Our Sponsors:

Read more »

Our Members

Many thanks to Sharee von Elling and Philip & Sally Kipper some of our many supporters.

ALL MEMBERS »

Northwest forests, spotted owls at risk

The Obama administration has put science back into play. But two decades after a plan to save NW forests, distractions keep the focus off owl and habitat protection.
Northern Spotted Owl

Northern Spotted Owl U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The spotted owl wars in the forests of the Pacific Northwest have dragged on longer than America's shooting wars in the Middle East. And they may be just as far from any kind of lasting peace.

But chalk one up for the conservationists — and, just possibly, for the owls.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has published yet another critical habitat designation for the Northern Spotted Owl, increasing the Bush Administration's scientifically indefensible acreage by almost 90 percent, and earning qualified applause from environmental groups. Some conservationists complain that the FWS proposal contains roughly 4.2 million fewer acres than the agency proposed in a March draft.

Still, as they readily acknowledge, the new rule preserves more habitat than was envisioned by the Northwest Forest Plan of 1994. After the Bush administration spent two full terms trying to undercut that plan, restoring and even improving the status quo ante seems no mean accomplishment.

The original battle over saving the Northern Spotted Owl and the old-growth forests in which it lived was, of course, one of the bitterest and most significant environmental conflicts of the late 20th century. The owl was both a symbol of and surrogate for the old-growth coniferous forests of the Pacific Northwest. Timber interests wanted to preserve their access to old-growth trees in the national forests. Environmental groups wanted to restrict their access. The owl was listed as threatened in 1990. The next year, U.S. District Judge William Dwyer enjoined all new federal timber sales in spotted owl habitat until the administration of George H.W. Bush complied with the nation's environmental laws.

That first Bush administration never did. Campaigning for the presidency in 1992, Bill Clinton promised that if elected, he would bring all interested parties together and hammer out a solution to the spotted owl problem.

True to his word, Clinton convened a "Northwest Forest Conference" in Portland the following April. The meeting included the president, the vice president, four cabinet secretaries, and representatives of timber towns, environmental groups, scientific disciplines, forest-products companies for a full day of conversation. The following year, his administration came out with the Northwest Forest Plan, which protected some 6.7 million acres of owl habitat and potential habitat. It was designed to protect not just owls, but also marbled murrelets, which had been listed as a threatened species in 1992, and hundreds of other species that depend on or are associated with old-growth forests, and was basically organized around the stream corridors vital to wild salmon runs. It was also designed — Clinton said in an ill-advised, pie-in-the-sky, something-for-everyone political statement — to let loggers cut a billion board feet a year in the national forests. Predictably, virtually no one liked it.

Environmentalists — who, a few years earlier, would have gladly settled for much less — complained that it didn't go far enough. Forest products companies — which had prospered, along with mill town economies, from an unsustainable logging binge in the late 1980s — complained that it went too far. But the plan survived lawsuits, Dwyer lifted his injunction, and life went on, kind of.

Arguably, the plan and the conference that preceded it represent high-water marks in this nation's attempts at ecosystem management and environmental statesmanship. And yet . . . the old timber economy hasn't come back. Neither have the owls.

And the litigation has never gone away.

The Northwest's national forests have never yielded anything close to that billion board feet. Some people had predicted up to 150,000 job losses in Washington, Oregon and northern California, with a lasting regional economic slump as a result. In fact, the regional economy and regional employment both grew. Outside certain small communities, the old timber economy sank without a ripple. As a 1999 study by three Oregon economists put it, "the sky did not fall."


Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!

Comments:

Posted Tue, Dec 11, 10:32 a.m. Inappropriate

As long as there are forests that haven't been logged, there will be those who want to log them, especially if they have big trees. This will never end. We will always have to defend these forests.

Steve E.

Posted Wed, Dec 12, 9:30 a.m. Inappropriate

This article states,“if we designate [critical habitat] on private and state land, people just go crazy.” Did you stop and consider that they are not crazy, they are just not willing to allow this spotted owl farce be used as an excuse to take control of private lands. Back up a few decades. The Spotted Owl is barely a resident of the Pacific Northwest. It's main habitat is Central America with a mere spattering into our lands. Now again there is talk of destroying the Barred Owl to help establish a greater population of Spotted Owl into our forest. What exactly has to happen before this ruse is seen through? The entire Spotted Owl debacle is intended to take control of public lands away from the industries that benefit man and lock them away. The environmentalist tree huger crowd are simply pawns who are manipulated into doing the leg work at protests and terrorist acts against timber industry. This originates far from here maybe in Washington DC maybe in New York at the UN building. No matter where it originates it goes hand in hand with the goals of the World Government Pretenders at the United Nations, is supported by the Obama administration and the democrat party. This whole issue fits nicely into the intent of what has come to be known as "Agenda 21". Government has become a cancer on our society. Instead of operating within the limits outlined in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution government has become so big and powerful it makes it's owl rules. It seems that no longer is the purpose of government to protect natural born rights of Americans. We whose lives revolve around the timber industry and the other trades that depend on the use of natural resources are a casualty of this new world order. All of the benefits to mankind by the use of the most renewable resource (our forests) will soon be lost to bureaucracy. Tied away under thousands of use laws that originate not from a scientific basis but instead by those who use the pen to defeat American freedoms and values.

farmrdave

Posted Wed, Dec 12, 9:14 p.m. Inappropriate

Who sent you to post a psychotic rant here? Are we supposed to take you seriously? "Spotted Owl ...main habitat is Central America"! "Government has become a cancer on our society."

You don't have a clue about NSO biology, let alone NW natural resource politics. Here's a counter trope for you: Move to Somalia; you won't have any government bothering you.

Please go away.

louploup

Posted Wed, Dec 12, 11:07 p.m. Inappropriate

Interesting article. Crosscut readers might be interested to know that one of the most important and impressive big-tree forests remaining in Washington state, at Bumping Lake east of Mt. Rainier, is under imminent threat. The forests at Bumping are one of just a handful of places where real, true ancient forest survives on productive, low elevation, flat ground. Most surviving old forest is on steep mountainsides, or at high elevations. Scabland, basically, or at least leftovers. Not so with Bumping, which is prime real estate.

Those forests won't be around much longer if the "Yakima Integrated Plan" goes ahead, with its new dam at Bumping which will drown all of it. They will be sacrificed because Yakima valley agribusiness is not interested in water conservation, only in getting the taxpayers to supply them with yet more free water, water in addition to that from the five large reservoirs that already supply them.

The pricetag for all this is around five billion dollars, billion with a "B." But Yakima agribusiness is used to getting what it wants, and having the rest of us pay for it. This time the price won't just be billions of dollars, it will be the forests at Bumping too. Go see them while they are still there. I hope Crosscut will take a look at the fate of these very unusual forests.

Posted Tue, Dec 18, 1:03 p.m. Inappropriate

In the spirit of preservation and spotted owl habitat, I would personally love it if Crosscut could address the proposed destruction of Bumping Lake as part of the Yakima Basin Integrated Water Management Plan. I've read several articles that appear pro-Plan - it does have good goals - but read nothing that sheds light on what the trade-offs are. Several billion-dollar taxpayer-funded dams are on the docket, and the one at Bumping would inundate and destroy 1500 acres of ancient, unlogged forest that provide habitat for Spotted Owls, as well as trails, campgrounds, cabins and a boathouse. It's a historical area that is unmatched in Eastern Washington, and there has been no mention of this potential atrocity. Look into it, Crosscut!

Maize

Login or register to add your voice to the conversation.

Join Crosscut now!
Subscribe to our Newsletter

Follow Us »