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Rim Fire Logging Raises Concerns Over Spotted Owl Population

SONORA (CBS13) — Stanislaus National Forest is looking to make money and prevent wildfires with salvage logging trees damaged in last year's Rim Fire. Loggers can place bids to do the removal work starting Wednesday, but conservation groups may sue to stop it.

The spotted owl makes its home in the Stanislaus National Forest. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, environmental research shows 32 pairs of spotted owls and 5 individual spotted owls were found in the Rim Fire area. The Center said it's the best habitat for the owls to find food.

The U.S. Forest Service, however, said it's important to the survival of the forest to get dead and dying trees out of Stanislaus National Forest.

"As these dead trees fall, they're going to add to the fuel load on the forest floor," said Rim Fire Recovery Project spokesperson Georgia Dempsey. "They will die in time. Some of them have their roots burnt out, damage you can't see. Some of them, beneath the bark, the cambium where the food and water tubes are of the tree could be impinged."

The Rim Fire Recovery Project, a sub-agency of the U.S. Forest Service, said it also wants to protect the spotted owl and its environmental impact report showed little stress to the spotted owl habitat.

"We had 28 scientists working on that EIR," said Dempsey. "[Spotted owls] like closed canopy forest, that is a key factor. They like to perch on hollowed out trees. We're going to be leaving a certain number of snags per acre just for that purpose."

In addition to public safety, the Forest Service said salvage logging will aid migratory animals trying to get through their traditional routes blocked by fallen trees.

Center for Biological Diversity attorney Justine Augustine said the Center identified 37 spotted owl territories and believes the land shouldn't be touched. Augustine said just because the spotted owls are not endangered in California, doesn't mean we should stop being concerned for their survival. He said populations have been declining in California in recent years. Augustine said he's heard from dozens of environmental scientists that logging could have a negative impact on the spotted owls.

The Center for Biological Diversity said it's reviewing the lengthy environmental impact report and hasn't ruled out suing on behalf of the spotted owls to stop the saws.

The majority of the approved logging will take place this year, but it could stretch up to five years. The proceeds from the logging bid will go towards reforestation projects.

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