Washington Congressman Pushes to Roll Back Habitat Protection for Spotted Owl

Washington Congressman Doc Hastings, current chair of the U.S. Natural Resources Committee, recently proposed to reduce federal protection for national forests in the northwest, arguing that predation by the Barred Owl, rather than habitat destruction is the real threat that the Northern Spotted Owl.  He cites a handful of corporate-funded studies claiming that the Barred Owl holds exclusive responsibility for declines in Spotted Owl populations, therefore suggesting that preservation of old growth timber is inconsequential to its survival.  His argument conveniently overlooks the fact that almost every species on the planet experiences predation from other species, and that these natural (and in fact ecologically beneficial) relations do not generally lead to extinction unless another (artificial) factor – like extensive deforestation or other habitat loss – first causes a drastic imbalance in environment, food sources, or population. Congressman Hasting’s argument is as follows:

“Instead of attempting to improve forest management, the federal government recently proposed a sweeping expansion of 13 million acres of new “critical habitat designations” where any type of logging would be forbidden.  This includes 2 million acres of privately owned land, impacting 1,615 landowners with 10 or more acres in the State of Washington alone.

Washington’s 9 million acres of forests have long provided multi-use benefits for Northwest communities.  These forests must be protected and managed responsibly to preserve this important resource for centuries to come…

…The lack of federal management and endless lawsuits have had a devastating impact on the health of our forests, even on the owl habitat they were intended to protect.  The Northwest has seen an average of 355,000 acres per year of our federal forests burn in wildfires since 1994.”

In short, Spector argues that preservation of habitat in its pristine state is folly because forests cannot manage themselves, and require human intervention — such as logging and wildfire suppression — in order to function as healthy, balanced ecosystems. Without a reinstatement or indeed expansion of logging, the Spotted Owl is doomed.

Of course scientists have been refuting this flimsy logic for decades, and study after study shows that habitat preservation is absolutely imperative to protecting against loss of biodiversity. Corporate and political appeals to “protecting jobs” have long been used as a smokescreen to defend multinational business interests. When we actually look at the history of the timber industry’s relations to labor in Washington, and its flagrant disregard for the wellbeing of its employees, it seems clears that profits are the only thing they care to protect. The timber industry has never hesitated to

  • cut jobs when shareholder profits have fallen short of projections
  • shut down mills after recklessly exploiting forest habitats in one area, only to more on to the next bonanza site
  •  ship jobs overseas where labor is cheap, regulations are lax, and standing forests are still available for unrestrained harvesting

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