Washington, D.C. For the first time since coming under federal protection 15 years ago, the northern spotted owls' forest haven may be in jeopardy.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed to decrease the owls' "critical habitat" by 1.5 million acres, or 22 percent.
The birds were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1990, with the habitat designation coming two years later. Then in 1994, the government adopted the Northwest Forest Plan to help protect the owls and the marbled murrelet, a tiny seabird that nests in large trees, as well as to safeguard old growth forests and watersheds.
The plan, which was designed to allow some logging, has been bitterly contested by the timber industry and rural communities that have suffered job losses and other hardships as a result of logging restrictions.
Most of the owl habitat to be reduced under the proposal is in Oregon. Some is in Washington, and 97,000 acres are in Northern California.
Logging companies say the reduction would allow them access to trees they are entitled to under the forest plan.