Why are spotted owls more important than other owls – and people?


by Dan Lucas

When I wrote about the budget problems in Polk County several weeks ago, one of the major factors was the loss of O&C timber harvesting revenue. The Statesman Journal’s Anna Staver reported “federal protections for the spotted owl and salmon curtailed 90 percent of logging on federal forest lands.”

I understand that protection for the spotted owl isn’t the only cause of the devastating drop in timber harvesting, but it is a significant factor. Enough of a factor that even federal government documents refer to the payments to compensate for the loss of O&C timber revenue as “spotted owl payments.” Payments which have dwindled to almost nothing.

So what I don’t understand is who determined that this bird is more important than the people living in Oregon communities who depended on the jobs and tax base that timber harvesting provided?

While visiting friends a number of years ago in an Oregon town in Douglas County I was told “When I grew up here this used to be a lumber town. Now it’s a meth town.” The community was grappling with massive unemployment and a loss of living-wage jobs.

Despite the devastation to Oregon communities in the name of protecting the spotted owl, their numbers are still declining. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service reports “Owl numbers appear to have declined annually since 1985 when many studies began. Spotted owls are currently declining at an average rate of 2.9 percent rangewide each year.” A 2013 federal report shows a steady decline in spotted owl detections for almost two decades in the Oregon Coast Ranges.

Now in a further attempt to try to protect spotted owls, another owl, the barred owl, is being killed. NPR notes it’s illegal to shoot barred owls, under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, but it’s being done anyway. And there are plans to kill thousands more barred owls — in the name of protecting the spotted owl.

It seems somewhat inconsistent and arbitrary. Some protected birds really get protected, and some protected birds are deliberately killed.

And then there’s the complete green light given to the hundreds of thousands of birds that are killed by wind turbines. The L.A. Times reported in 2011 that “about 440,000 birds are killed at wind farms each year, according to federal wildlife authorities.”

Rather than getting prosecuted for violating up to three different federal laws protecting the birds, wind energy companies get tax subsidies from the government! And the birds getting killed include birds like bald eagles and golden eagles.

It’s not just Oregon towns and counties who are suffering because of environmental restrictions on timber harvesting. It’s also Oregon schools. The Cascade Policy Institute recently reported that protections for another bird resulted in an actual loss of $3 million last year for the Common School Fund, a part of the state’s funding for K-12. That’s because Gov. Kitzhaber and other members of the State Land Board have set aside more than 84% of the Fund’s 93,000-acre Elliott State Forest to protect the alleged needs of the marbled murrelet. Cascade notes that a study shows that by simply selling or leasing that state forest, “Oregon schools would gain additional revenues of $40-50 million per year, with larger amounts over time.” So rather than a loss of $3 million, Oregon schools would be gaining an additional $40-50 million per year.

Please let’s start putting people first – not theories about birds – theories that aren’t even working and theories that are being applied very selectively.

To read more from Dan, visit www.dan-lucas.com