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Saving the Northern Spotted Owl

In 1990, the northern spotted owl was declared an endangered species. According to the US Endangered Species Act passed in 1973, the northern spotted owl was endangered for several reasons.

First and foremost, its habitat was threatened by excessive lumber harvesting. The northern spotted owl lives in the forests in northern California, Washington and Oregon. These forests contain beautiful centuries-old trees. As beautiful as these trees are, they also make excellent timber for home floors, furniture and other wooden goods. These forests were all threatened by excess logging.

Not only are the trees majestically beautiful and home to the northern spotted owl, they are also flammable. Forest fires cut wide swaths through the forest, destroying everything in their path. These fires took out large chunks of the northern spotted owl territory.

The owl was and still is also under heavy threat by a better competitor: the barred owl. The northern spotted owl is a fairly picky eater. It only likes to eat flying squirrels. The barred owl has a much more varied diet, and thus is outcompeting the northern spotted owl for territory and resources. Basically, the barred owl has a higher survival rate than the northern spotted owl.

Imagine you are locked in a room with a buffet with one other person. You only eat spaghetti and meatballs, but the other person likes spaghetti, mac and cheese and fresh fruit. Since there are 8 dishes available in limited quantities, the other person will survive longer than you because they are willing to eat three out of the 8 dishes available as opposed to just one. Thatís what it is like for the northern spotted owl; the picky eater is outcompeted by the nonpicky eater.

In 1992, the government and scientists joined together to do something to save this endangered species. They drafted the Northern Spotted Owl Recovery Plan. This plan was outline to defend the owl against the two primary threats against it: habitat loss due to timber harvest and forest fires and interspecific competition with the barred owl. This plan was joined by the Northwest Forest Plan drafted by Bill Clinton just one year later.

These two plans combined to protect the northern spotted owl territories along California, Washington and Oregon. The plans also enacted laws to limit timber harvest within the northwest spotted owl territory. The government also endeavored to manage the barred owl population.

These plans were the first major example of scientists and the government working together for a common cause: an endangered species. Scientists conducted research on the northern spotted owl and its progress on becoming delisted as an endangered species. The government received copies of their research reports and drafted laws based on that research to protect the northern spotted owl. By working together the northern spotted owl has made significant progress towards becoming delisted. These conservation efforts are still in effect today to protect the owl and its habitat.

For more information on the northern spotted owl, check out this great book: "The Wisdom of the Spotted Owl: Policy Lessons For A New Century"

For another book with more information on the Northern Spotted Owl and fabulous photos of the bird in its natural habitat, check out "Spotted Owls: Shadows in an Old-Growth Forest"

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