Owls and Grouse and Wolves, Oh My!

State and federal endangered species listings have greatly influenced the economies and culture of Oregon’s communities for decades. Ironically, they have had relatively little success in actually influencing the species they want to recover. Still, government agencies refuse to abandon their monocular vision of individual species recovery. Broader policy objectives and market-oriented approaches would allow the integration of management decisions which address multiple species and other surrounding issues that hinder recovery. This can be achieved by returning the power of conservation to local and private entities that are more effective stewards of the environment.

Individual species, and our environment as a whole, no longer can afford the constrained vision of bureaucratic policymakers and judges dictating how to recover individual species with little or no consideration of the human communities and environment among which they live. In the famous classic The Wizard of Oz, a great all-knowing wizard from the Emerald City dictates what Dorothy, the Cowardly Lion, Tin Man and Scarecrow must do in order to be granted their desires. Like the Wizard, both the state and the federal government emulate this all-knowing entity with a solution to every problem, believing they can create a utopia as long as their mandates are followed by the “little people.” However, that has not proven to be true in the real-world implementation of recovery plans for many species in Oregon.

The sage grouse is currently a candidate species for listing as “federally endangered.” Once it is listed, government agencies will have little flexibility to work with landowners in a constructive manner, rather than a punitive manner, to improve sage grouse habitat. The constructive engagement of landowners could offer a litany of market-oriented solutions for species recovery. Juniper is known to serve as perches for the sage grouse’s predators, so landowners could receive incentives to manage these stands, which also provide improvements to other environmental conditions. Like the Cowardly Lion, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODF&W) must conjure up the courage to recognize that the regulatory approach to species recovery is unproductive and to work with landowners to develop market-driven solutions to enhance habitat, rather than multiplying burdensome regulations that constrain the use of their property.

The Tin Man dreams of getting a heart, but emotions run high in the recovery of gray wolves. A recent flurry of livestock depredation in eastern Oregon due to wolves has left ranchers feeling helpless. Environmentalists were outraged when ODF&W finally approved the lethal removal of a limited number of wolves. They filed a lawsuit which likely will provide a management mandate from a judge that will continue to heighten emotions, rather than provide a solution that considers the community and the cultures directly affected by the wolf population.

Real solutions between these two polarized parties?ranchers and environmentalists?lie within the local community. Developing a solution at the local level allows personal relationships, understanding and buy-in to the solution. In other words, it creates a heart for the community and the species. This can’t be accomplished by bureaucrats and environmentalists with no direct connection to the community. Regrettably, the Endangered Species Act doesn’t allow for the consideration of the affected communities; the species itself is the only consideration.

In the infamous words of the Scarecrow?“if I only had a brain”? it doesn’t take much knowledge to recognize that appropriate market incentives will achieve more comprehensive outcomes than bureaucratic solutions. After twenty years of failure to recover the northern spotted owl, a federal judge recently ordered the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to revise the 2008 Recovery Plan. Unfortunately, the lack of recovery is being blamed essentially on limited habitat. Even though barred owls have taken a toll on spotted owl recovery as well, the new Recovery Plan due to be released at the end of 2010 will focus mainly on including additional habitat on private lands.

Coinciding with this, the Oregon Department of Forestry, along with USFWS and Natural Resource Conservation Service, has announced a Safe Harbor agreement in which private landowners can participate voluntarily if their lands are potential habitat for spotted owls. The Healthy Forests Reserves Program has been developed to offer the opportunity for private landowners to receive monetary incentives for habitat protection and participation in the Safe Harbor Agreement. Although both programs are problematic, at least these agencies seem to recognize that to engage private landowners in species recovery, there must be both regulatory assurances and financial incentives.

However, there are better private enterprise models which should be considered before punitive regulations are laid upon private landowners. The Sea Lion Caves along the Oregon coast is a local example of how the development of a privately owned, profitable enterprise can create jobs, protect the environment and recover endangered species. In 1977 there was a movement to place the Caves under state jurisdiction, but the public recognized the Caves were better off under private management. It is time for Oregonians to recognize there are better ways to achieve conservation goals than the current punitive tools used by state and local governments.

