Friday, February 11, 2011

So much for saving the spotted owl

In the late 1970s, some U.S. forest scientists became engrossed by a small, reclusive owl that fed on rodents in the wet, lush and steadily disappearing old-growth forests of Oregon.

Environmental groups, looking for a legal wedge in their increasingly aggressive crusade to halt old-growth logging, soon caught wind of the concerns and sued to list the northern spotted owl among the nation's endangered species.

What followed was one of the most gut-grabbing economic and social upheavals in modern Oregon history. In the five years after 1990, timber employment dropped from 57,400 to 46,200 sending families to unemployment offices and food banks.

Now even the most optimistic biologists now admit that the docile owl -- revered and reviled as the most contentious symbol the Northwest has known -- will probably never fully recover.

Intensive logging of the spotted owl's old-growth forest home threw the first punch that sent the species reeling. But the knockout blow is coming from a direction that scientists who drew up plans to save the owl didn't count on: nature itself.

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