Washington State agreement reached on spotted owl habitat

Washington state's Forest Practices Board threw its unanimous support Monday behind a group made up primarily of timber industry officials and conservationists to work on spotted owl habitat protection on private forestlands.

On a 10-0 vote, the board signaled a new approach to a controversial issue it's been wrestling with with little success for years.

"This is a breath of fresh air to see the timber industry and the conservation caucus come together as partners," said Sherry Fox, a Lewis County timberland owner and member of the forestry board.

In the past, timber interests and conservationists have wrangled before the forestry board and in court over rules, regulations and enforcement of forest practices designed to protect owls on private timberlands.

"There's value in finding a new direction," said Shawn Cantrell, executive director of Seattle Audubon Society.

Seattle and Kittitas Audubon Society chapters sued the state Department of Natural Resources and Weyerhaeuser Co. in 2006 over tree harvesting in owl habitat in southwest Washington. A confidential settlement of the lawsuit announced last week calls on the new spotted owl working group to find a long-range solution to managing owl habitat on private lands.

The northern spotted owl has been federally listed as a threatened species since 1990 and most of their nest sites and habitat are found on federal land. State and private forestlands play a secondary, but still important, role in owl recovery. But owl populations continue to sharply decline.

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