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August 16, 2018

Wildlife groups seek help for California owl

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — Loggers cutting down forests burned in wildfires could bring about the extinction of California spotted owls, wildlife advocates said Tuesday as they sought protection for the birds under the federal Endangered Species Act.

The petition says emerging science has shown that the owls thrive in old growth forests that are still living as well as those that have been burned and turned black by high-intensity forest fires.

That finding contradicts current common practice of the U.S. Forest Service, which opens up some burned forests to loggers, the petition states.

U.S. Forest Service spokesman John Heil said officials don’t believe the California spotted owl is in danger of extinction. The agency maintains that massive wildfires are the greatest threat to the owls and works to ensure the owl’s habitat is maintained or improved, he said.

Spotted owls have declined throughout California by about 40 percent in the past three decades, said Chad Hanson, a forest ecologist at the John Muir Project of Earth Island Institute and one of the petitioners.

There are an estimated 1,200 pairs nesting in the state stretching from Lassen National Forest in the north to San Bernardino National Forest in the south, he said.

Without federal protection, Hanson said the owls could be gone after another three decades of logging.

“You don’t call that a decline,” he said. “Science is telling us loudly that this species is at serious risk of extinction.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which denied protection to the spotted owl in 2006 under a similar request, has three months to decide if there is evidence to support the request and open a deeper discussion. Officials at the U.S. Department of the Interior and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declined to comment, saying they had not yet seen the 130-page petition.

Rangers monitor California spotted owls and are currently updating a 1992 study to determine what help is needed. That study should be ready early next year with a conservation strategy complete by 2016, Heil said.

Mike Albrecht, a logger and owner of Sierra Resources Management, said removing burned trees creates healthier forests, which benefits spotted owls and people. Loggers have left large swaths of forests in California untouched, which are open to wildlife, he said.

“It’s a little misleading to blame logging or massive fires or any one thing on the demise of the spotted owl,” he said. “We’re all working hard to preserve it.”

Monica Bond, a biologist with the Wild Nature Institute and one of the petitioners, said a 400-square-mile area burned in the 2013 Rim Fire is a prime example of the logic in the petition.

Spotted owls have flourished a year after the Sierra Nevada’s largest fire in recorded history raced through Stanislaus National Forest and Yosemite National Park, she said. Hanson and Bond have taken part in a lawsuit attempting to stop logging in the Rim Fire area.

“The fact is that logging is going to hurt owls,” she said. “It’s time to give this owl some help.”

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Wildlife groups seek help for California owl

Where retreating from rising seas is the only option

By Deborah J. Nelson and Duff Wilson

SAXIS, Virginia (Reuters) – This town on Chesapeake Bay is losing three to five feet (1 to 1.5 meters) of shoreline a year and suffered damage during hurricane Sandy. But like hundreds of rural communities along the coast, it is competing with much larger, more powerful neighbors for public funds to bankroll a response to rising seas.

Coastal engineers say communities have three options for dealing with rising water levels and increased flooding: defend the shoreline with natural or man-made barriers; adapt, such as by raising roads and buildings; or retreat.

New York City is planning a $20 billion mix of defense and adaptation measures – most notably, construction of “The Big U,” a 10-mile (16-km) fortress of berms and movable walls around lower Manhattan. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office says three-quarters of the money needed over the next decade is already in hand from federal, state and local sources.

For places like Saxis, population 240, the options are more stark:  retreat now or retreat later.

Many Saxis residents – watermen who harvest oysters, crabs and fish, and seafood industry workers – trace their ancestry to settlers in the 1600s and speak a language peppered with Elizabethan inflections. Some don’t hold out much hope for the future.

“Little places like us, there’s not going to be any help for us because whatever resources are available will be sucked up by the big cities to try to defend them,” said Grayson Chesser, a decoy carver, hunting guide and Accomack County supervisor.

Belinda, a nearby village where his grandfather was born, is one of several he cites that no longer exist, abandoned when frequent flooding made them uninhabitable. Families relocated to higher ground, where he resides today, but now it’s flooding, too.

A decade ago, Saxis managed to get federal approval for a $3.2 million U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project to build eight breakwaters that would slow the sea’s advance. But the town couldn’t scrape together its required contribution of nearly $1 million, so the plan was killed.

The 700 residents of Tangier Island, a better-known historic Chesapeake enclave, waited nearly two decades for $4.2 million in state and federal money to build a 430-foot-long seawall, jetty and stone revetment. The project is scheduled to be finished by 2017.

“It’s becoming more and more competitive for federal funds in terms of protecting communities,” said Curtis Smith, a planner with the Accomack-Northampton Planning District. So Saxis is “competing with Miami and New York and Virginia Beach.”

Virginia Beach, with a population of 438,000, has been the recipient of a federally funded seawall and two major sand projects totaling more than $150 million since 1996.

Some Saxis residents have raised their houses to reduce the risk of flood damage. But that’s only a partial solution if the roads that connect them to grocery stores, hospitals and schools become impassable, Smith said.

There, too, rural areas compete for funding with more heavily trafficked urban areas.

Accomack County has more miles of road in jeopardy from rising sea levels than anywhere else in Virginia, a state study found. On the harder hit Chesapeake Bay side, some spots now flood nearly every full moon.

The Virginia Department of Transportation is struggling with the question of how to combat increased flooding in “low-volume, low-population areas,” said Chris Isdell, the department’s representative in Accomack County. “You’re trying to fight back Mother Nature. … How do you do that in a roadway that sits at sea level?”

Saxis residents may eventually have to face up to the same hard fate Chesser’s grandfather’s community did and abandon their homes.

“I wish I could say I thought Saxis would be saved, but there’s no way. It costs so much money,” Chesser said. “And even if you spend the money, I don’t’ think you can do it. I mean you just can’t beat the ocean. You’re going to lose every time.”

(Edited by John Blanton)

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Where retreating from rising seas is the only option