The northern spotted owl is a beautiful bird. It's also threatened under the Endangered Species Act. And now, the government is taking drastic measures to ensure it's survival by advocating the "removal" of the bird's major competition, while also seemingly targeting loggers.
"Removal" of the birds is really just another way to say shooting the barred owl, the spotted owl's rival. And it's part of a group of recommendations announced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to help revitalize the spotted owl population:
Management of the encroaching barred owl to reduce harm to spotted owls. Most of the recovery actions the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has carried out since finalizing the spotted owl’s 2008 recovery plan deal with the barred owl threat. A major part of this is developing a proposal for experimental removal of barred owls in certain areas to see what effect that would have on spotted owls, and then to evaluate whether or not broad scale removal should be considered. This portion of the 2008 plan was not significantly revised.
The Seattle Weekly explains how "removal" has worked in the past:
Though the USFWS policy hasn't officially been released yet, The Oregonian reports that it's likely to include a strategy to kill off between 1,200 and 1,500 barred owls from northern California through Oregon and Washington.
Killing off invasive species is a common practice in wildlife management, but barred owls aren't invasive--they're native. And several environmental groups are arguing that killing them won't help the problem unless people are prepared to shoot the owls by the thousands every single year.
One biologist estimates the cost of such a plan to be $1 million annually.
Plus, by seemingly all accounts, the barred owl is simply a stronger and better-adapted species. It eats a wider variety of food and nests in a wider variety of places than the spotted owl.
While the wisdom behind killing one species to save another is part of the debate, there's also controversy surrounding another aspect of the recommendations -- protecting the spotted owl's habitat. But there's just one problem: that conflicts with local logging.
The Weekly reports that loggers are skeptical of the idea:
Under the new plan, both the elimination of barred owls and the preservation of forest land are used.
Jerry Bonagofsky, CEO of the Washington Contract Loggers Association, says that protecting spotted-owl habitat at this point is useless, and that the Obama plan will hurt the economy and kill jobs.
"Given that the barred owl is now part of the equation, it's not clear that protecting habitat will help at all," Bonagofsky tells us. "I think the Bush plan, given time, could have worked. In the present economy, locking up more timber land will have a huge effect on rural communities, jobs, and families."
All told, it would appear that environmentalists did get a bigger bone thrown to them under the new plan than the loggers did.
Another argument, it seems, is that environmentalists and anti-loggers can fight the industry under the guise of protecting the owls. For example, one environmentalist expressed his excitement that the plan opens the door to regulate private land.
"In some regards [the plan] takes important steps forward," Shawn Cantrell, executive director of the Seattle Audubon Society, told the Weekly. "It talks about the need for non-federal land owners to do more and it points at gaps in the regulatory structure of non-federal lands. It also recognizes the importance of protecting the remaining high-quality forest we still have. But on the downside, in some places, particularly on the east side of the Cascades, they seem to open the door to much more logging, saying we have to cut down the forest in order to save the forest." [Emphasis added]
Is it ironic that in a story on owls, the proposals to protect them don't seem so wise?