The British Columbia government will implement a multi-million dollar, five year plan to recover the province's critically endangered northern spotted owl, Agriculture and Lands Minister Pat Bell announced Friday. Environmental groups, whose warnings about spotted owl extinction have fallen on deaf government ears for years, say the plan is just window dressing to make B.C. look good for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.
Under the plan, the government says it will engage in captive breeding and release of spotted owls, moving owls to new locations, increasing food sources for owls, and managing competing species such as barred owls.
But logging in the old growth forests that provide spotted owl habitat will not stop. The B.C. government, through its Timber Sales Program, will continue as the largest logger of owl habitat, the conservation groups point out. Environmental groups condemned the government's plan, pointing out that it ends just after the 2010 Olympics.
The venues for the 2010 Olympics stretch over a 120 kilometer zone from Richmond, south of Vancouver, to the snowy peaks of Whistler mountain resort, an area that includes owl habitat.
"Given the B.C. government plan ends just after the Olympics, this is a plan to fool the public and the international community, not to save the spotted owl," said Candace Batycki of ForestEthics. "This announcement is a blueprint for extinction not a recovery plan. If the B.C. government was serious about saving the owl it would protect enough habitat to recover the species."
Conservationists are calling for an end to old-growth logging within the Canadian range of the owl. "The B.C. government is choosing extinction of the spotted owl over recovery," said Joe Foy, campaign director for the Western Canada Wilderness Committee. "Captive breeding without adequate habitat protection means young owls will be released into a landscape that cannot support them and that is just bad science."
In 2005, B.C. government biologists found only six pairs of owls, an 84 percent decline in less than a decade. Scientists believe that before industrial logging, 500 pairs of spotted owls lived in southwestern British Columbia, the only place in Canada where they are found. The main threat to the declining spotted owl population is logging of its old growth forest habitat, the environmental groups maintain.
But the British Columbia Agriculture and Lands Minister Pat Bell, who represents a northern district with an economy based on logging, owned a trucking company and co-owned a logging company before he won a seat in the provincial legislature in 2001, blames a competing species of owl, rather than logging, for the decline of Canada's only population of northern spotted owls.