Politics vs. Ecology: The Spotted Owl as a Case Study

The northern spotted owl Strix occidentalis caurina of North America inhabits old-growth forests from British Columbia to northern California, and faces threats of logging, fires and a competitive invasive species; the barred owl. The species was listed as threatened in 1990 due to the multiple threats it faces, and a species recovery plan has been proposed by the Fish and Wildlife Service’s.

However the recovery plan has met criticism from a panel of scientists, who suggest the plan has major flaws. A team was formed to draft the recovery plan that was made up of environmentalists and timber industry representatives, but lacked top scientists. As such, the draft legislation contained a clause (Option 2) that was said to reduce the amount of land set aside for owl conservation and give greater flexibility for logging. An inside source also claimed that those drafting the plan wanted the threat from the barred owl to be given greater weight than habitat loss.

There are fears now that the final legislation will not include the necessary measures to combat the decline of the spotted owl (3.7% a year), and that pressure from the Bureau of Land Management and the Forestry Service will result in inadequate protection of old-growth forests.

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