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An environmental group called Tuesday for provincial endangered species legislation after the B.C. Court of Appeal upheld a lower court ruling to allow logging in an old-growth section of forest that is critical to the survival of the province's spotted owl population.

The Western Canada Wilderness Committee appealed a B.C. Supreme Court decision of last August that allowed Cattermole Timber to log in one of four cutblocks near Anderson River, north of Hope.

The decision arose when a Forests Ministry district manager, Cindy Stern, had to decide whether four logging cutblocks that Cattermole wanted to log met the requirements under the Forest Practices Code as it related to the safety of the spotted owl.

Ms. Stern found that Cattermole didn't meet the spotted owl requirements in three of the cutblocks, but said it did in the fourth.

The wilderness committee appealed that decision to the lower court and lost - and lost again Tuesday in a unanimous decision by the three-person Appeal Court.

"It's disappointing to find out there is no law protecting endangered species in the province," Joe Foy of the wilderness committee said outside court. "We now turning to Joyce Murray, Minister of Water, Land and Air Protection, who has for some time promised emergency measures to take over to protect this species."

Mr. Foy conceded that Cattermole could log in the one cutblock now and predicted the demise of the spotted owl.

"If they log now we're going to be a step closer to extinction," Mr. Foy said.

Devon Page, a lawyer for the Sierra Legal Defence Fund that represented the wilderness committee, agreed it had lost the battle in only one of the four cutblocks but insisted that the owl would be endangered nonetheless.

"We took the position that any logging would degrade habitat because of the particular characteristics of the spotted owl," he said.

He said in the absence of evidence that logging in old-growth forest destroys the spotted owl, the court decided to defer to Ms. Stern "because she should be considered the expert."

Government research in 1995 said there were only 25 breeding pairs of spotted owls left in the province, but Page said there are even fewer than that.

A Water, Land and Air Protection Ministry report in 2000 said British Columbia's spotted owl population is headed for extinction under current law. It also said the rate of the species' decline is more than five times faster than the rate predicted by a 1992 spotted owl management plan.

Spotted owls need old-growth forests to survive and one breeding pair's territory can be as large as 3,200 hectares.

Ministry research indicates spotted owls lay only two eggs every two years with a survival rate of chicks of 14 to 25 per cent.

Mr. Page said a further appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada was unlikely since the nation's highest court would not likely grant leave to appeal on a 3-0 Appeal Court decision.