News of the week
The battle over the northern spotted owl continues
Retaining the northern spotted owl and its habitat has been a struggle for the last 40 years. In 1981, the bird and its plight first made headlines. At the time, northern spotted owls did not have federal Endangered Species status, although it was recognized that their habitat, the old-growth forest of the Pacific Northwest, was rapidly being diminished by clear-cut logging.The timber industry, in an effort to make it seem that saving the owls was impractical, put the cost of saving 112 pairs of owls at $32 million—the money it would not make by clearcutting the ancient forest. Unsurprisingly sympathetic to the loggers was the Reagan administration’s Assistant Secretary of Agriculture for Natural Resources and Environment, John Crowell, Jr., who said, “How many owls can we afford to protect?”.
The old-growth forests spotted owls inhabit are usually dominated by Douglas fir and take between 150 to 200 years to reach maturity, much longer than the patience of the timber industry. The owls are adapted to living in these forests with high canopies, standing dead trees, and open spaces. Like other carnivores, these owls need a lot of habitat to sustain themselves. The northern spotted owl is a subspecies of spotted owls. They stand about a foot and a half tall, with a wingspan of four feet. Mated pairs remain monogamous for life.
Similar to Detroit moving car manufacturing overseas, timber and wood-finishing companies were moving their operations to less-developed countries in the eighties and nineties. Trees logged in the United States were shipped to Asia to be milled into timber and crafted into finished goods, and often shipped back to the United States. This idled domestic sawmills and other wood-finishing businesses.
Logs from commercial logging flowed overseas, yet logs from national forests cannot be exported. This led to domestic sawmills pressuring the government to allow more trees to be cut, including old growth forests.
Wrangling over clear-cutting of old-growth forests continued, with more and more old growth being cut down.This continued while scientists and bird experts noted the sharp decline of the species. The spotted owl was granted Threatened status under the Endangered Species Act in 1990.
Below are typical television stories on the northern spotted owl and loggers and truckers from the early 1990s.
Watching these news reports now, they seem awfully slanted and leave out important information. What do you think?
A week before leaving office, Donald Trump removed protections for millions of acres of designated habitat for the northern spotted owl. The timber industry reiterated the same old jobs-versus-owls line, as Travis Joseph, President of the American Forest Resources Council, said, “This rule rights a wrong imposed on rural communities and businesses and gives us a chance to restore balance to federal forest management and species conservation in the Pacific Northwest.”
It took Joe Biden several months in office, but he reversed Trump’s decision to open up logging the the owl’s habitat. The reversal is a mixed bag. There are still 204,000 acres that are being given over to the timber industry, but an additional three million acres are being restored and protected.
Less than two weeks after Biden’s reversal of the Trump protection removal, Oregon representative Cliff Bentz introduced legislation to Congress that would restore the Trump administration’s decision to open up owl habitat to logging. My guess is that right now the bill has no chance to make it through Congress, but these bills can stick around for a long time, waiting for a change in the makeup of the two chambers and the president.
In October, Bentz introduced a similar bill with broader implications, which would enshrine into law a Trump administration order that restricted the designation of critical habitat to places currently occupied by a species. Under such a law, any place from which a species has been extirpated would no longer be its habitat. If this had been the law when the Endangered Species Act was passed, the bald eagle would not have been reintroduced to many of the lower 48 states, where it now thrives.
In a close development, The Center For Biological Diversity was successful in pressuring the Fish and Wildlife Service to perform a new Endangered Species review of one of the other spotted owl subspecies, the California spotted owl. Logging is also a threat to the California spotted owl.
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AP. Loggers Confront Spotted Owls On Pacific Northwest Lands. New York Times Sept. 01, 1989 Retrieved from https://www.proquest.com/newspapers/loggers-confront-spotted-owls-on-pacific/docview/424202922/se-2?accountid=8064
Prokesch, S. General Motors To Shut 11 Plants; 29,000 Workers Will Be Affected. Nov. 07, 1986. New York Times Retrieved from https://www.proquest.com/newspapers/general-motors-shut-11-plants-29-000-workers-will/docview/426341109/se-2?accountid=8064
Compromise Reached On Spotted Owl. New York Times Sept. 30, 1989 (1923-)Retrieved from https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/compromise-reached-on-spotted-owl/docview/110251501/se-2?accountid=8064
Faber, H. Study Finds Rapid Declines of 7 Bird Species. Jul. 25, 1989 New York Times Retrieved from https://www.proquest.com/newspapers/study-finds-rapid-declines-7-bird-species/docview/427266422/se-2?accountid=8064