Skip to comments.The Spotted Owl Fiasco
Posted on 04/28/2003 2:05:57 PM PDT by Tailgunner Joe
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.
See also: Fur Commission USA Press Kit Special Feature : Regulating the Conflict Industry.
You're correct. Fortunately, almost all forest in the lower 48 has already been cut at least once... finding aboriginal forest in the USA is a fairly daunting task. Here in the Southeast, the majority of large contiguous wooded tracts actually belong to timber companies, and if there was no demand for lumber, fiber, or pulp, some other crop would be grown on the land and there would be no "forest" there at all.
That's pretty much the case now anyway. But rather than being confined to just that (which would easily sustain the undustry) the enviralists will keep pushing for absolutely no logging.
Weeell maybe not quite. Those raping forests outside the country without regulatory constraint are doing very well thank you. Not only that, but as I understand it, Sierra Pacific now has a virtual lock on interior California sawmills (which is the power to play preferential games to force out landowners). Simpson is looking pretty good too. This whole spotted owl/marbeled murrelet fiasco may just have worked to "consolidate" the industry quite nicely for purposes of attractive margins, takeover, and corruption, effectively destroying the independents and small landowners and empowering the global corporations to control fat margins exactly as one would expect out of the fascists in the Slave Party.
Do you have a source by which we could judge the relevance of this statement?
I'm not necessarily disagreeing with you, but I honestly think that there needs to be a fundamental shift in the way these issues are usually looked at.
I'll take your word for it about the time frames involved for certain trees to mature, and to put a certain type of forest into an "original" condition (meaning, I assume, pre-human - although maybe it just means pre-European; it's not clear that the Native Americans didn't do a lot of environmental adjustment themselves. Also, wilderness isn't static; it changes, with or without humans. There may be no such thing as "original" condition, there's just: its condition 100 years ago, its condition 1000 years ago, and so on).
My problem is that you veer a little too close to presenting such things as a forest being in its "original" condition as Good Things in and of themselves.
Putting a forest into its "original" condition merely for the sake of having a forest in its "original" condition does not necessarily interest me and is not the job of government per se. If it's good for a forest to be in its "original" (pre-human) condition, and government action is called for, it's good for some reasons - because of some value or use we may have for it to be in that state. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not talking about only money here: that "value" may, indeed, be nothing more than "beauty": maybe it's good for certain forests to be in their "original" condition because they are beautiful that way, and we enjoy (and should have continued access to, and want our children to have continued access to) that beauty. Others may mention the potential for a mature forest to develop some new kinds of plants or critters we may find useful down the road, and that's a valid point too (or at least it could be, as far as I know).
But on the other hand, once you start stating explicit benefits, there are tradeoffs involved. Sure we value the beauty of an uncut forest, but what if it burns down? What if there are critters or bugs breeding in there, which are harmful to us? What about general diminishing returns principles: just how many "original" condition forests do we need to create before enough is enough?
What bothers me is that the reasons we're supposed to accept these government restrictions, then, are too often unstated, and as a result, unexamined - and unweighed against other factors. It is assumed that having Mature Douglas Firs is a good, in and of itself. Maybe it is, maybe it's not, but it's not a given; one must say why, and then tailor the solution accordingly.
Too often when people speak of these things, they are speaking from tacit, possibly subconscious assumptions and categories about wilderness which, quite frankly, may be inappropriate, even quasi-religious. I can only hear the term "pristine" applied to this or that piece of wilderness so often before I start to think that something Freudian is subconsciously underlying the environmental movement, for example. Too many people fall into the symbolism of virginity-rape for my tastes.
The Earth is ours and it's for us to use as we see fit. I'm not saying we should exploit or waste resources in a foolish manner; far from it, indeed, your admonition for balance is quite well taken. But, it's also dangerous, and far too easy, to romanticize the whole process and turn it into some kind of sublimated sexual thing. If we should preserve this or that forest, it's because we value something about that forest, whether it be lumber or beauty - and are able to objectively weigh that value against other factors (which may, at times, outweigh that value). Not because the forest is a sacred blushing virgin - which, let's face it, is a romanticization and, even, a near-pagan sanctification, which precludes any kind of objective cost/benefit analysis. That's all I'm saying.
First off, BRAVO for a well reasoned response to the sometimes illogical gut reaction that those of us in the timber industry must deal with on a daily basis. I wish more folks had the objectivity you do Dr. Frank.
Personally, I got in to forestry because of my love for the forest. For many years I got up in the morning and looked forward to going to work. I thinned overstocked second growth, repaired poor road drainage and, generally, improved every parcel of land that I worked on. I did it for me (selfish I know) because it made me feel like I was making a difference. To a certain extent, I did it for my kids too, because I believe that we should leave the earth a better place then when we found it.
Sadly, over-regulation in the name of so-called endangered species has virtually destroyed the industry that I have worked so hard to become a part of. The consequent denial (that this could really happen) and depression triggered by the loss of a livelyhood has devastated many in my community (myself included). Fortunately, people are starting to realize that the environmental utopia promised by the professionals at the Sierra Club and World Wildlife Fund are empty lies.
You're right "wilderness isn't static; it changes, with or without humans." . I, and many of my friends in the industry have tried to change it for the better. In the place of thanks or appreciation for our actions, we have been demonized and riduculed as nature rapers. Today in California, foresters have been turned into pencil pushers -- writers of endless studies called Timber Harvest Plans (Environmental Imapact Reports). So society has now alienated those of us who are trained to produce the environment that many in society claim to want, but don't know how to achieve.
Like you, I don't have all the answers either, but something is wrong when people destroy a profession based on nothing more then emotion.
Thanks God one of us has real good start down the "all the answers" road.
Natural Process, the answer book.