Sacrificing to the Sacred Owl

by Margaret Goodwin

In ancient religions, practiced by primitive cultures, it was customary to make sacrifices to sundry gods and idols. Some of the more sanguinary cults engaged in human sacrifice.

We like to consider such practices far removed from our civilized modern society. However, we make far more extravagant sacrifices to our sacred idols than the ancients ever dreamed of making.

While the ancients may have slaughtered the odd sheep or bull or virgin on the altar of an angry god, we sacrifice entire regions of our country, decimating their economies, wiping out employment for thousands of people, destroying their livelihoods and breaking up homes, creating widespread poverty and sending statistics on domestic violence, divorce, and drug abuse soaring through the roof, as once-productive and self-sufficient communities decline into indigence.

And to what powerful god are we making this enormous human sacrifice? Well, it’s not a god, exactly. It’s a Sacred Owl.

The Northwest Forest Plan (NWFP) was adopted in 1994 to “protect” the Sacred Owl. Nobody actually knew how many Sacred Owls existed at the time; nor did they know how many had existed in any previous period. Nobody had ever counted them. Instead, they created a model based on nesting habitat. Since Sacred Owls nest in “old growth,” and “old growth” was being reduced by logging, the model inferred that the Sacred Owl population must be declining also.

Based on this model, the powers that be concluded the Sacred Owl must be endangered. Since Sacred Owls also require younger stands for forage, the critical habitat designation was broadened to include most of the public forest lands in the Pacific Northwest. This opened the door for the environmental movement to litigate virtually any timber sale on public lands under the auspices of the Endangered Species Act.

Today, the environmentalists claim the Sacred Owl population is still declining at an alarming rate. So we must set aside even more land as “critical habitat,” sacrificing even more production, jobs, and communities. But, if the Sacred Owl population really is declining so rapidly, eighteen years after the NWFP was put into effect, then clearly the plan is not successful and should be scrapped. Why double down on a failed plan?

Perhaps, from the perspective of the environmental movement, the plan hasn’t really been a failure. Suppose, instead, it has been wildly successful. How could that be, if the Sacred Owl population is even worse off today than it was before the NWFP was implemented?

Let’s do a little thought experiment. What if the Sacred Owl was only a means to an end, rather than an end in itself? Suppose for a moment that the environmental movement wanted to eliminate logging on public lands. In order to accomplish that, they would need to find a law that would allow them to challenge any government timber sale and tie it up in litigation until the legal expenses exceeded the revenues.

The Endangered Species Act would serve that purpose well. They would just need to come up with an endangered species that lives in places where logging occurs. Of course, it couldn’t be just any endangered species, like an insect or rodent or fungus. It would have to be something cute and appealing, something cuddly-looking that people who live in cities would want to protect.

Enter the Sacred Owl. With apologies to Voltaire, if the Sacred Owl didn’t exist, the environmentalists would have had to invent him.

Serendipitously, the Sacred Owl has proven very lucrative for the environmental movement. They discovered another law, called the Equal Access to Justice Act, which requires the government to reimburse legal fees for the prevailing party in lawsuits against the federal government.

In the last four years alone, more than 570 lawsuits have been filed under the Endangered Species Act. When the environmentalists lose, it costs them very little because their attorneys belong to the movement. When they win, they can claim up to $500 an hour in attorney fees.

Just since 2009, U.S. taxpayers have paid the environmental movement more than $15 million in attorney fees for preventing the productive and sustainable use of natural resources on public lands.

So it’s easy to see why this owl is sacred to the environmental movement. It’s been very good to them. But how many more jobs, how many more communities, how many more local economies are we willing to sacrifice to this Sacred Owl, and to its high priests in the environmental movement, before we expose this dangerous cult for what it is? How many more sacrifices can our nation afford to make?

Correction: The NWFP was adopted in 1994 not 1974. (Thanks Rupert in Springfield for catching that!)

