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President's Ponderings: ESA vs Mother Nature

By Edward Luttrell - President's Ponderings Blog (2/8/11)

  FEBRUARY 9, 2011 --

In 1990 Northern Spotted owls were listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Since that time we have likely spent billions, and sacrificed jobs and communities to saving the Spotted owl. We now harvest only 5% of the amount of timber in Oregon that was harvested in 1988, yet the Spotted owl continues to decline in numbers by about 3% per year.

Now there is a proposal to shoot Barred owls as biologists have realized that the aggressive Barred owl not only drives out Spotted owls, but can interbreed with them. Science indicates that the two types of owl are cousins, probably descending from the same species from around the time of the last ice age.

While species such as eagles and wolves have recovered with the help of the ESA, the Spotted owl hasn't. The impact of regulations and restrictions to protect the Spotted owl have devastated many rural communities throughout the Pacific Northwest and northern California due to job losses as the timber industry has been forced into decline. 

Invasive species can be dealt with to protect native species, but the owls are both native. Which owl is more worthy of protection? Can we change the rules that nature plays by?

Maybe the ESA should take into account the normal function of "Mother Nature." Some species eat whatever seems fit to eat and others are picky eaters. Some sub-species are a bit picky about their mates, while others are not. Those that are picky about eating or mating often find that they have one strike against them. Those that end up with several strikes will lose out against other species that don't share those disadvantages.

Will a ten to twenty percent reduction of the Barred owl population be enough? How much will it cost to kill that many Barred owls? I certainly don't advocate that we hurry the Spotted owl along, but maybe we ought to consider what nature is doing about them and why it is happening. 

Discussions in Grange halls across the Pacific Northwest this year will include the topic of owls, the ESA, and Mother Nature. All of our efforts haven't helped the Spotted owl yet, I hope we don't think more of the same will give us different results. 

The ESA vs Mother Nature, I'm betting on Mother Nature.


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