Are Spotted Owls Doing Better?


The northern spotted owl was put on the endangered species list in 1990 over the bitter protests of the timber industry. The spotted owl litigation forced a reluctant Forest Service to make serious efforts to protect owl habitat, and logging on public lands in the Cascades, Sierras and Coast Ranges has been reduced by 80 percent.

Conservationists used the spotted owl at least partly as a proxy to protect the old growth forests that the owl requires. This strategy was successful in the short term, it has given the owls some breathing room, but it has a serious weakness; that is, spotted owls are not necessarily dependent on old growth forests. It is only a matter of time before the timber industry uses this argument to try to open up logging in old growth areas.

Less than 10 percent of old growth forests remain in the West and they must continue to be protected. Using the northern spotted owl to protect old growth was an effective tactic to stall the timber industry, but economic pressure to mow them down will certainly increase. We must use the time we have gained to find a more direct way to protect and rebuild the scattered remnants of our region's once thriving forest ecosystem. We spoke with Alan Franklin, a conservation biologist, about the current status of spotted owls.

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