In his weekly NFL column, Gregg Easterbrook discusses the once-hot owl preservation efforts which have recently turned into owl execution efforts:
Those who can remember the dim mists of history — say, a couple decades ago — recall that preservation of the northern spotted owl was a major American political issue during the 1980s, then played a role in the 1992 presidential election campaign, then was among the high-profile matters of the Bill Clinton administration. Decisions during the 1990s by the Fish and Wildlife Service, coupled to judge’s orders, effectively ended much of the logging in the Pacific Northwest. This pleased affluent landowners, cost jobs for average people and shifted timber production to Malaysia, where there are almost no environmental regulations.
There are three other birds quite similar to the northern spotted, whose numbers continue to decline. The California spotted owl has a stable population. The Mexican spotted owl probably is in decline: about five years ago, a federal judge placed land-use restrictions on areas of Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico to protect the Mexican spotted. The barred owl, the third bird similar to northern spotted, doesn’t need special protection as it is population is expanding, based on natural competition.
So the plan is to start shooting barred owls. Excuse me, “culling” them. The Fish and Wildlife Service wants to kill at least 3,000 barred owls, which are so similar to spotted owls that a trained eye is needed to distinguish the types. Spotted owls are federally protected, by the Endangered Species Act. Barred owls are not protected. So let’s kill the disfavored owls in order to help the politically correct owls!
As recently as two generations ago, barred owls mainly were found east of the Mississippi, where they are commonly called hoot owls, for their whoot-woo-who territorial marking sound. The recovery of forests across the United States — total forested acres have been increasing for a quarter century — created a migratory pathway for barred owls to spread west. This development was unexpected; the literature of owl protection depicts such birds as so habitat-dependent they are vulnerable to any change. It turns out the barred owl is not fragile, able to adapt to many habitats. Barred owls are also more aggressive than spotted owls; the worry among defenders of the latter is that barred owls will out-compete spotted owls and take their territory in the Pacific Northwest.
Underneath this issue is a fallacy in human understanding of nature: the assumption that the environment and its creatures are brittle things whom the slightest disturbance will render extinct. The environment has survived ice ages, comet impacts and climate change far more dramatic than any that artificial greenhouse gas may cause. Inconveniently for Pacific Northwest environmental lobbyists, birds extremely similar to spotted owls are doing just fine on their own. So get rid of the evidence.