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Saving the Forest and the Owl

Photo taken by Noel Soucy

Northern Spotted Owl

Twenty years after the Northern Spotted Owl was listed under the Federal Endangered Species Act, a plethora of news stories regarding the implications of the policy have appeared across media outlets, including the New York Times.  Last week, EPIC’s Executive Director, Scott Greacen, submitted a letter to the editor of the New York Times in response to the shallow coverage the newspaper published. Below we have posted a long version of the letter. To read the article in it’s entirety, click here.

To the editor –

So seldom does our society review and reassess big decisions we’ve made, especially about conservation, that it’s especially important that we do a good job when we do take a rare look back in the mirror.

It’s thus particularly painful to read Jonathan Raban’s “Losing the Owl, Saving the Forest” (NYT June 25 2010), in which the author stitches together a patchwork of half-examined stereotypes and long-refuted myths to conclude that the effort to protect old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest as habitat for the threatened Northern spotted owl has been a failure. Caught in the tangle of his own misunderstandings, the author fails to illuminate either the serious challenges to the survival and recovery of the owl, and to the larger project of truly sustainable forest management, which still confront us, or the big decisions which still lie before us if we are to save species like the Pacific fisher and the Humboldt marten which also depend on old forests.

Raban suggests that it was the listing of the owl under the Endangered Species Act that led to reductions in logging. But he fails to note either that politically-determined logging of owl habitat in the late 80s and early 90s was at historic highs, which if continued would have effective liquidated old forests on our national forests by the present date, or that the law which actually protected the owl was the National Forest Management Act (NFMA). A better article would have noted that the Forest Service has been trying since that date to dispense with the ‘viability rule’ under NFMA that did so much to protect the owl.

Half-measures, grudgingly conceded, implemented late in the game by the unreformed agencies that created the crisis in the first place are hardly a recipe for solid policy success. A better-informed and more nuanced retrospective on the first twenty years of our efforts to stop destroying northwest forests would better help us to understand the steps we need to take now. Foremost among these, from where I sit behind the redwood curtain in far northern California, are two critical measures: that we bring an end, at long last, to the logging of old growth forest; and that we require even private forest owners to carry their fair share of the conservation load. Even in a region as rich as northwestern California, public lands alone cannot ensure the survival of species and the persistence of ecosystems if companies like Green Diamond and Sierra Pacific Industries are allowed to clearcut steep slopes on 50 year rotations.

Scott Greacen

Executive Director



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