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Key owl biologist quits B.C. rescue program

A biologist who has studied spotted owls in British Columbia for 20 years has withdrawn his support for a special government team that is devising a plan to save the birds from extinction.

Mark Miller, an independent biologist who often works for environmental organizations, says the team has let political and socioeconomic concerns alter its recovery strategy so much he no longer supports its conclusions.

In a letter of protest to Myke Chutter, chairman of the B.C. government's spotted owl recovery team, he says the flawed plan will not keep the species alive.

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There are thought to be only 25 pairs of spotted owls in Canada, all in B.C., where they are increasingly isolated in diminishing stands of old-growth forest.

Mr. Miller says that unless the government takes firm action to protect the birds, by setting aside substantial areas of forest, spotted owls will be extirpated in Canada within five years.

Spotted owls are found along the western edge of North America from southern B.C. to Mexico.

For the past 10 years the British Columbia government has been studying the plight of the birds, trying to devise a way to keep the species alive while at the same time allowing logging to continue in old growth.

Mr. Miller, who has asked that his name be struck from the government's strategic plan, said biologists have doomed the birds by leaning too strongly in favour of logging.

"I can not overstate that there is not a long term for the northern spotted owl unless decisive and bold steps are taken in the immediate short term," Mr. Miller says in a dissenting opinion he filed with the recovery team.

"The spotted owl is one of the most studied species of birds on earth. The owl's biological need for large interconnected old-growth reserves is well known."

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Mr. Miller complains that the recovery strategy "fails in identifying the need for short-term habitat protection . . . [and]reflects economic concessions based on a belief that immediate habitat protection is politically unachievable.

"The habitat needs of the owl are not reflected adequately and are undervalued. . . .

"The owl's old-growth habitat is being clearcut. All known spotted owls outside of parks and protected areas are currently having or will soon have their activity centres logged. . . . If habitat identification and protection measures are delayed, I am concerned that the owl will continue to decline until a point is reached where recovery is declared biologically and technically unfeasible."

Mr. Miller could not be reached for comment.

Mr. Chutter and officials with the Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection did not return calls.

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About the Author
National correspondent

Mark Hume is a National Correspondent for The Globe and Mail, based in Vancouver, writing news and feature stories on a daily basis about his home province of British Columbia. His weekly column, which often challenges the orthodoxy on environmental issues, appears every Monday. More


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