One Lives, One Dies

Take a really close look at these two beautiful owls.

One of them, the Northern Spotted Owl was declared an endangered species back in the 1990’s. As a result of their almost exclusive preference for old growth forests, aggressive means were employed to protect these beautiful birds. Unfortunately, as a result of conservation methods, much of the logging industry disappeared in the state of Oregon. Some counties, heavily dependent on the logging business, were subsidized by the federal government to replace lost tax revenue. But now, partially because of the recession, and spending cuts, those subsidies have ended, leaving several counties teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.

Once blessed with a pretty healthy employment rate, Oregon now always seems to suffer a higher unemployment rate during a recession. Have we sat around and wrung our hands helplessly? No, we’ve managed to acquire a pretty good corporate presence in the state. Nike is headquartered here. Intel has a huge footprint and Google recently added jobs. We have Columbia Sportswear. We grow 95% of the hazelnuts harvested in the United States. We have a developing wine industry. The economy is becoming more diverse, but the dimishing timber industry has left the economy somewhat vulnerable.

We do have to protect our environment. Our forests are an important renewable resource. And we definitely have a huge responsibility to protect our flora and fauna. People in Oregon get that. We’re a very green state and proud of it. But frankly, I sense many of us are getting a bit weary of the Northern Spotted Owl.

We’ve pampered this owl now for close to 20 years, spending billions to protect a bird that frankly, seems to have little will to thrive. It is often said that nature is all about the survival of the fittest; adapt or die. Many of our native animals are legendary for carving out their niche. For instance, I doubt if it would even be possible to exterminate the coyote or oppossum.

And yet, The Northern Spotted Owl, when faced with any change in habitat, diet or competition, seems to become the “Eeyore” of the owl family, glumly embracing death over almost any challenge. Many of us have great sympathy for the underdog. We want to step in help out, give the downtrodden a fair chance. It’s starting to feel like we’ve taken that little wimpy kid aside, helped him get a black belt in karate and then he goes out on the playground again, still standing in place while the bully beats him to a pulp.

For the most part, I have watched this story unfold and just shaken my head. But now it seems to have taken yet another strange twist. A cousin of the Northern Spotted Owl has, over the years, been expanding its territory. Now moving into Oregon, the Barred Owl seems quite happy with a diverse habitat and diet and is doing quite well. So well, in fact, that it’s in direct competition with the Northern Spotted Owl. Guess who is winning?  Yep, the new raptor in town.

The hardy relative of our forlorn native has now become the latest threat. Do we have a plan to deal with this situation? Yes we do. It can apparently take up to a week to catch an individual Barred Owl, making relocation a time consuming and very expensive process. But a much less expensive plan is being put into place – shoot hundreds of Barred Owls in order to save the Spotted Owl.

I do not debate the importance of taking reasonable steps to save plants and animals from oblivion. Certainly people are guilty in many cases of driving many species to extinction. We have had some successes as we have tried to make amends and bring some back from the brink of being lost forever. In this case, however, nature seems to have chosen. Survival of the fittest, the thriving Barred Owl is destined to win out over the Northern Spotted Owl. But we refuse to accept that. Somehow, we have decided one of these birds is more valuable than the other, even though, in many pictures, it is often difficult to tell them apart. Have another look at that picture.

Look a lot alike, don’t they? But that bird on the right? It’s going to die, because we’re going to shoot it. Apparently, we prefer the one on the left. What a pity.

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