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Posted by at 05:00 | Posted in Natural Resources | 43 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • Ed

    Very good article. Wish lots of people, especially those who live in the cities, would read this and give it lots of thought. I wonder how many of the Biologist that work for the government are members of or big supporters of the environmentalist movement. Would just like someone to really make sure the research information they get is for real and not manufactured just to get some restriction implemented

  • Rupert in Springfield

    Im pretty sure the NWFP was adopted in 1994, not 1974. It was Clinton first term at any rate.

    Other than that, it is an interesting comparison, the sacrifice motivation for some of these things.

    Whether one thinks the spotted owl needs protecting or not, I think there is some truth to the idea that some of the motivation does stem from a deep need in people for human sacrifice of some kind.

    Most people couldn’t even give you a rough size estimate of a spotted owl if their lives depended on it, yet they will insist that we should suffer to save it. Its the sacrifice they like, not really the owl so much.

    AGW is a lot like this as well. Most people have absolutely no realistic concept of the real consequences even if the beliefs of AGW adherents were completely true. That’s because they really don’t interest them. What interests them is the sacrifice.

    Note that human sacrifice usually means someone else getting burned at the stake, not oneself. The same attends here. Spotted owl protection is generally supported by those who feel themselves far removed from its consequences. Same with AGW members. A funny light bulb here a couple of bottle returns there and you are done.

    It’s a religious fervor in a way. That’s not good. Do we need to protect the spotted owl? We very well might have to. Do we need to watch out for too much pollution and wasteful use of energy? Obviously. However none of these concerns are served by a public corralled down a pathway of belief based not on sound reason but on religious zealotry.

    On the upside more people are seeing this religious nature of these things that should be otherwise scientific. Since this is starting to include some of the leadership in these movements, that’s a good thing.

    • valley person

      You say we should protect the owl…if we have to. But who forces us to do so? Ourselves, through the laws we pass. Then you say we have to “watch out” for too much pollution or energy waste. But who says what is too much pollution? . Again, we do through our government. And what is a wasteful use of energy? According to economics, there can only be waste if all the costs are unaccounted for, otherwise people maximize utility. But guess what? We didn’t account for the true cost of energy so we do indeed waste it. And what entity can change that? Only government, which can force energy providers and users to account for all costs.

      Are you making an argument for big government here? Or are you just engaging in random Ruperting?

    • Calvinius

      You don’t seem to grasp the real and deadly consequences of ignoring AGW. But you’re not interested in facts, you’re just in knee-jerk denial of anything believed by an environmentalist.

      And your notion that people are “suffering” because of the efforts to save the spotted owl are nonsense.

  • Rupert in Springfield, you are absolutely correct. The NWFP was adopted in 1994. (The reference in the article to the Sacred Owl population still declining “eighteen years after the NWFP was put into effect” reflects that.)
    1974 was just a typo, and I’ll ask if the editor can correct it. Thanks for pointing it out.

  • GiveAHoot

    Plus, the other owls were actually killing this owl more than the logging ever was. Little known fact.

  • valley person

    Conservation of wildlife species is the law of the land. Its called the endangered species act, passed by a bi-partisan Congress and signed into law by a Republican president many years ago. The NW Forest Plan is simply a legally required implementation of that act, and it applies not just to the spotted owl, but over 400 wildlife species that primarily depend on old forest habitat and cannot adapt to young plantation forests.

    It has nothing to do with sacredness. It has to do with respecting the right of the other creatures we share the planet with to be able to survive. for

    • And it’s done a bang up job killing middle class employment in small towns throughout the Pacific Northwest.

      • Calvinius

        Interesting that you can’t provide any evidence to support that claim.

    • ShaneYoung

      A serious philosophical debate as to how we should treat other species is always relevant, but the fact that the laws that are being passed “protect” mainly Endangered Species, as opposed to sentient things in general, suggest to me that they are passed mainly for our own benefit (in hopes of preserving something for ourselves) as opposed to any actual concern for the animals themselves.

    • Doug Stinson

      I agree with respecting the rights of other creatures. If that is correct why are the agencies wanting to kill the Barr Owl

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