Battle for spotted owls doesn't help them much but hurts logging jobs

Battle for spotted owls doesn't help them much but hurts logging jobs

March 6th, 2012 in Opinion Free Press

If it weren't for the economic harm that environmental extremism has done in the Northwestern United States, the long-running debate over spotted owls versus logging might be laughable. But destroying jobs needlessly is no laughing matter.

As you may recall, harsh, federally imposed logging restrictions in the 1990s killed thousands of jobs in the timber industry across large areas of the Northwest. The goal of the restrictions was to rescue the threatened population of Northern spotted owls by protecting their habitat.

But no one seemed to have considered carefully the full range of causes for the spotted owls' dwindling numbers. And despite massive reductions in logging, the owls' decline continues rapidly even today. In fact, the head of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's effort to help the owls recover has said there is scant evidence that the logging ban did any good.

As it turns out, nature itself is playing a huge role in the spotted owls' falling numbers. The bird is a victim of the much more aggressive barred owl, which competes with spotted owls for food and at times even kills spotted owls.

So oppressive federal logging bans haven't saved the spotted owl, yet they have destroyed economic growth.

What does the Obama administration plan to do about that?

Well, it has devised a plan to shoot barred owls in some areas of the Northwest, to protect spotted owls from their aggressive cousins.

The administration has also said it will allow some very limited logging to reduce the risk of wildfires and create jobs -- though there are serious doubts that such a narrow allowance for logging will do much to restore lost timber industry jobs.

In late 2008, then-President-elect Obama said on "60 Minutes," "What you see in FDR, that I hope my team can emulate, is not always getting it right but projecting a sense of confidence and a willingness to try things and experiment in order to get people working again."

We'd rather the president "get it right" more often and "experiment" less. And in this case, we don't even need to experiment. We already know what would create jobs in the timber industry: ending misguided logging restrictions that have demonstrably failed to achieve their environmental goals.

Unfortunately, that does not appear to be in prospect.