They have been demonized by politicians and the logging industry for 20 years, but the reality is that the northern spotted owl was the canary in the coal mine telling us we had logged too much old-growth. People forget that many of the salmon ESA listings flowed out of the same problems that led to the decline of the owl--too much reckless logging. Though some in Oregon like to talk about "the good old days" before the owl and declines in logging on federal land, the reality is that in the good old days we were squandering the Oregon's wildlife, clean water, and natural heritage through logging practices that just were not sustainable.
The Bush administration has spent millions in tax dollars trying to re-write the science on owls to say more old-growth logging is ok. The latest is the Western Oregon Plan Revisions, which tries to pull over 2 million acres of Bureau of Land Management forestlands out from under the Northwest Forest Plan.
The real question we should be asking is not "what's the big deal about owls" but rather why, in this day and age, there is still an effort by some politicians and the logging industry to get back into the business of old-growth logging.
"Logging on federal lands plummeted in 1990 when the birds were listed as an endangered species."
That's a canard pushed by the logging and wood products industries to keep the blame pointed away from themselves.
The fact is that they successfully lobbied the Forest Service for far too many years to over-cut the forests far beyond the sustainable capacity to reproduce. They cut themselves out of trees.
If you look at the history, you see that the New England states were clearcut and then used for sheep pastures, thus all the old stone sheep fences. Minnesota was clearcut and then those mill owners moved out west, some to Bend, Shevlin-Hixon and Brooks-Scanlon for examples. Historically, the industry clearcut an area and then moved somewhere else and clearcut it too.
Sometimes the workers followed the mills but in Oregon they were left without jobs and told to blame the owls instead of the time-dishonored clearcut logging practices of their employers.
The mill owners have moved on to clearcutting other forests in foreign countries.
The Forest Service admitted that was their practice but that story never got the media legs that spotted owls did, probably because media owners tend to be right-wing Conservatives like the Chandler family that owns The Bend Bulletin as part of their media conglomerate empire.
England was clearcut of their Great Oak Forests to build warships at the rate of 8 to 9 thousand oak trees per ship.
Iceland was clearcut and then turned into sheep pastures.
Washington was clearcut years ago and some of those gigantic stumps still remain up around Enumclaw with springboard cuts still visible.
Northern California was clearcut of redwoods except for a few very small parcels.
Central Oregon was clearcut, the stumps are still out there.
And I don't need to remind anyone of the Amazon.
It wasn't the owls, it was the loggers overcutting!
And yes as a Bend area kid I worked logging just like most did. Worked in a mill too.
One of the great laws of the Iroquois Indians is: "In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations." Unfortunately, that philosophy was not followed as we logged the old growth forests of the Pacific Northwest. We did not log sustainably. The listing of the Northern Spotted Owl was the equivalent of the canary expiring in the coal mine: it alerted the public to the fact that our old growth forests were what was endangered, not just one species of owls.
Logging more old growth forests will only result in short-gain profit for a few--it does not provide a long term solution to anything. Unfortunately, the Bush administration unduely influenced the original Draft Recovery Plan for the Nothern Spottted Owl. I was one of the public who was outraged, and testified at the public hearing. If the Northern Spotted Owl is ever going to survive, there must be healthy old growth forests. Certainly we must look at other threats such as the Barred Owl and now malaria. But these threats make it even MORE important to provide a healthy habitat for the Northern Spotted Owls. Without healthy ancient trees and the life they sustain, there can be no Northern Spotted Owl populations. The New Final Recovery Plan still does not adequately provide that.
The issue is really whether we are willing to stand up to protect what is left of our natural heritage in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest. Like with oil, lumber resources are limited. The solution for energy needs is not to ruin the artic wilderness to get more oil. And cutting more old growth forests will not provide logging jobs or lumber for long--a more sustainable approach must be found.
At the hearing someone spoke as if a Northern Spotted Owl and said: "You humns are very smart. You have split the atom and put a man on the moon. Can't you find a way to save some ancient trees so I will still have a home??"
