The following article was published in the Fall 2003 edition of Range Magazine. Reproduced with the author's permission.
The Spotted Owl Fiasco
Hindsight is 20/20, they say, and sometimes we can get mad enough to see spots. The spotted owl fiasco being a case in point.
In February 2003, after completing a 12-month review as required by the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that the California spotted owl, a native bird found in forests of the Sierra Nevada, the central coast range, and major mountain ranges of southern California, doesn't warrant ANY protection under the ESA.(1)
The Service concluded, based on the best scientific and commercial information available, that the overall magnitude of current threats to the California spotted owl does not rise to a level requiring Federal protection. The California spotted owl still occurs throughout all or most of its historical range, with approximately 2,200 sites or territories in the Sierra Nevada and southern California where spotted owls have been recently observed.
Due to overregulation which virtually stopped logging in Pacific forests, regulations which the Service now claim were never needed to "save" the spotted owl, forest fires are soaring (see chart). What isn't logged by humans is now burned by Mother Nature. Amazingly, all these fires appear to have not bothered the birds one bit. They simply flew away when threatened, begging the question: If all this fire didn't burn the birds out, why was logging considered such a dire threat?
The Sacramento Bee reported California timber harvest levels slashed by over half over ten years resulting in 70 percent of California's wood fiber now being imported. Timber mills operating in the West plummeted and thousands of families lost their source of income.
The only corporations that actually made out like bandits on the spotted owl fiasco were those in the conflict industry. They produced a steady stream of propaganda which resulted in record profits, on which, of course, they paid zero corporate taxes because their work was considered "charitable" and "for public benefit."
Was this nightmare necessary to "save" the spotted owl? In hindsight? No. If this spotted owl fiasco isn't enough to make you see spots, we don't know what is.
(1) See "California Spotted Owl Doesn't Require ESA Protection, Wildlife Service Concludes," US Fish & Wildlife Service news release, Feb. 10, 2003.
"Last Sawmill in Fort Bragg to Close after 50 Years of Operation," California Forests Online press release, June 3, 2003. (Outside link)