The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is seeking to more than double critical habitat designations for the northern spotted owl throughout the Pacific Northwest. In Trinity County, that will mean more than 1.2 million acres set aside for the threatened species.
If approved, what will be threatened are rural counties throughout the region.
The proposal aims to preserve remaining old growth forest, the owl’s preferred habitat, but claims to allow for more active management, including logging, in some of the protected areas to produce more tree stands.
Pardon our skepticism, but doubling the size of critical habitat doesn’t seem to be the recipe for increased resource use — including logging, mining, biomass removal and fire prevention measures, all of which would be beneficial for an impoverished Trinity County.
Trinity County earlier this month opted into a California and National Forest Counties and Schools Coalition study to examine the cumulative socioeconomic impacts of the proposal. Here’s a little of what we think they’ll find in Trinity County:
* Logging down by almost two-thirds since the original spotted owl designation in 1992, and by far more compared to historic highs.
* Growth in the forest vastly outpacing timber harvest and biomass removal. A recent Oregon study showed removal there since 1992 at 3 percent of growth. Figures in Trinity County might be a little higher, but not much.
* Biomass buildup to dangerous levels in many areas. Estimates, depending on the source and location, indicate Trinity biomass levels are six to 30 times safe levels. A repeat of the 2008 fire season is only a major lightning storm away.
(A side note: Thanks to efforts by Cal Fire, the Resource Conservation District, the Watershed Center in Hayfork and the many volunteer fire departments, areas around many Trinity County towns aren’t nearly as loaded with fuel.)
* Continued high unemployment rates. As more and more resource-based jobs are made off-limits by a government that has little understanding of its rural counties, it’s hard to imagine Trinity County’s 18-22 percent unemployment rate improving.
In an effort to roll the dice and double down on its ill-conceived 1992 plan, the USFS seems willing to throw the economic viability of rural forest towns into further disarray.
Trinity County contains great natural resources which should logically sustain viable communities throughout. Instead, the government wants to turn the county over to a small bird unable to outcompete its larger cousin.
We fail to see any logic in that.