Sunday, December 22, 2013

Save an Owl; Kill a Owl: The Northern Spotted Owl Strikes Again

The Northern Spotted Owl is claiming yet another victim: the Barred Owl The Northern Spotted Owl was listed as an endangered species in 1990. The population was down to 5,000 nesting pairs in Washington, Oregon, and Northern California. It also exists in Canada. The owl’s listing ran into conflict with the logging industry in the Pacific Northwest. Modern America was built on roughly 350 years of development, resource exploitation, and Manifest Destiny. The American Spirit was development for the sake of development. Laissez faire – the Government should help, but otherwise stay out of the way. Trees, trees to be harvested, became one of America’s valuable resources virtually from the beginning of colonization (Check out Eric Rutkow, American Canopy). (For my historical perspective on the development of America, my Akron Law Review article, “Looking Back to the Future: The Curmudgeon’s Guide to the Future of Environmental La,” is available on, abstract #2351605). April 17, 1970, the first Earth Day, signaled a change in paradigms. The quality of life became as important as the quantity of life. One longstanding fight was over the future of the nation’s forest reserves. Will we continue to harvest the trees, or will we enjoy the natural beauty, ecological and recreational value of the forests? The Wilderness Act of 1964 was enacted to ensure large timber tracts would remain “wilderness,” unchanged by humans. About 109.5 million acres are currently protected as “wilderness.” The history of the timber industry was to deplete the forests, starting in New England, and then the Midwest, followed by a move to the Pacific Northwest, and now the Southeast. “Strip, cut, and out” was often the attitude, with “clear cutting” becoming a common practice. The Wilderness designation, and thus protections, did not apply to the remaining federally owned timberlands controlled by the National Park Service, National Forest Service, and the Bureau of Land Management. About 1/3 of the nation’s land is classified as “forest.” The Northern Spotted Owl became a surrogate in the Pacific Northwest for the paradigm change. The owl, as an endangered species, became the legal basis to shut down up to 90% of the logging on federal lands. Each Northern Spotted Owl needs about 3,000 acres of old growth timber, mostly Douglas Fir trees, as critical habitat because of its somewhat limited appetitive and hard to spot food supply, especially flying squirrels, wood rats, red tree voles, mice and other small rodents. A nesting pair needs 6,000 acres of critical habitat of old growth timber for their survival. The owls rely upon the canopy of the large trees for their life style. 6.9 million acres were set aside by the federal government as critical habitat for the Northern Spotted Owl. About 135 mills shut down. The restrictions on timber production were very controversial in the Pacific Northwest, especially in the logging communities of Oregon and Washington. Graffiti on a bathroom wall of a bar in Forks, Washington said “If two hippies can make love in a Volkswagen Beetle, then why do two owls need 6,000 acres?” A popular bumper sticker said “Kill a spotted owl, save a logger.” The Northern Spotted Owl was saved, or so the lawyers thought, but the timber industry was not. About 135 mills shut down and employment plunged, especially in the rural areas of Oregon and Washington. The Northern Spotted Owl was not saved. It could legally defeat the old timber industry, but fell prey to the immigrating Barred Owl. The Barred Owl started migrating west in the 1950’s from the east. It reached the Pacific Northwest, which was bad news for its relative, the Northern Spotted Owl. The invasive Barred Owl is larger than the Northern Spotted Owl, more aggressive, and has a wider palate. Barred Owls are known to kill male spotted owls and mate with the females. The Northern Spotted Owl population has dropped 40% in 25 years. The precipitous drop can no longer be blamed on logging. The Barred Owl is the prime suspect. The Northern Spotted Owl is on the Endangered List. The Barred Owl is not. The solution for the United States Fish & Wildlife Service is to start killing Barred Owls. It plans to spend $3.5 million over the next 6 years to remove 3,600 Barred Owls from California, Oregon and Washington. It started a few days ago with the shotgun shooting of 26 Barred Owls in a study area on the Hoopa Valley Indian reservation near Arcata, California. The spread of species is a natural process. Evolution says species have to adapt to changing environs or they will perish. The United States is now interfering with nature to preserve the status quo, which is unsustainable over time. It is playing favorites with species in nature, based on legal classifications, which are not related to the laws of nature. Do you remember Star Trek? The Prime Directive in Star Fleet was not to interfere with the internal development of alien civilizations. The United States is now playing God with owls.

No comments: