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The Norther Spotted Owl V. Loggin in the Pacific Northwest

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The Northern spotted owl vs. Logging interest in the Pacific Northwest

The rich ecosystem of the old growth forest provides a home for the Northern spotted owl, and a habitat for the owl’s primary prey. However, these same towering trees of cedars and firs which serve as the owls’ habitat, is also the primary source of a multi-billion dollar logging industry. However, if the forest is destroyed due to logging, the Northern spotted owl will lose its habitat.

The Northern spotted owl has been on the rapid decline, with over half of the population being wiped out. The old growth forest, the home of the spotted owl, has become a huge income earning logging industry that has created jobs for thousands of workers. As a result of logging, approximately only 10% of the original forest remains intact leaving limited space for the already dwindling number of the owls in the region.

In response to this decline, environmentalist petitioned the US Fish and Wildlife Service to place the owl on the endangered species list, arguing that as an indicator species, the northern spotted owl is a gauge of the health of the forest that provides its habitat. Since the main threat to the spotted owl is habitat loss due to logging, the US government declared the owl as a threatened species in 1990, a move which was vehemently opposed by the timber industry, as millions of acres of Pacific Northwest forest was protected to help slow or even reverse the decline in owl numbers.

Thus, a ferocious debate ensued between the environmentalists, wanting to protect the spotted owl, and the timber industry, fighting for their economic survival. Should the Pacific Northwest’s old growth forest and the welfare of the northern spotted owl be sacrificed for the country’s economy, and the jobs of the people in the logging industry? Which should be given priority?

There is a general consensus, save for the loggers and their allies, that the breeding and survival success of the spotted owl is largely dependent on areas of the old growth forest. The forest provides the naturally occurring platforms that the birds used for nesting. These platforms are large enough to hold the female and the young and also high enough to protect the birds from terrestrial predators. Furthermore, the old growth forest provides a multi-layered canopy which creates cooler temperatures which are ideal for the spotted owl.

Moreover, the environmental groups believed that the owl and its habitat are of great value in terms of providing opportunities for future research. To allow their demise would mean the loss of the opportunity to explore this impressive ecosystem, and the benefits generated by new discoveries.

Saving the spotted owl will save an entire ecosystem on which plants, other animals and humans depend. The steady decline of the owl indicates the demise of other species, such as elk and other flying squirrel, that inhabit these forests, and also the disruption of productive forces of nature that sustain human life. The ancient forest plays a crucial role in the prevention of soil erosion, floods, and landslides. It also provides clean water for agriculture and cities, and enriching the soil with vital nutrients and enhancing the green house effect. No amount of reforestation can replace this highly developed and diverse ecosystem, which has taken many, many years to evolve.

While the environmentalist agree that saving the owl’s habitat could cost jobs, they argue that these same jobs will be lost anyway. If clear cutting continues at its current rate of 125,000 acres a year, the old growth forest will be completely gone within 30 years and the mills forced to close down anyhow.

On the other hand, the timber industry maintains that the harm that will be done is greater than the benefits of saving the owl. Should logging in the old growth forest be reduced, many Americans, and in particular communities in the Pacific Northwest, will be harmed. These forest is a primary source of timber for most of the independent lumber mills in the northwest.

If the volume of logging in the old grown declines, many, many jobs could be lost, thereby leading to increased rates of domestic disputes, crime, vandalism, delinquency and other social ills. Additionally, consumer prices for wood will rise significantly.

To further support their cause, the timber industry point out that the use of second growth wood as an alternative is not viable because the second growth is less strong, as well as being knotty and twisted. Consequently, it cannot be used to produce many products, such as fine furniture and musical instruments, requiring the high quality old growth wood characterized by fine straight lines and few knots.

It is important that the specie is protected as wildlife plays an important role in maintaining the health of the forest. Clear cutting is ecologically unsound as it destroys a complex ecosystem and in the process not only destroy the owls’ habitat, but also endanger many of the species which rely on it. However, the protection of the spotted owl was far from catastrophic as many feared. Despite the loss of jobs in the timber industry, many of the workers found jobs elsewhere, some returned to school and get formal education, and even self-employed. Consequently, the actual number of people who lost their jobs is a far cry from the inflammatory predictions that as many as 100,000 to 150,000 people would be out of work.

In conclusion, reaching middle grounds between the environmentalists and loggers would abate the controversy between the parties; however this has proven to be a difficult feat. The timber industry’s arguments imply that while the owl has the right to survive, the loggers have more right to employment. The Environmental groups do not challenge the right of the loggers; they just ascribe more value to the rights of owl.

As such, if logging reduction in the old-growth forest is in concert with aid to assist those who are entirely dependent on timber, I foresee a viable compromise between the parties. The spotted owl will survive and the loggers will get some assistance to cushion the effect of losing their jobs.…...

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