Survival of the Species?
Friday, September 16, 2005
SEATTLE — The federal government has given a California group permission to kill one species of owl in an attempt to save the Northern Spotted Owl (search) from extinction, but the process has left some people in the timber industry shaking their heads.
The government recently gave the California Academy of Sciences (search) permission to kill 20 Barred Owls (search) in an effort to learn why they are thriving in the same forests where Spotted Owls continue to decline.
The Barred Owl is larger, stronger and eats more types of prey than the Spotted Owl, and some scientists believe that they are wiping out the weaker Spotted Owl.
"Whether we'll be able to save the spotted owl in the long term, I don't know,” said Jack Dunbacher from the California Academy of Sciences. “We always hope that what we learn will be able to preserve as much bio-diversity as possible for as long as possible."
But critics call favoring one species over another “playing God,” instead of letting nature run its course, and argue that scientists should have factored in the so-called "enemy owl" before leaving the timber industry nearly extinct.
"You can't turn nature into a museum,” said Ron Arnold (search), author of “Ecology Wars: Environmentalism As If People Mattered,” and other books critical of environmentalists. “Even if you try to play God, it never works."
Among environmentalists, the Spotted Owl achieved a revered status as a symbol of the victory of nature over industry.
But to many who lost their logging jobs during the timber wars of the 1980s and 1990s, seeing the Spotted Owl lose out to another owl species bolsters their argument that the timber industry was not the "owl killer" it was portrayed as being.
"There's a great deal of bitterness and resentment and it's time to get that industry back on its feet to take those restrictions off and go do a responsible job of creating homes with the timber that's standing there,” said Arnold.
Forest managers say that just because the Spotted Owl may face extinction by natural selection, preserving its home is still a priority.
"If you believe in wildlife management, from time to time humans do intervene to favor one species over another," said Lenny Young of the Washington State Department of Natural Resources.
So, to save a weaker species of owl, we have to kill a dominant, thriving species. I'll bet if you ask most environmentalists whether they follow the dictum of "survival of the fittest" or any other Darwinian mindset, they'd say yes. So what's up with this story?? Why is the spotted owl more important to nature than the barred owl?
I think the environmentalists got themselves in a bind when they used the spotted owl to attack the timber industry and now they have to do whatever they can to keep the species around, even if it means killing off another species. They just couldn't admit that the spotted owl was on the decline to begin with and that nature is adaptive. (Spotted owls were sighted living in the K-Mart sign in Arcata, Ca....like I said, adaptive.)
Who needs satire when you can just read the news?