Nature and Environment

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Can You Spot the Spotted Owl?

11/2/2007 12:00:00 AM


Remember the ferocious spotted owl battle between loggers and wildlife conservationists in the Northwest during the early 1990s? I was in high school, and one day I made my friend Matt, who sympathized with the loggers, wear an owl costume to class. It even had a sign that said 'Save the spotted owl!' (He lost a bet of some kind, if I remember correctly.) The conservationists—and the owl—won that battle, but it looks as though round two is about to commence.

Under the Northwest Forest Plan, the northern spotted owl (listed as 'threatened' under the Endangered Species Act) was allocated 24.4 million acres of Federal land in Oregon, Washington and California, on which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service launched recovery efforts to boost its population numbers. That was 1990, and now the Bureau of Land Management is considering opening some of that land to the timber industry, despite the fact that the owl's numbers continue to decline. While the proposed land is only ten percent of the total acreage, it consists of old-growth area said to be crucial owl territory.

It's important to note that, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service, the northern spotted owl's current main threat is not habitat loss, but rather a predator in the form of the barred owl. Yet they point out that both threats to the species must be addressed to protect it from irreversible loss.

At this point, a logging deal is on hold while experts attempt to determine (with adequate scientific evidence) that logging of old-growth forests will further endanger the owl. Regardless, it's not a question of whether or not more logging will be allowed, but a question of how much more.

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