Canada’s environment minister plans to use a rare emergency order to protect the last of an endangered owl species in an area where critical old-growth forest is slated for further clearcutting.

Steven Guilbeault advised the environmental groups Ecojustice and the Wilderness Committee that he believed the spotted owl was facing “imminent threats to its survival” and he would use the powers to block further destruction of its habitat in British Columbia, the groups announced on Thursday afternoon.

“I can feel a celebration around the corner, but things have never been more dire for the spotted owl, and this emergency order is desperately needed now,” Joe Foy, a Wilderness Committee campaigner, said in the news release. “The [British Columbia] government allows their forested home to be cut down and loaded on to logging trucks while breeding them in captivity to prevent them from going extinct.”

Before industrial logging in south-west British Columbia, there were nearly 1,000 spotted owls in the old-growth forests, according to the Wilderness Committee.

Now, only one wild-born northern spotted owl remains. Two others, part of a breeding programme, were recently released into the wild. The British Columbia government announced its spotted owl recovery strategy in 2006, but the populations have failed to recover – largely because the stately did not identify critical habitats for the owls, Ecojustice said.

The federal environment minister has concluded logging must stop in an area of the Spô’zêm Nation territory, including the Spuzzum and Utzlius watersheds, as well as a further 2,500 hectares of forest habitat that are at risk of logging.

Guilbeault’s decision is only the third time emergency powers have been used under Canada’s species at risk act over the past two decades. Previous orders were used to save the greater sage-grouse in Alberta and the western chorus frog in Quebec.

In order for the emergency order to go into effect, federal cabinet must accept Guilbeault’s recommendation, after it consults affected First Nations.

“Spô’zêm First Nation takes much honour in speaking for the last remaining northern spotted owls,” Spô’zêm First Nation chief James Hobart said in a statement. “The province needs to stop all exploration and activity in any areas that could potentially put added duress on these already threatened messengers of our forests – the spotted owl.”


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