Planet Earth News: Protecting the Northern Spotted Owl and Environmentally-Callused Pillagers

MOTHER EARTH NEWS environmental planet earth news briefs focuses on the diminishing old-growth forests and a lawsuit to add the northern spotted owl to the endangered species list, and environmentally-callused pillagers.

| July/August 1988

Environmental planet earth news brief about a lawsuit to add the northern spotted owl to the endangered species list, and environmentally-callused pillagers. 

Environmental Planet Earth News

The Pacific Northwest always seems to have noisy environmental disputes under way—in state legislatures, in the newspapers, in the courts, in better saloons and taverns everywhere. A perennial topic is forestry, and mid-1988 is no exception.

Much of the region has been heavily logged, to the point that a flight over western Oregon, for example, reveals a landscape that looks the way I did when, at the age of six, my best friend offered to give me a free haircut. Large patches have been skinned to reveal lumpy ground, devoid of most everything but a few weeds. Regeneration of the trees is painfully slow.

Environmentalists have struggled long and hard to find a way to slow the clear-cut express. They have succeeded in helping establish four national parks and several wilderness areas in the 19 national forests in Oregon and Washington. Still, the felling of forests—particularly the valuable old-growth forests where a single tree can provide $2,000 worth of lumber—continues apace, even though perhaps only 10% of the region's original stock of old growth remains.

In recent years, a new player has emerged on the field of debate, the northern spotted owl, considered by biologists a reliable indicator of the health of old-growth forests in general. The owl requires old-growth forests to survive, for reasons that are not terribly well understood. What is well understood is that as the forests have been leveled, the population of spotted owls has crashed—to the point where it is threatened with extinction, in the considered opinion of every expert in the field.

Despite this fact, pleas to add the owl to the list of threatened and endangered species have fallen on deaf ears, undoubtedly because of the economic and political power of the timber industry in the region. Having nowhere else to turn, conservation groups have recently turned, once again, to the courts.

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