Newspapers weigh in on spotted owl


The release last week of the final spotted owl recovery plan continues to reverberate. Newspaper editorial boards are beginning to weigh in, and the word is mixed at best.

The Oregonian says the feds’ plan to kill some of the more aggressive barred owls with shotguns is not the greatest idea, but there may not be any other option.

Of course, there’s no choice but to keep trying to save the spotted owl. The Endangered Species Act, thankfully, doesn’t allow Americans to get frustrated and walk away from trying to preserve a species. And while we are pessimistic about the owl’s future, we think the Obama administration’s owl recovery plan is the best effort so far to save the owl from extinction and allow some logging on national forests in the Northwest.

It builds on 20 years of research on spotted owls, and more carefully and knowledgeably defines high-quality owl habitat. It also more clearly describes forests — particularly young and overcrowded forests — that are not suitable for owls and can and should be available for commercial logging.

The Medford Mail Tribune is much more pessimistic about the plan to kill barred owls.

Fish and Wildlife biologists in the field and, more likely, their superiors in tall office buildings — pigeon, not owl, territory — have grown frustrated at their inability to improve the spotted owls’ survivability. So their latest plan includes stepped-up efforts to “control” the barred owl.

First of all, we’re not children and everyone knows that “control” is code for “kill.” Hey, Fish and Wildlife guys, news flash, we’ve broken your code. Plain English would be appreciated — then again, anyone who has read through a draft environmental impact statement knows that English is not your native tongue.

So, with the code broken, we can address the Fish and Wildlife decision to kill barred owls. In one word, it’s unsustainable. OK, one other word, unnatural.

If the barred owl population is in fact “exploding,” how many owls will biologists have to kill in order to make a difference? Hundreds? Thousands? And for how long will they have to kill those hundreds or thousands? Forever?

Forty years after we had no barred owls, we now have an exploding population, which suggests that the owls not only are adaptable, but also quite good at reproducing. Killing a few hundred birds may postpone the inevitable, but it would take a barred owl genocide to rid the region of them.

In addition to the question of how, there’s the question of why. Why are we killing a dominant species to protect a weaker species? Are we protecting nature or our view of what nature should be?