Once again, it's time to fix the ESA
A federal judge
has dismissed a third lawsuit filed by an environmental
group to stop the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from
shooting barred owls in an experimental attempt to boost
numbers of the endangered spotted owl.
At the same
time, the service is struggling to explain if the program
made any difference.
spotted owls were listed as threatened under the Endangered
Species Act in 1990. Environmental groups blamed its
dwindling numbers on the logging of old growth forests, the
owlís preferred habitat. As a result, logging in the
Northwest, particularly on federal lands, was greatly
While this had
a devastating impact on local economies built on the timber
industry, it didnít seem to do much for spotted owl
populations. Wildlife managers say thatís because another
species, the barred owl, moved into the territory.
The barred owl
is native to the Eastern United States, though for more than
a century itís been making its way farther West. Itís bigger
and more aggressive than the spotted owl, pushing its little
cousin out of its territory. It also is more adaptable,
preying on a variety of small animals, birds and reptiles
where the spotted owl has a more limited diet.
Five years ago
the Fish and Wildlife Service began an experimental program
of shooting barred owls in selected locations to reduce
pressure on spotted owls. The project is controversial, even
within the service, because it involves killing one
protected, although plentiful, species to revive another.
Friends of Animals, which has filed three separate lawsuits
to block the service from shooting barred owls. Each has
been dismissed. Last month U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken
ruled the nonprofit lacked the legal standing to file its
third complaint in federal court. The group plans an appeal.
For its part,
the government has not been able to show the program has
done anything to boost spotted owl populations. It has
markedly reduced barred owl populations. Since the
experiment began, the agency has removed 2,086 barred owls
through the end of 2018, up from 1,148 at the end of 2017.
hopes to have enough data compiled this month to have a more
conclusive analysis of the program by mid year.
So, the saga of
the spotted owl continues.
All of this
would be somewhat amusing if farmers, ranchers and loggers
in the Pacific Northwest didnít have a stake in the
Endangered Species Act and wildlife restoration projects
undertaken by government agencies.
One of the most
vexing aspects of the ESA is the lawsuits that it generates.
Farmers and ranchers too often find themselves the
defendants. But the government ó i.e. taxpayers ó isnít
immune to lawsuits.
Any time the
government kills one species ó sea lions, cormorants, barred
owls ó in a dubious attempt to save another, someone sues.
Who could foresee that?
We love a good
farce, but this whole affair is just one example of how the
ESA is fundamentally broken. Congress must fix it.
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