Endangered species policies are at crossroads. If Oregon continues on the same path, it will only lead back to the Emerald City where a non-magical little man hides behind a screen, slowly turning the gears and levers of government, never achieving the desired outcomes. Or, we can choose to take a different path, where the policy constraints that are strangling both our communities and endangered species are removed, freeing local communities and private entities to work together to conserve Oregon’s unique ecosystems.

The Endangered Species Act won’t be repealed with three clicks of ruby slippers. But at a minimum, Congress should reform the Act to allow decentralized policies and market-oriented solutions that truly bring about species recovery, rather than penalizing the individuals and communities that actually have the opportunity to save these species.


Karla Kay Edwards is Rural Policy Analyst at Cascade Policy Institute. She has held positions of leadership in numerous organizations focusing on agricultural and rural industries and issues, including the Fresno (California) Farm Bureau, Washington Cattlemen’s Association and the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

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Posted by at 06:00 | Posted in Measure 37 | 8 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • Ricky

    Just about every function of government could be performed better and for less in the private sector. In fact, it is hard to imagine anything that government does that could not be done better in a private system unfettered with unions, runaway pensions, crazy overtime, workers who don’t, etc.
    Free enterprise is the answer. Not more regs from buffoons who could not get dressed by themselves in the morning without help.

  • eagle eye

    Yes, of course, if we had only left things to the private market, there wouldn’t be a problem of endangered species — the market would save them. Yeah. Sure.

  • Jess Messenr

    Or we could envoke our 10th Amendment and stand up to the politics that have been dominated by the Sierra Club and the HSUS. These groups have dominated our political system starting in the early 1980’s. It is time common sense made a comeback. These wolves are not the same species that were native here. These are northern wolves with extremely different behaviors than the originals. Montana and Idaho made this mistake and are now standing up to the feds to fix it. These wolves should not be allowed to invade our state. They will wipe out the native prey species as they are doing in Yellowstone and beyond. This is all about political power and we are allowing the other side to walk all over us…

  • Jan

    It is past time toi make the Sierra Club, HSUS & non profit social serivice agencies the endangered species in Oregon. They take funds from vital state services while rewarding themselves with rich salaries.

  • valley p

    “Still, government agencies refuse to abandon their monocular vision of individual species recovery. ”

    Not true. The Northwest Forest Plan, which I imagine you hate, was designed to protect and help over 400 species that depend on old growth and mature forests. Bruce Babbitt, under the Clinton administration, created several initiatives for managing entire ecosystems rather than species by species. Every one of these initiatives was opposed by your party.

    “This can be achieved by returning the power of conservation to local and private entities that are more effective stewards of the environment.”

    Excuse me? The “power of conservation” has never rested with local and private entities. We had over 100 years of experience of private conservation. It failed, and led to the establishment of national forests and rangelands. And it led further to the endangered species act. Most private land owners have little or no interest in conservation of native species other than what they can eat or sell.

    “A recent flurry of livestock depredation in eastern Oregon due to wolves has left ranchers feeling helpless.”

    OK, so I suppose we should turn wolf management over to private ranchers. That should take care of things right?

    “After twenty years of failure to recover the northern spotted owl, a federal judge recently ordered the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to revise the 2008 Recovery Plan.”

    The “failure” was predicted by the scientists who wrote the NW forest plan. There were more owls than there was habitat for, so continued decline of the population was predicted until the habitat matched the number of breeding pairs. Add to that invasion of the area by the barred owl and you deepen the problem. But you knew all this right?

    “The Endangered Species Act won’t be repealed with three clicks of ruby slippers. But at a minimum, Congress should reform the Act to allow decentralized policies and market-oriented solutions that truly bring about species recovery,”

    This is a crock. There is no history of decentralized policies or market oriented solutions to endangered species problems. Put something specific on the table. Don;t just give us free market will fix everything claptrap.

    “dictating how to recover individual species with little or no consideration of the human communities and environment among which they live.”

    Species recovery plans take human communities into account. This is why conservation of northwest forest species is concentrated on public forest lands rather than on private forest lands.

