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Saving the Spotted Owl in a Static Natural World

Protecting endangered species is hard when you view nature as static. James L. Huffman in the Wall Street Journal:

No one really expects the strategy to work—not even those who first brought attention to the plight of the spotted owl. As Forest Service biologist Eric Forsman told the New York Times last month, “If you’d asked me in 1975, ‘Can we fix this problem?’ I’d have said, ‘Oh yeah, this problem will go away.'” But he says he’s grown “much less confident as the years have gone by.”

And for good reason. Despite a 90% cutback in harvesting on federal lands (which constitute 46% of Oregon and Washington combined), the population of spotted owls continues to decline, as do rural communities that once prospered across the Northwest. In some areas, spotted owls are vanishing at a rate of 9% per year, while on average the rate is 3%…

The truth is that no one fully understands why the spotted owl continues to decline. The rise of the barred owl poses an unexpected, but not surprising, complication. If the natural world would just remain static, species preservation and ecological management would be far simpler. But Mother Nature relishes competition, and the barred owl is a fierce competitor. Are we really prepared to send armed federal agents into Northwest forests in search of barred owls?

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has issued its “final” spotted owl recovery plan [PDF], which calls for another 30 years of management and $127 million.

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