SEATTLE - Twenty years after the northern spotted owl was afforded
heightened protection, questions remain about its future.
In 1990, the bird was listed as a threatened species, a decision that
has prompted major changes in Northwest timber management ever since.
Back then, environmental activists chained themselves to trees, and
loggers held mock funerals for the timber industry - but today, you
don't hear much about the reasons for their protests.
Are the birds doing any better? Experts say that depends on where you
look. The spotted owl numbers are still on the decline, but not as much
on federal land as on state and privately owned land.
Dominick DellaSala, president and chief scientist for the National
Center for Conservation Science and Policy, thinks state and
federal oversight could be better. He criticizes current logging
practices, which allow what is known as "incidental take," meaning the
loggers acknowledge they will destroy some habitat or perhaps kill some
wildlife in the process.
"I think the (U.S.) Fish and Wildlife Service is not doing an adequate
job of monitoring the amount of incidental take on non-federal land, and
there's not enough protection that will slow the rate of incidental
take on non-federal lands."
DellaSala believes the spotted owl should be listed as endangered rather
than threatened - meaning a higher level of protection.
The law firm Earthjustice has been at the forefront of the
spotted owl debates over the years. Attorney Kristin Boyles says things
may have settled down, but additional protections are needed, because
the species' recovery has been slow.
"The spotted owl issues were terribly divisive - but so was the rampant
over-logging and destruction of those public resources that was going on
beforehand. So, I hope we're getting to a place that's much more of a
Today, some conservation groups believe the spotted owl debate
ultimately helped to diversify the Northwest economy. Protection for
older trees is important, says Boyles, because that's where the spotted
owls prefer to nest, passing up the younger trees. And logging is not
the only threat to spotted owls these days. The larger and more
aggressive barred owl has migrated from the eastern United States to
compete for turf with the spotted owl.