The spotted owl
is a predatory bird
native to the old growth forests of the Pacific Northwest
classified as Strix occidentalis, member of the Strigidae family, the "typical owls". The spotted owl had dimensions of roughly 45 cm tall with a wingspan of 120 cm. The breast
is light brown
, with the back and head coloring
a darker shade of brown. All plumage is frequented by white spots
. The eyes
are large and dark-nearing black
As early as the late 1970s, the stage was being set in the Northwest for one of the bloodiest showdowns ever between environmental and economic interests in America, with the owl becoming the pivotal argument. The details of the politics will not be presented here, but the basics are as follow. The increase of logging after WWII in the Pacific Northwest was caused by the housing boom. By the 1970s, the world’s densest forest on Olympic Peninsula was being cut down at non-sustainable levels. Environmentalists sought to protect the trees, but the only federal law they had to work with was the Endangered Species Act. This meant that no land could be forced under federal protection unless it provided necessary habitat to an endangered species.
In came the owl, an animal which the preservationists found perfectly suited to this need for a few reasons. It was cute and friendly with humans, helping earn sympathy from urbanites. Each nesting pair required a huge range to support its diet, so a few animals could protect a large area. It was found only in old growth forests, not second or third growth douglas-fir. It was diminishing at a steady pace, so action was necessary, but not at too fast of a rate to invoke hopelessness. The culminating battle between environmentalists and logging interests came in 1993 with the Forest Service accepting a proposal by environmental lawyer Jack Ward Thompson which asked for 7.7 million acres to be set aside for spotted owl habitat.
Logging has since almost stopped on the Olympic Peninsula, with most of the old growth cut out in the 1980s anyways. Even optimistic estimates predict the owl population to drop by 40% to 50% in 100 years. Recent problems for the owl that have exacerbated the decline are the invasion of the eastern barred owl, creating competitive exclusion and hybridization with the spotted owl.