PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) - Federal environmental agencies will let landowners harm northern spotted owls if the landowners promise to improve owl habitat on their property, the Audubon Society says in a federal complaint. The Audubon Society says the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service blew off its request for documents explaining the program.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Oregon Department of Forestry and the Natural Resources Conservation Service plan to launch the program as a safe harbor agreement under the Endangered Species Act, the complaint states.
Northern spotted owls are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
Debate has raged around the owls since the controversy over logging in the Pacific Northwest in the early 1990s. Despite efforts to protect them, including the Northwest Forest Plan, which President Clinton signed in 1994, recent studies published by the U.S. Forest Service's Pacific Northwest Research Station in Corvallis show that populations of northern spotted owls have continued to decline.
The Audubon Society of Portland says it petitioned the U.S. Forest Service for documents on the new program. The Forest Service released "a number" of documents, but referred 45 others to the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service for review, the lawsuit states.
The Conservation Service released only 17 of the 45 documents, Audubon claims, and refused to answer Audubon's administrative appeal on the other 28 documents within the time frame allowed by the Freedom of Information Act.
Audubon claims the Conservation Service justified keeping the remaining documents secret using FOIA exemptions that do not apply to the situation. It claims the Service illegally used the Farm Bill of 2008 to block its access to information that should be public.
The Audubon Society wants to see the documents. It is represented by David Bahr of Eugene Paul Kampmeier of Seattle.