The northern spotted owl is the poster bird for why the federal Endangered Species Act must be revised.
Since the owl was first listed as "threatened" in 1990 timber harvests in Northwestern national forests have been reduced by 80 percent, throwing thousands of loggers, mill workers and others out of work.
It was a shameful, tragic event that destroyed families that for generations had worked in the woods and eviscerated much of the region's economy. Communities are still struggling and counties in Oregon, Washington and Northern California remain on federal life support, some teetering on the verge of bankruptcy.
Over a bird.
Though the range of the spotted owl stretches from central Mexico into British Columbia, the northern population, which likes to live in old-growth forests, is deemed to be "threatened." That's in spite of the fact that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates there are 7,000 to 10,000 northern spotted owls living between Marin County, Calif., and British Columbia.
Yet the agency's scientists estimate its population is shrinking in 7 of 11 study areas and the number of northern spotted owls is declining by about 2.9 percent a year.
Why? Logging and wildfires are two causes. While logging in much of the owl's 12.1 million-acre range has been choked off, nothing can be done about the wildfires. They are acts of nature.
So is the third reason for the northern spotted owl's shrinking population -- the barred owl. According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, barred owls "are larger, more aggressive, and more adaptable than spotted owls." Scientists say the barred owls, which to a casual observer is nearly identical to the spotted owl, displace spotted owls, disrupt their nesting, interbreed with them and, sometimes, kill them. Wherever barred owls are, the population of spotted owls shrinks, scientists believe.
Now wildlife managers want to kill 3,000 barred owls as part of an experiment to see if it helps spotted owls.
In other words, the Endangered Species Act has put federal wildlife managers in the role of Mother Nature. The federal government is picking winners and losers.
Under the ESA, the spotted owl has to be saved at all costs, even if it means killing off the barred owls.
That makes no sense. One might suppose that once federal managers wipe out populations of the barred owl it will be protected under the ESA, too.
Another flaw in the law is the selective mathematics wildlife managers use. We are told the spotted owl is threatened even though thousands of them live in the Northwest and even more live as far south as Mexico.
We are also told that the gray wolf is "endangered" in some parts of the Lower 48 when tens of thousands of them live across the border in Canada and even more live in Alaska.
Yet millions upon millions of tax dollars are poured into "protecting" these species -- and local economies are damaged in the process.
In the case of the spotted owl, much of the timber industry was sacrificed when a major culprit, the barred owl, was allowed to continue doing damage.
In the name of the Endangered Species Act.