I hope the discussion during the program is focused and truthful and gets to the heart of the matter - mainly that mature and old growth trees are more valuable standing than they are horizontal. They are like an investment made over centuries and are the pillars of an ecosystem from which we and our grandchildren can extract significant "interest" every day in the form of watershed protection, flood abatement, species preservation, reduction in atmospheric carbon dioxide, recreation, spiritual uplift and restoration, education, medicinal value, tourism, and aesthetic appreciation -- to name just a few of the qualities inherent in intact mature and old growth forests.
None of these are available when the forest is leveled and the resulting monetary rewards are short-lived and mostly directed away from here. Suitable alternatives are available - or could be quickly with adequate research - for nearly all the uses that industrial forestry claims it needs to cut down mature and old growth forests for. Continuing to cut trees that are as old or older than our country's history, instead of offering them protection from the chainsaw, is akin to accelerating our society's current long walk down a short pier into a mad dash.
ps. the photo on the website as of Sunday evening is of a Northern Pygmy Owl, not a Northern Spotted Owl. Among other differences, the NSO has dark eyes, as does its congener the Barred Owl.
You're right. Sorry about that. We've fixed the photo.
Thanks for catching that!
As I recall, the spotted owl first came to our attention because of it's status as an "indicator species" - it was quite literally the old growth's version of the miner's canary.
This point was lost almost immediately when the fight began and the public was shown the loggers on one side and the environmentalists with their owl on the other. It became all about the owl and not what it's being threatened meant and the media did nothing to clarify that. Much misunderstanding could have been avoided had the reporters and their editors kept that fact in the forefront of the story. As it was, the term "indicator species" was almost never heard.
If the northern spotted owl is getting infected with malaria b/c of a less effective immune system, could it be a signal that the overall health of the population is not very good?
Anyone wishing to see a spotted owl should visit the High Desert Museum near Bend, Oregon. The Museum currently has a pair of adult spotted owl and their two chicks on exhibit at the Donald Kerr Bird of Prey Center.
I am an East Coast transplant do not like the rascism "red-neck's out there, evil problem" labelling that your telephone guest is indulging in.
There is nothing wrong with New Yorkers, and certainly nothing wrong with New York Jews which is the point of the code words "East Coast transplants, and New Yorkers."
Even if the guest is a member of one of these groups, and especially so, he should know better!
Neil H. Goodman.
(A New York Jew - AND PROUD OF IT)
Spotted owls are an indicator species that are sending us a signal that the whole old growth forest ecosystem is in danger. The Northwest Forest Plan was supposed to protect owls, salmon and hundreds of other species that depend on old growth ecosystems. This new owl recovery plan is s step backward from an ecosystem plan to a single species plan so it will likely be less effective.
I hope everyone realizes that almost all of our wood products come from non-federal lands, so we can stop logging old growth right now and will not really have much of an effect on our wood supply.
Now climate change gives us another profoundly important reason to protect all the remaining mature and old growth forest and restore much of what has been lost. Logging releases massive amounts of carbon to the atmosphere and contributes to global warming. Old-growth forests safely store tons of carbon per acre and help ensure a livable climate.
There is no longer any plausible reason to log mature & old-growth forest forests, but many reasons to protect those forests: endangered species, clean drinking water, livable climate, recreation, spiritual renewal, soil conservation, flood control, slope stability, and quality of life that attracts high skilled workers and businesses that want to employ them.
A previous NPR news story indicated that the barred owl may have been responsible for transmitting avian malaria to spotted owls. What is the specific evidence for this, especially given the uncertain history of the occurence of avain malaria in the western U.S? In fact, the article by Ishak et al. (2008) states that, "...there is no conclusive evidence that this parasite originated from Barred Owls since it was also found in
other native California owls, and may have already been present at
low levels in local bird populations."
Why, then, is NPR inappropriately reporting that barred owls are implicated in the spread of avian malaria to spotted owls?
I have lived in Oregon for 71 years and the only criticism I have had of the logging industry is the fact that in the past they didn't adequately reforest the areas that they had cut. Old trees die just like old people. I think our National Forests should be as well managed as our State forests with the Tillamook Burn area being the prime example.
