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The wrong owl is winning the fight, so the feds plan to take a hand - and a gun

The Daily Courier, Grants Pass May 9, 2007, editorial

Natural selection's gre3at - as long as the right species wins, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Unfortunately for the agency, the northern spotted owl, its choice for owl in the Northwest's old growth forests, isn't doing so hot. It's losing out to the bigger and more aggressive barred owl. So, the FWS plans to lend the spotted owl a hand - with a rifle in it.

The FWS unveiled last week plans for spotted owl recovery that include shooting 216-576 barred owls in 18 "study areas." Implementing all of its plans would take $198 million and 30 years, the department estimates.

Of course, the spotted owl is the cute and cuddly animal that almost single-handedly shut down logging on federal forests in this region in 1994, when the Northwest Forest Plan was implemented to save it. The owl was sold as an indicator species for old-growth forests, and logging was identified as the chief villain in its decline. Now, the barred owl is being fingered for its cousin's continued slide.

The big, obvious question is, why should the  FWS - or any human, for that matter - take sides in an owl brawl and thus interfere with natural selection?

It doesn't really matter what owl controls the voles and similar creatures in the Northwest. The ecosystem of the forest would still be maintained. Certainly, the shrew swept up by talons doesn't care which owl is about to eat it.

Federal scientists imply they need to help the spotted owl against the barred owl, because the latter is a carpetbagger from the East, whereas the spotted owl is native to this area. It's true the barred owl has expanded its range over time, following white settlers across the continent.

The real reason the barred owl is in the FWS cross haris is letting the newcomer replace the apotted owl would upset the best laid plans of bureaucrats. The spotted owl has been listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act for 17 years, and thus the nation has committed to saving it, mainly from man.

But protection makes little sense if a species is being replaced naturally and it doesn't damage the ecosystem.

Admittedly, there are rare cases where man's interference with natural selection is merited.

For example, if bigger eagles suddenly started wiping out bald eagles, this nation's symbol, the public would rightfully demand they be defended against the predators. But little damage would be done by letting the barred owl replace the spotted owl. Bureaucrats would just have to shred their forests of plans and possibly look for a new indicator species. How about that hardy barred owl?


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