Killing Spotted Owls with Chainsaws: Covert Clearcuts Found Near Hope, BC

In the race against time to prevent the Canadian population of spotted owls from going extinct, biologist Andy Miller reports that this is one of the strangest things he's seen. "Why would a logging company purposefully fall trees in an area with a documented nest of one of Canada's most endangered species?"

The government of British Columbia is still handing out licenses to log habitat for the last remaining Northern Spotted Owls in Canada. This summer, Cattermole Timber and other small logging operations are rushing in to clearcut where Big Timber fears to tread, targeting remnants of old-growth spotted owl habitat in southern BC.

Currently, fewer than two dozen birds survive in BC's fragmented landscape, and only two nests have been documented this year. This week, biologists found an active logging operation in one of the nest sites.

Thanks to the provincial small business logging program, experts predict Canada's spotted owl population will be extinct in five years or less. Observers now say there may be no new chicks hatched next year or anytime in the future.

While logging continues in the old-growth forest, the province has announced a new "recovery" plan that relies on unscientific experiments rather than habitat protection. Spotted owls have never bred in captivity, but BC proposes to capture owls from the wild and attempt to get them to mate in a cage. This plan is likely to fail, just as a similar owl capture program failed three years ago.

In 2002, government wildlife officers snatched a baby spotted owl from the forest and kept her in a cage in North Vancouver for the winter. She was provided with a steady food supply and released in the spring near Manning Park. The young owl, named Hope, was unable to compete with a mated pair of owls in the area, who drove her off. Without hunting skills and without adequate habitat, Hope starved to death.

WCWC campaigner Gwen Barlee commented later that year:

"Government biologists agree that the greatest threat to spotted owls is the logging of their old growth forest habitat. BC is the only area in Canada that has spotted owls and their numbers have dropped steeply in the past few years to less than 10% of historic levels. Scientists believe that less than a handful of breeding pairs remain in the province out of an historic level of about 500 pairs. We are watching the species go extinct right before our very eyes due to government inaction and the greed of some of BC's logging companies."

Here's the report from the Western Canada Wilderness Committee:

Wilderness Committee Discovers Cattermole Timber Logging Endangered Spotted Owl Nest Site
by Andy Miller, Thursday July 06, 2006

Vancouver, British Columbia—Western Canada Wilderness Committee announced today that its biologist had discovered a site near Hope, BC where Cattermole Timber Ltd. had recently fallen small patches of old growth forest with trees over 200 years old in an area known to have the nest of a spotted owl, one of the most endangered species in Canada.

"It was a sad sight," commented Andy Miller, the Wilderness Committee's spotted owl biologist. "With all these small areas of felled trees dispersed over the hillside I can only hope and pray that the company did not cut down the owl's nest tree," said Miller. Despite repeated attempts by government endangered species specialists to stop the logging, and protracted court cases by environmentalists, the logging company has doggedly pursued its right to cut because BC has no laws explicitly designed to protect endangered species.

The logs that Cattermole Timber felled in a series of mini-clearcuts in the Anderson Valley located north of Hope near the Fraser Canyon, were not removed. They were simply left on the ground. "It appears," said Miller, "that this covert logging operation was not completed, and that the loggers quickly abandoned the site for unknown reasons." Miller reported that it looked as if the fallers came in and left by helicopter because each of the four clearcut sites had a heli-pad. There are no roads in this part of the Anderson Valley, which still has some of the old forests that spotted owls need to survive. From across the valley one cannot even tell that tree felling has occurred, possibly eliminating another spotted owl nest.

Historically, there were an estimated 500 pairs of spotted owls in southwestern BC; by 1990, the number had reduced to approximately 50 pairs. Today there are less than two dozen spotted owls left, and only 2 active nest sites, due to on-going logging of their old growth forest habitat. At the current rate of logging, the species is expected to be eliminated from Canada by 2010, in time for the Winter Olympics.

"The situation is critical for the spotted owl. The government needs to enact provincial endangered species legislation that would ban the logging of owl habitat by companies like Cattermole Timber before they drive this species into extinction, especially since extinction is likely to occur in front of the eyes of the world while BC is on the Winter Olympics stage," said Miller.

Wilderness Committee press release:
Zoe Blunt's blog, The Latest Shit:

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