Northern Spotted Owl Controversy


The Northern Spotted Owl, also known as the Strix occidentalis caurina, is a Western North American bird hailing from the Strigdae family. The owl is characterised by its dark brown colour, a height of about one and a half feet and a wingspan of about three and a half feet.

Threats to Species

The Northern Spotted Owl is a threatened species which is a category less worrying than endangered. The threat to this species of owl, which only has two other variants, is primarily because of the depletion of the old growth forests in Canada and in regions around South Oregon. The Northern Spotted Owl doesn’t change its habitat unless there is an extreme weather variation and until its habitat is threatened by external factors. In this case, it was logging and lumbering that threatened its natural habitat which had led the migration of the species down south along the Pacific Coast. It didn’t migrate northwards because of freezing temperatures. Snow or heavily cold conditions are not conducive to hunting for the Northern Spotted Owl. It was due to this migratory phenomenon that had led to the banning of logging and restrictions were imposed on the lumber industry. These legislations or acts fuelled the Northern Spotted Owl Controversy.

Results and Effects

Due to the threatened status of the owl, it was estimated that the logging industry will witness a decline in jobs. The decline was pegged to be massive from about 30,000 to close to 170,000 jobs being cut across the lumber industry. The Forest Service estimate was also close to the said estimate made by the logging industry. Despite the threat of job loss, acts and legislations were passed and harvesting timber in the Pacific Northwest was cut down by as much as 80%. This led to an instant drop in supply and a subsequent rise in demand. The persistent demand inflated the prices of timber and that had a rippling impact on many industries as well as on ordinary people.

Environmental Impact

From the environmental prospective, the move or the bans made sense. The migrating of the owl was considered to be a signal of depletion of old growth forests. Rampant lumbering and the growth of the logging industry were causing havoc to the old growth forests in the Northwest. It could not have been fathomed had there been no indicator. The owls migrating and the less the owls were spotted, the larger was the concern. The Northern Spotted Owl controversy could have shaped up more aggressively unless there was already a decline in logging jobs. Due to depleting forests and harvests, there were fewer logging jobs as compared to three decades earlier. Thus, the legislations were not the sole reason why logging jobs went downhill.

University of Wisconsin-Madison had conducted a study led by expert environmental scientists who had argued that from 1947 to 1964, 90% logging jobs have been lost due to depleting forest reserves. In 1964, when the Wilderness Act was passed, the environmental protection strategies had actually saved 51,000 jobs in the Northwest Pacific region.

However, the logging industry, the sawmill owners and those who were out of jobs did not take kindly to the situation and fuelled the Northern Spotted Owl controversy further. People sported bumper stickers that cried out ‘’Kill a Spotted Owl—Save a Logger’ and there were hoardings, fliers, brochures that read on the similar lines of ‘I Like Spotted Owls—Fried’. These massive campaigns triggered the Northern Spotted Owl controversy and there were many takers who didn’t agree with the perspective or standpoint of environmentalists and legislators. The logging industry was subjected to some very bad publicity as well when there were very little changes in place to support their initiative or rebellion. They then initiated the Sustainable Forestry Initiative.

The Northern Spotted Owl controversy has another perspective that has not been delved into by many environmentalists. While timber harvests were put under stringent checks, lumbering was cut down and logging jobs declined owing to loss of forest reserves, automation in the industry and due to the legislations, despite all the attempts there was a consistent decline in the population of the Northern Spotted Owl. It has been estimated that a steady decline of 7.3% every year has continued to threaten the existence or survival of this species. Such a statistic has often been overlooked but those who have investigated hold the barred owls to be responsible. The Northern Spotted Owls are not just under threat from lumbering and logging industry but also from its own counterparts of another family when they prey on their spotted counterparts. Steps have been taken to keep barred owls away but those have been futile.

The Northern Spotted Owl controversy has died down over recent years. Neither can the owl’s population be increased with legislations nor can the jobs be increased with depleting forest reserves. It was one controversy that was futile for all.