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Bentz Calls Out Biden Administration’s Failure to Protect Rural Communities and Northern Spotted Owl from Wildfire

April 8, 2021

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congressman Cliff Bentz (R-Ore.) led on a congressional letter, signed by 9 House Republicans, urging the U.S. Department of Interior to immediately implement a federal rule previously published on January 15, 2021, revising the designation of the critical habitat of the Northern Spotted Owl (NSO).

The rule was delayed by the Biden Administration on March 1, preventing it from going into effect on March 16, 2021. If implemented, the 2021 rule would better allow federal agencies to implement the NSO Recovery Plan. The plan calls for the use of active forest management tools to mitigate the risks of wildfire on 1.1 million acres of federal lands in the Pacific Northwest that were illegally designated as “critical habitat” by the Obama Administration (Weyerhaeuser v. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service et al.).

“The 2021 designation aligns critical habitat for the NSO with a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court decision and with federal environmental law. It represents an opportunity to move past antiquated, ineffective habitat policies that have stymied critical federal forest restoration activities by focusing on the real threats to this species and its habitat, while supporting American jobs and rural communities across three Western states. Science and the law have changed since the NSO was listed 30 years ago, and [the Department of the Interior] needs to adapt to this as well,” the Members wrote in the letter.

“I thank my fellow Members of Congress who have joined me in fighting for rural communities and the health of our forests,” said Bentz. “The immediate implementation of this rule means we can sustainably manage a significant portion of our forests in a way that supports jobs in the Pacific Northwest and protects not just rural communities from wildfire but also the Northern Spotted Owl from a staggering level of habitat loss due to wildfire.”

“It is imperative that Secretary Haaland resume the revision of the critical habitat designation of the Northern Spotted Owl, originally implemented by the Trump Administration, for the sake of the species and the neighboring wildlife. By redesignating the habitat, the Federal Government will be authorized to responsibly manage the surrounding 1.1 million acres of land that is currently overstocked and unnaturally dense, decreasing the likelihood of out-of-control wildfires during the summer months. I urge Secretary Haaland to implement the critical habitat designation rule change immediately,” said House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.).

“Instead of locking up our land, we should empower locally-led conservation efforts for species like the Northern Spotted Owl and continue to make commonsense improvements like updating critical habitat designations. Representative Bentz is already proving to be a strong leader on species and land management – two major priorities for the Pacific Northwest. I am proud to support this effort to ensure we can effectively care for our lands and our wildlife,” said Congressional Western Caucus Chairman Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.).

“The Northern Spotted Owl was listed as an Endangered Species more than 30 years ago. On the federal government’s watch, the population has severely declined, timber mills have gone out of business, and we have seen increased catastrophic wildfires that have burned up the owl’s habitat and harmed Western communities. Extremist environmentalists opposing active forest management don’t have the owl or the American people’s best interests at heart. In 2020, Colorado had the three largest fires in state history, one of which was in my district. We need to do more to prevent dangerous wildfires before they get started, not less. I applaud Congressman Bentz for his leadership on this important issue. The January 2021 rule should be issued without further delay,” said Representative Lauren Boebert (R-CO).

The full list of cosigners on the letter include Representatives Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.), Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), Doug LaMalfa (R-Calif.), Jay Obernolte (R-Calif.), Tom McClintock (R-Calif.), Lauren Boebert (R-CO), and Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.).

The full letter can be viewed here.

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