PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Political appointees in the Trump administration relied on faulty science to justify stripping habitat protections for the imperiled northern spotted owl, US wildlife officials said Tuesday as they struck down a rule that would have opened millions of acres of forest in Oregon, Washington and California to potential logging.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service reversed a decision made five days before Trump left office to drastically shrink so-called critical habitat for the spotted owl. The small, reclusive bird has been in decline for decades as old-growth forests disappear.
The Associated Press obtained details on Tuesday’s action prior to it being made public.
Government biologists objected to the changes under Trump and warned they would put the spotted owl on a path to extinction, documents show.
But Trump’s Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and former Fish and Wildlife Service Director Aurelia Skipwith dismissed those concerns — instead adopting a plan to lift restrictions on more land than even the timber industry had sought.
Officials said in documents provided to AP that Bernhardt and Skipwith underestimated the threat of extinction and relied on a faulty interpretation of the science to reach their decision.
Bernhardt defended his handling of the matter, telling AP in an email that Congress gave the interior secretary authority to exclude areas from protection.
Bernhardt said the agency’s “reasonable certainty” the owl would go extinct did not match the law’s requirement that habitat be protected lest a species “will” go extinct.