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The Northern Spotted Owl Controversy

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The Northern Spotted Owl Controversy Ð'- Jobs Vs Environmental Protection


The mere mention of the creature's name brings shudders to loggers and some local inhabitants, fear over its existence has incited rallies, garnered the attention of three government agencies, and caused people to tie themselves to trees. On April 2, 1993, President Bill Clinton embarked on a quest to settle a long-standing battle. The environmentalists on one side, and their attempts to protect natural resources, and the timber industry's desire for the same on the other. Unemployment and economic devastation was said to surely follow, due to the loss of timber industry jobs. No trees were allowed to be cut within 70 acres of The Northern Spotted Owl's nest. Other laws protected trees in a 2,000-acre circle around the birds.

Listed as "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act, the Northern Spotted Owl has inadvertently landed in the in middle of the complicated debate over logging in the Pacific Northwest. Under the Act, logging of many old-growth forests has been suspended to protect the bird and its remaining habitat.

Survival of the Northern Spotted Owl

The Northern Spotted Owl can only live in old growth environment, it is considered an "indicator species": The health of the Northern Spotted Owl population indicates the health of the old-growth forest ecosystem. An individual Northern Spotted Owl needs more than 3,000 acres of old growth to survive, because of its scarce food supply. The Northern Spotted Owl is found in the cool, moist woodlands on the Pacific Northwest. The habitat of the Northern Spotted Owl can be described as trees relatively large in diameter in the stand, multi-layered canopy, large tall live trees with cavities, broken tops, mistletoe, or platforms of branches capable of holding accumulated organic matter suitable for use as a nest, dead standing trees and fallen decayed trees to support abundant populations of prey species, especially northern flying squirrels and woodrats.

The Timber Industry

In May 1991, Federal District Judge William Dwyer issued a landmark decision finding that the Forest Service had violated the National Forest Management Act by failing to implement an acceptable management plan for the northern spotted owl. His decision forbade timber sales across the spotted owl region until the Forest Service implemented an acceptable plan. An injunction blocking timber sales in Northern Spotted Owl habitat affected 17 national forests in Washington, Oregon and Northern California.

The consequences for the rural economy in many areas of the Pacific Northwest were devastating. As many as 135 mills were closed, pushing unemployment up to 25 percent in some small communities. The mill closings affected cutters, loggers, and truck drivers, including other businesses that provided services to them were also out of work.


It makes sense that wildlife needs a healthy forest in order to survive.



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