The comment period for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services' controversial draft recovery plan for the threatened northern spotted owl has been extended to Aug. 24.

The comment period for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services' controversial draft recovery plan for the threatened northern spotted owl has been extended to Aug. 24.

The deadline was June 25. The agency listed northern spotted owls as a threatened species in 1988 under the federal Endangered Species Act.

"We want to generate the widest possible discussion with the public on the best way to recover the owl," said Ren Lohoefener, regional director for the agency, in an earlier statement.

"We are genuinely interested in hearing which approach the public and other interested parties think will be most effective and why."

The draft plan, whose implementation would take 30 years at a cost of $198 million, includes shooting several hundred barred owls which researchers say are encroaching on the northern spotted owls' habitat.

In announcing the extension on Thursday, the agency did not state why the comment period was extended. However, the proposal has drawn fire from a variety of factions.

The plan is partially the result of work by a 12-member Spotted Owl Recovery Team with representatives from federal agencies, state governments, the timber industry and the conservation community.

But team member Dominick DellaSala, executive director of the National Center for Conservation Science and Policy in Ashland, said the preferred option was pushed through by the Bush administration's oversight committee and was not a product of the recovery team.

In addition to killing barred owls, the draft plan includes two different options to conserve blocks of spotted owl habitat. One would identify conservation area boundaries in which most of the recovery actions and criteria would be targeted. The second option would also rely on a network of habitat blocks but it does not identify conservation area boundaries.

Instead, it provides a set of rules that would help guide the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Bureau of Land Management in establishing the spotted owl conservation areas.

An electronic copy of the draft recovery plan is available at www.fws.gov/pacific/. Click on "ecological services" on the left, then on "Northern Spotted Owl Recovery Draft Plan" on the right.

Comments on the plan can be sent electronically to NSOplan@fws.gov, or mailed to NSO Recovery Plan, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Ecological Services, 911 NE 11th Avenue, Portland, OR 97232.