Timber Companies Exonerated, Barred Owls Blamed for Spotted Owl Decline

Published September 1, 2007

Environmentalists are quick to lecture the rest of us about the ways of nature. Don’t clean the dead trees off the forest floor; they’re natural. Cattle and horses on the range aren’t native, so let the grizzlies and wolves devour them; it’s natural. Man isn’t part of the ecology, so lock him out of vast areas of land; it’s natural.

It is interesting to note how the “natural” argument applies only when it is used to impose the radical environmental agenda. A case in point is the Northern spotted owl.

Timber Companies Ruined

Spotted owls, we were told a decade ago, were disappearing because big bad timber companies were cutting down old-growth forests. So the environmental movement rushed to the forests, hugged the trees, and issued news releases to decry the evils of the logging industry. Save the owl. Save the trees. Kill the timber industry.

Of course, that was exactly the point. Kill the timber industry. As a result of the hysteria to save the “endangered” owls, U.S. timber sales were reduced by 80 to 90 percent, forcing saw mills to close, loggers to go broke, and the literal disappearance of entire towns that depended on the industry.

The federal crackdown on the industry caused a shift in U.S. domestic lumber supplies to foreign sources. In short, American industry suffered in the name of protecting the spotted owl.

Turns out, the whole spotted owl scare was unfounded.

Barred Owl Was Culprit

According to a new government draft plan to save the species, scientists are no longer saying logging is the great threat to the spotted owl.

“The draft recovery plan recognizes the primary threat to northern spotted owls as competition with barred owls,” the report says. According to the report, barred owls are less selective about the habitat they use and the prey they feed upon and are out-competing northern spotted owls for habitat and food, causing the spotted owl’s decline.

In fact, for the entire decade since the issue emerged on the political scene, the property rights and land use movements have been reporting the fact that the Northern spotted owl is only a sub-species of Mexican spotted owls, which are not endangered at all.

It was no secret that the spotted owl did not need old-growth forests to survive, since spotted owls were found living under bridges and in McDonald’s signs. What it needed, like any other species, was a good food source. Now we know it was undercut by another owl–a completely natural occurrence.

Movement Built on Lie

What was accomplished during the 10-year fight, besides the destruction of an entire industry and the economic welfare of the people who worked in it?

What was accomplished was the regrettable establishment of a very radical and dangerous political agenda called the environmental movement. Its power is now so great that no politician dares to oppose it.

Yet that power, we now know for certain, was built on a lie. Some in the movement have even candidly admitted that if they hadn’t had the spotted owl they would have invented something like it to drive their agenda.

In fact they did invent it, and the purpose was to destroy the timber industry and private property rights. They called it an environmental emergency.

Government Still Clueless

Now the truth has come out. So, will the same federal government that rushed to impose harsh treatment of innocent property owners and industry now roll back those stifling regulations and let freedom breathe? Of course not. Agendas are agendas, regardless of the facts.

So instead, after the nation spent millions of dollars to destroy private property rights, the government plans to spend $200 million more on a “barred owl removal plan” in order to save the spotted owl from its natural competitor.

And as usual when a new government debacle is rolled out, there is always an emergency to drive the policy. According to Ren Loheofener, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Pacific Region, “Because the range and numbers of barred owls are expanding rapidly, our effectiveness in addressing this threat depends on immediate action.”

No Need for Panic

Here’s an immediate action sane folks could recommend: Leave the barred owls alone to do what comes natural to them.

If the spotted owl can’t keep up–then good riddance. It’s been used to cause enough pain, and obviously its time is up.

After all, it’s a natural process. Species come and go. We’ve got plenty of Mexican spotted owls to play with if we get homesick for them.

Of course, the final chapter is yet to be written. If the new “recovery plan” is successful, it won’t be long before the environmental movement has a new emergency–man’s wanton destruction of the barred owl. Creating false environmental disasters just comes natural for some people.

Tom DeWeese ([email protected]) is publisher and editor of the DeWeese Report and president of the American Policy Center. This article first appeared in the DeWeese Report and is reprinted with permission.