  • Rob DeHarpport

    Valley,
    You say;
    “This is a crock. There is no history of decentralized policies or market oriented solutions to endangered species problems. Put something specific on the table. Don;t just give us free market will fix everything claptrap”.
    How about these heavy handed agencies just implement a small dose of common sense, let’s put that on the table. If these so called “species recovery plans” take human communities into account –why has the timber industry in the NW been decimated? Why have rural communities in Oregon been decimated? Why have our forests been allowed to virtually rot before our eyes?
    Do you know that the harvest level on our National Forests do not even amount to an equal amout that is naturally dying of old age & disease (mortality)? Yet, policy says to rip-up roads & culverts, place gates all over the forests.
    The EPA has abused the ESA, the ESA and the EPA need a bit of common sense revision.

    • TreeC123

      Rob D you say “why has the timber industry in the NW been decimated? Why have rural communities in Oregon been decimated? Why have our forests been allowed to virtually rot before our eyes?”

      Because:
      1) Prior to 1990, the federal forests were removed at an unsustainable rate, so the rate of removal had to decline. The more extreme the overharvest, the more extreme the required compensatory decline. The timber industry made their bed (slept with cronies in the Reagan and Bush I administrations that pumped up logging) and now they have to live with the consequences.
      2) The timber industry become global and other regions took some of our PNW market share.
      3) Communities suffered because the mills mechanized and replaced workers with machines, and they broke the unions and reduced real wages.
      4) The financial markets have created many housing bubbles, which create counterfactual demand for housing construction and wood and logging. These booms were always followed by busts. The pro-logging people seem to recall only the booms but not the busts.
      5) Luckily growth in other sectors of the economy more than made up for the job losses in the timber industry, but certainly some communities suffered.
      6) The federal forests are still being extensively logged (not rotting before out eyes). Since the NWFP was adopted in 1994, more than 7.6 billion (with a “B”) board feet of timber has been offered/sold from federal forest lands (from both FS and BLM lands in the three-state owl region). That’s equivalent to 1.5 million log truck loads, which would stretch 15,800 miles if parked end-to-end. That’s equivalent to a convoy of log trucks, five abreast parked end-to-end, stretching continuously from Seattle, WA to San Jose, (not California) COSTA RICA! Since 2000, most of this volume has been from thinning young stands which conservationists support so its rarely hits the news.

    • valley p

      Rob…treeC123 gets it pretty right so I won’t repeat his or her points. I will say I worked for the Forest Service 11 years, from the mid 80s to mid 90s. Everyone, and I mean everyone I worked with there knew the national forests were being cut way too fast and heavy. We knew the spotted owl was declining. We knew the salmon was declining. We knew most of the public hated what we were doing to their forests. We kept cutting because Republicans, but also some Democrats like Les Aucoin, put constant pressure on the FS and BLM to keep the logs coming out of the woods.

      Rural communities were in effect the victims of their own greed, and of their succes in getting their politicians doing their bidding. They had a short sighted attitude toward federal forests. They thought they could just turn them into tree plantations for their own benefit. That worked ok for decades, but time caught up to the program.

      People like to blame environmentalists, but really all they did was call attention to the problem and force the federal government to live up to its own laws, notably the endangered species and clean water acts.

      Sure, the current harvest level on national forests in Oregon is an embarrassment. It is far below the amount of timber growing and dying naturally there. But as it turns out, those dead trees have an ecological purpose as habitat. And to get trees out of the woods you need roads, and those roads are very damaging to streams, are avenues for invasive weeds, and are corridors for fire.

      This fiasco has been a tragedy for timber dependent communities. But anyone with eyes could see it coming miles (years) away. And before you or anyone accuses me of anything, forestry, including logging, is part of my consulting practice. I’m not against cutting trees. I like to see it done the right way, and darn few people do that. Until we learn from past mistakes we can’t adopt the right practices.

      And I’ll tell you what. The private timber industry does not give a fig about the spotted owl, nor do ranchers care about wolves. That is why Karla’s suggestions are a bunch of nonsense.

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