I can't get very excited about what happens to the spotted owl. When the National forests were shut down because of the bird, thousands of Oregonians lost there jobs, rural school districts lost funds upon which they were very dependent, and untold other economic damage was done to our state in the name of protecting the Spotted Owl. Now the Bard Owl is making inroads into the Spotted Owl territory and we are again talking about meddling with nature. As far as I am concerned, if the Bard Owl is stronger and takes over the Spotted Owl's territory so be it.
More important than Spotted or Barred owls is the fact that humans are poor stewards of Earth's complex and interconnected natural ecosystems. Native Americans sought to live in harmony with nature. Industrial Americans rape Nature to acquire whatever they want without a complete understanding of the short and long term costs of their actions. Industrial Americans have no respect for Nature; they seek to dominate and bend it to their will. As the effects of climate change become more apparent, it seems clear that humans are Earth's number one threat. It is obvious that humans must change their behavior if Earth is to survive. Humans are the invasive species, not Barred Owls. How do we improve human behavior such that we're not a continuous cancer to Earth? In 2001 we were hiking in the Columbia Gorge in Washington, across the river from Mosier, when we came across a pair of huge owls sitting in a tree. They flew by us silently and they were as big as small suitcases.
I just now heard the last 20 minutes or so of Think Out Loud with Emily Harris but did not have access to a phone.
I have been a forester for 45 years ? all of it in Oregon?s Coast Range. The spotted owl has had a huge impact on how we think about and manage our forests and all the things that make up a forest (wildlife, water, wood, recreation, etc.). It has brought about huge changes. Our forest management practices are much improved as we better understand the science coming from all the research. We?ve enacted the Forest Practices Act. We?ve spent many tens of millions of dollars replacing culverts with better ones ? ones that are fish-friendly. The list of current and improved forest management practices goes on and on.
I spent several springs hooting for spotted owls and had several answer my calls. None of these were in old-growth or even in the vicinity of old-growth. One was in a former railroad logging camp that was abandoned many years ago and had grown back into a nice stand of second-growth.
But first, there are some givens that must be understood:
? Nothing lives forever, not even a tree. It will die and it will need to be replaced.
? An old tree or stand of trees was once very young and, in fact, did not even exist at one time.
? The mosaic of forest stands and ages has constantly moved around the landscape over both time and space. This has been the biological and historical norm for millennia.
? In his doctoral work, Dr. Bob Zybach, came to the conclusion that, in 1600, there was virtually no old-growth in the Coast Range.
? Humans have lived in Oregon for many thousands of years and they managed (sometimes very intensively) their environment. Their use of fire greatly shaped the forests first seen by European explorers and, later, settlers. The Native American use and management of the environment is still evident today.
? All naturally functioning forests must have a full range of ages ? from very young to very old ? to accommodate the full spectrum of plant and animal species. Further, this allows for the replacement of any age class or stands lost due to wind storms, fire, etc. Today?s federal forest policies are skewing the forest towards very old forests and are precluding other forest ages and those plant and animal species that depend on those other age classes.
? A very small percentage (6%) of the federal forest?s annual growth in Oregon is currently being harvested. Another 32% is lost to mortality and is left to rot in the forest and to feed insects and fire. The remaining 62% is left standing as live, green timber to grow another year. This 62% is contributing to over-crowding and is making our forests more susceptible to fire, disease, insects, etc. There are biological limits to the amount of wood a forest can sustain.
There are many who will dispute the above. However, the foregoing is well-established fact (from both a scientific and historic standpoint) but is probably little known or little accepted by most. It certainly does not fit popular notions.
It seems to me a very logical forest management plan should acknowledge the foregoing. For example, if we assume timber must be 200 years old to have old-growth characteristics, for the sake of argument, then why not manage our Douglas-fir forests on a 400-year rotation with the intent of harvesting all of it at some point in time? (I?m not suggesting wilderness areas or parks.)
[Obviously, not all forests need 200 years to attain old-growth characteristics. Lodgepole pine may need only 70 years. Doug-fir might be managed to attain these characteristics in only 150 years. Thus, 200 years and the suggested rotation age of 400 years is merely a suggestion. Soils, climate, and vegetative types must be taken into account and the ages will change accordingly. In other words, the usual one-size-fits-all federal forest policies are folly.]
