Monday, April 30, 2007

Spotted Owl: Stick with science

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SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER EDITORIAL BOARD

There they go again. In the latest example of their lapdog eagerness to ignore science and serve corporate interests, Bush administration officials have distorted critical recommendations on spotted owl protection.

A team of scientists put together a revised plan to tighten protections for the owl, whose numbers are dropping faster than expected. But, as the Seattle P-I reported last week, a team of top officials, including a former timber lobbyist, came up with a revised plan. One of the Northwest scientists who worked on the plan said, "We're faced with a document that doesn't measure up to one of the key provisions of the Endangered Species Act, which is that the recovery plan must be based on best available science."

The original plan from a panel of Northwest officials and scientists, including timber representatives, proposed setting aside specific blocks of old-growth forest to protect the owls. But the made-in-D.C. revision creates the possibility the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, federal agencies with a heavy interest in resource exploitation, could decide against old-growth set-asides. Supposedly, the changes add an element of needed "flexibility."

That sounds good. Adaptive management is a promising approach to environmental recovery. But whether the issue is owls, salmon or global warming, the administration has a scandalous record of flexibility about facts, science and legal theory.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will hold a meeting May 31 in Lacey to allow Washington residents to express their views on the revised plan. We expect there will be a lot of opposition. But we don't know whether anyone will really be listening. Flexibility has its drawbacks, at least when it threatens to let good science interfere with the exercise of brute political force.

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