drawing board and devise a new plan that stays out of the owl’s core habitat.

Our Clients

Crag proudly represents Safe Alternatives for our Forest Environment, Conservation Congress, and Klamath Forest Alliance. 

  • Safe Alternatives for our Forest Environment is a non-profit conservation organization based in Trinity County, California that advocates for and informs the public about environmentally sound forest management. 
  • Conservation Congress is a non-profit organization based in California dedicated to maintaining, protecting, and restoring the native ecosystems of northern California
  • Klamath Forest Alliance is a non-profit conservation organization based in Arcata, California whose goal is protecting and restoring the biodiversity, fisheries, wildlife, mature forests, and public lands of the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountain region.

Together, our clients ask the court to vacate (void) the approval for this Forest Service logging project and direct the Forest Service to prepare an EIS or EA containing full and fair analyses of the Project’s environmental impacts. 

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