2 How Growler Jets Harm Owls and Other Wildlife

2 How Growler Jets Harm Owls and Other Wildlife

In the last section, we reviewed some early estimates of the decline in spotted owl population in Washington State. In this section, we will assess the past and current spotted owl population on the western slopes of the Olympic Mountains and then review how the Navy War Zone plan would likely destroy this last refuge of spotted owls in Washington State.

Will exposure to 120 to 150 decibels of noise from Growler Jets harm spotted owls and marbled murrelets?
This question is important because, while humans are not protected by the Endangered Species Act, spotted owls and marbled murrelets are protested by clear and specific court orders. The Forest Service and the Navy may be able to ignore harm these toxic new Growler Jets might inflict on humans. But neither federal agency is legally allowed to ignore the harm these jets might inflict on endangered species. In the 1990's, I produced a study on the decline of spotted owls in Washington State. This study concluded that the largest population of spotted owls left in Washington State was on the western slopes of the Olympic Mountains – right in the middle of what the Navy now wants to use for an electronic warfare range for their new Growler jets. In 1994, as part of the 1994 Record of Agreement, the National Forest Service and the National Park Service signed an agreement to protect the critical habitat of spotted owls on the western slopes of the Olympics. Allowing Growler Jets anywhere near this critical habitat would be a violation of the 1994 ROD. Here is some of the research on this subject.

How close are spotted owls to the extinction threshold cliff?
We have previously shown that in 1994, there were about 900 pairs of spotted owls in Washington State. Since about one third of the remaining Old Growth Forest in Washington State is on the western slopes of the Olympic Mountains, we can assume that about one third of these 900 pairs of spotted owls – or 300 pairs of spotted owls – lived on the west slopes of the Olympic Mountains in 1994. Forsman and others have concluded that the rate of decline of the spotted owl population in the Olympic Mountains is 4% - or significantly less than in the rest of the State of Washington where the rate of decline was from 5% to 7%.

Moreover, in the previous section, I used theories from E. O. Wilson to estimate that the Extinction Threshold in Washington State was 300 pairs of spotted owls. This means that the Extinction Threshold in the western slopes of the Olympic Mountains would be 100 pairs of spotted owls. This would mean 20 or fewer pairs of spotted owls at each of the western Olympic Mountains five great rivers: the Sol Duc, the Bogachiel, the Hoh, the Queets and the Quinault.

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Needless to say, all five of these major rivers and all five remaining populations of spotted owls are being targeted for as part of the Navy's proposed war zone. In 1994, there were about 300 pairs of spotted owls in these five major river basins. This would mean about 60 pairs of spotted owls in each basin. At the 4% rate of decline determined by Forsman and others, this would mean a loss of 12 owl pairs out of the original 300 owl pairs per year or 24 owl pairs every 2 years. Below is a graph of how long it would take the spotted owls at this rate to reach the extinction threshold of 100 owl pairs.

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Thus, even without the Navy War Zone, the spotted owls in the western Olympic Mountains are hanging on by a thread. Without major changes by the US Forest Service and/or the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, the spotted owls in the western Olympic Mountains will pass the extinction threshold somewhere around the year 2020. Even today, in 2014, there are only about 116 spotted owls left in the western Olympic Mountains. It will only take the loss of 16 more owls to push the owls over the extinction threshold cliff.