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PROTECTION FOR OWL MAY BEDEVIL IDAHO WILDS ISSUE

The U.S. Interior Department's protection of the northern spotted owl will make it tougher for Idaho to resolve its wilderness issue, U.S. Sen. Jim McClure says.

The federal agency, citing evidence that the owl may become extinct, ordered the bird protected Friday as a threatened species."It ups the ante" on Idaho wilderness, said Republican McClure, who fashioned a compromise wilderness bill with Democratic Gov. Cecil Andrus. The two leaders later split over their views on whether primitive mountain roads preclude designating adjacent areas as wilderness.

Designation of a species as threatened makes it illegal to harm any of the owls or destroy their critical habitat without federal government approval.

The decision could put 28,000 Northwest logging jobs in jeopardy.

The move was expected to curtail logging in millions of acres of virgin forests in Oregon, Washington and northern California, where intense clearing of ancient trees over decades has destroyed the owl's habitat and put its survival in question.

A threatened species is one that is likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future. It is afforded similar protections as species classified as endangered.

Idaho environmentalists were disappointed that federal officials delayed announcement of a specific plan to protect owl habitat.

"They know what to do, but they're not willing to bite the bullet and do it," said Craig Gehrke, director of the Idaho office of The Wilderness Society.

The U.S. Forest Service and timber-industry officials feared Friday's announcement would further drive up the price of timber harvested on public lands.

"We had anticipated the decision," said Joe Hinson, vice president of the Intermountain Forest Industry Association.

In January, Boise National Forest officials sold 41 million board feet of timber near Lowman for $3.9 million, twice the appraised value.

"That's high," said Truman Puchbauer, timber management officer for the Boise forest. "It's certainly the highest I've seen since I've been here - the last 10 years."