June 23rd, 2024

Federal protection proposed for critically at-risk spotted owls in B.C., groups say

By The Canadian Press on February 23, 2023.

Minister of Environment and Climate Change Steven Guilbeault rises during Question Period, Thursday, February 16, 2023 in Ottawa. Two environmental groups and a British Columbia First Nation say the federal government is recommending an order to protect the critically at-risk northern spotted owl. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

VANCOUVER – Two environmental groups and a British Columbia First Nation say the federal government is recommending an order to protect the critically at-risk northern spotted owl.

Just three of the tiny owls are known to be in the wild in B.C., with a fourth recovering at a rehabilitation centre after it was suspected to have been hit by a train.

A statement from the Wilderness Committee, Ecojustice and Spuzzum Nation says they have learned federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change Steven Guilbeault is recommending an emergency order to protect the spotted owl from imminent threats to its survival and recovery.

The statement says the minister has determined that logging must be prevented in two watersheds within Spuzzum Nation territory along the lower Fraser River canyon, about 180 kilometres east of Vancouver.

The groups say the minister is also calling for protection of a further 2,500 hectares of forest habitat considered critical to the spotted owl’s survival but at a high risk of being logged within the next year.

They say First Nations must be consulted, but want the federal cabinet to quickly accept the minister’s recommendation when talks conclude.

If the recommendation succeeds, the statement says it would be the third approved by cabinet under the federal Species At Risk Act, known as SARA.

Wilderness Committee spokesman Joe Foy said things have “never been more dire for the spotted owl,” but he can “feel a celebration around the corner.”

“The B.C. government allows the forested home (of spotted owls) to be cut down and loaded onto logging trucks while breeding them in captivity to prevent them from going extinct,” Foy said in the statement, which urges the federal government to take over protection of the owl’s habitat on an emergency basis.

Spuzzum First Nation Chief James Hobart said he’s grateful for the ministerial order but called on British Columbia to act along with the federal government.

“The province needs to stop all exploration and activity in any areas that could potentially put added duress on these already threatened messengers of our forests,” said Hobart.

The release calls the emergency order recommendation “only the first step,” and “20 years late,” but says SARA is there for a reason and the federal government must enact the minister’s order to prove cabinet has “the will to prevent the extinction of a species.”

Jasmine McCulligh, the facility co-ordinator for B.C.’s Northern Spotted Owl Breeding Program, said in a recent interview with The Canadian Press that protection of the owls has fuelled decades-long disputes between environmental groups and the forest industry as their future is often tied to saving old-growth forests where the birds live.

“The spotted owl is an old-growth-dependent species, so a single pair of owls requires 30 square kilometres of old-growth forest,” McCulligh said.

She estimated it could be 50 years or longer before there is a sustainable number of northern spotted owls in the wild.

The injured bird that is being cared for at the Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Society in Delta had been released last August along with two other males in forests near the Spuzzum First Nation, where a single female was known to be living. It was found injured near train tracks in October and is hoped to be released again.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 23, 2023.

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