The government proposed Friday to set aside 11.6 million acres of forests in Oregon, California and Washington as part of a controversial plan to protect the threatened northern spotted owl.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service outlined a proposed "critical habitat" for the owl, as required by a Feb. 26 federal court order. The owl was classified as a threatened species in June 1990.The proposal, which includes 5.1 million acres in Oregon, 3.2 million in California and 3.3 million in Washington, drew immediate criticism.

The spotted owl controversy pits loggers who depend on the forest for work and environmentalists who hope to slow logging in the old growth timber areas where the birds live.

"This report will essentially shut down federal forest in the Pacific Northwest," said Mike Draper of the Western Council of Industrial Workers.

"We want balance, but this plan will break the scales. When will the federal bureaucrats begin to weigh the needs of working people and communities?" he said.