The Oregon Owl Controversy
In the 1990′s we had a controversy in the northwestern US over the Spotted Owl (to say the least). The Spotted Owl lives only in old growth forest and feeds almost exclusively on flying squirrels (and the occasional mouse swung in the air by a researcher).
When the Spotted Owl gained endangered species status it pretty much shut down the logging of the few remaining old growth forests in the west.
The Spotted Owl is now losing ground to the Barred Owl in those forests.
The Barred Owl started out as an east coast bird, but it is tough and it eats anything that moves, so it has managed to widen its territory relentlessly and is now at home here in the forests of the west coast. It likes it here just fine and has no intention of going away.
The problem now being that the Barred Owl is eating the Spotted Owl out of house and home. Spotted Owls numbers are decreasing again, 4% per year.
What to do? This is the natural order of things. This has happened over the millenia over and over. Species come and go.
But, the Spotted Owl is an endangered species and by law must be protected from extinction. The National Forest Service has proposed killing 3,600 Barred Owls in an attempt to save the Spotted Owl. A small scale culling was done in the redwoods of northern California and the Spotted Owl did benefit from it.
There are many layers to this controversy. Most people come down on one side or the other based on how they feel about logging old growth forests.
If you are an environmentalist – can you really endorse the killing of 3,600 owls by the government? But if you don’t, and the Spotted Owl goes extinct, the old growth forests are likely to open up to renewed logging.
I am having a hard time with the thought of interfering with a natural process like the Barred Owl taking new territory from the Spotted Owl. Survival of the fittest.
On the other hand, if it were tigers or lions that were at stake because some bigger and badder predator moved in I would probably be in favor of intervening so I am somewhat of a hypocrite there. Not that I don’t love owls, but big cats are a whole other level.
This one takes some soul searching. It sounds like the Barred Owl removal is likely to go forward unless there is massive resistance to it, and so far it has been a pretty quiet controversy, for obvious reasons.
This is a Saw-whet Owl. It has nothing to do with the story, but I have no Spotted Owl or Barred Owl images and I like this little guy. He used to hang out in the bushes at the headquarters of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Oregon. His preference for thick vegetation made him difficult to photograph, but protected him from the Great-horned Owls and the red-tailed hawk that nested at headquarters, and from the bobcat that came through on her daily rounds. It’s a jungle out there.