This way, we can lessen the problems associated with drought, stress, over-crowding, high fuel-loadings and fire danger, etc. Further, with the assumed ages given above, at some point fully half of the federal lands would be old-growth. This means we would actually have far more old-growth than at the current time and, quite likely, more than we have ever had. We might even an un-natural amount of old-growth!
Would this ever fly? Of course not! There are many who feel all federal forests should be old-growth and will accept nothing less. Politicians find it expedient to legislate accordingly. But, this has consequences. Our federal forests will be doomed to insect epidemics of historic and catastrophic proportions as currently found in the pine region. We will have ever greater fuel loadings and half million-acre fires (e.g., the Tillamook and Biscuit Fires) will become the norm.
The BLM?s West Oregon Plan Review actually offered an alternative similar to the above. The environmental community rejected it out of hand and were very vocal in labeling it as an attempt to increase old-growth logging. That seems rather illogical if, over time, the plan could actually increase the amount of old-growth.
If, in fact, the spotted owl or any of the other plant and animal species truly does require old-growth forests, we could actually create more habitat. All it takes is to understand the science and the courage to make management decisions in a logical, reasoned manner. However, that requires far more courage than any politician has.
Since we have changed from an exporter to an importer of wood (nearly 40% of our softwood consumption now comes from the mostly northern, old-growth, boreal forests of Canada), we are wearing blinders in that we are exporting the costs of our consumption. This raises the question ? is the management of our federal forests ethical? I think not. Other regions have their own endangered species concerns but most do not yet have the regulations or the concern about these issues that we have.
We may think we are acting locally and are thinking globally. In truth, we may be acting locally but most of us have no clue how our actions affect the bigger, global picture. We have tunnel vision and blinders. We can?t see past the length of our arms.
I just read through all the above comments. A lot of blame is laid at the feet of the logger. Folks I have news for you. The only reason, I repeat, the only reason the logger has to ever cut a tree is because you, the consumer, wants it! It is as simple as that. You want it for conditioning solution to clean your contact lenses, ice cream, toothpaste and toothbrush, napkins, cell phone, football helmets, medicine, deodorant, grated parmesan cheese, and a few thousand other things.
Yes, forests of New England and then the Lakes States were harvested as a source of fuel, building materials, ships, and trade goods. Forestry was an unknown science and no one knew about sustainability or reforestation. That is why, going back to the very beginnings of human civilization in the Middle East, forests were harvested as a source for fuel to create pottery and bronze. They, too, did not understand the science; their harvesting was, in fact, deforestation, and led to massive erosion and silting of streams, irrigation canals, etc. Soil fertility was lost, crops failed, and, eventually, many of these civilizations also failed. The bustling Roman seaport of Ephesus on the western shore of today?s Turkey was once thought to be the third largest city in the world ? around a quarter million people. Deforestation, erosion, and silting of its harbor now puts the city?s ruins several miles inland. Our very own New Haven, Connecticut, had to extend its wharf 3900 feet between 1780 and 1820! All this because people wanted and needed wood. They did not understand the science of forests or forestry or of sustainability.
When I was in college in the early 60?s, the thinking was to get rid of the old-growth forest as soon as possible. These forests were viewed as old, decadent, rotting, and not very productive. Prior to World War II, most of our private forests had been logged. The returning GI?s and the resulting baby boom and growth of suburbia required a huge source of wood. By necessity, we (the American consumer) turned to the federal forests.
Since then, we?ve learned a lot about the forests ? that?s why we have scientists. Our private lands have regrown and, similar to the Tillamook State Forest, are now of harvestable size/age. We are more aware and understanding of all the things that make up a forest ? water, wildlife, fish, etc.
Oregon?s Forest Practices Act, passed by the Oregon Legislature in 1971 (at the urging of the forest industry) acknowledged that new science. As the science evolves, this Act has changed accordingly.
As a science, forestry in this country is only a hundred years old with much of the knowledge coming in the past half century. Most of what I know as a forester was not known when I was a student. My son is a forestry student and what he is currently learning is mostly knowledge that was learned in the last 3-4 decades.
So, when pointing fingers, be very careful because maybe that finger needs to point inward.
Comments are now closed.