SAN FRANCISCO -- The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, in a ruling that could have broad implications on old forest logging in federal forests, Friday overturned U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's interpretation of the Endangered Species Act's protections of the northern spotted owl.

The case, Gifford Pinchot Task Force v. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, questioned whether the Fish and Wildlife Service was adequately protecting the designated "critical habitat" of northern spotted owls.

Gifford Pinchot Task Force, an Oregon nonprofit organization, was joined by other Oregon nonprofits: Cascadia Wildlands Project, Northwest Environmental Defense Center, Oregon Natural Resources Council Fund, American Lands Alliance, Bark and Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center; and Washington nonprofits: Northwest Ecosystem Alliance and Pacific Crest Biodiversity Project.

The case involved six representative areas in Northern California, Oregon and Washington state.




Appellants had argued that the FWS' finding that timber harvest in the spotted owls' habitat did not constitute "destruction or adverse modification" of that habitat.

The 9th Circuit Court ruled that the Endangered Species Act "was written not merely to forestall the extinction of species ... but to allow a species to recover to the point where it may be delisted."

Appellants had argued that analysis of jeopardy to species "must look to the actual species themselves instead of simply analyzing habitat ... (or) must continually verify habitat models by on-the-ground population verifications."

The 9th Circuit said, "Focus on actual species count is an overly narrow interpretation of what is required under the jeopardy prong."

The court also determined that the Northwest Forest Plan "was developed on sound scientific analysis as an effective method to conserve the spotted owl."

George Sexton, conservation director for the Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center, said in a statement: "For years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been handing out spotted owl kill permits in critical old-growth habitat like candy. The open season on spotted owls has finally ended."