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Lewis County will partner with Skamania and Klickitat counties to fight a federally proposed expansion of the northern spotted owl’s habitat within the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

The habitat expansion, announced last September by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, would restrict logging in certain parts of East Lewis County, adding hardship to an already struggling industry, according to the Lewis County Commission.

It also would cut back on the money Lewis County receives from the Secure Rural Schools Act, which is based in part on timber receipts from national forests. That federal act last year provided the county with approximately $2.2 million.

Lewis, Skamania and Klickitat counties will pay for a Washington D.C.-based attorney, an expert in the field, to file a lawsuit opposing the expansion. County Commissioner Lee Grose estimated the suit would cost at least $42,000 and possibly as much as $62,000.

In the lawsuit, the three counties are expected to argue that expanding the protected habitat will not necessarily bolster the dwindling population of spotted owls.

“The fact is, they can’t really justify the expansion of the habitat when the existing habitat hasn’t seemed to impact the recovery of the spotted owl,” Grose said.

The spotted owl first was named as a threatened species in 1990.

That listing was one factor in a 90 percent cutback in logging on national forests in the Northwest. Even so, the spotted owl has seen a 40 percent decline during the past 25 years, according to Fish and Wildlife officials.

Along with the lawsuit, Lewis, Skamania and Klickitat also will seek a court injunction to halt the habitat expansion while the issue is in litigation.

2013 The Chronicle (Centralia, Wash.). Visit The Chronicle (Centralia, Wash.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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