THE spotted owl is creating a flap in USA. A bitter fight over its habitat has driven everyone from President George Bush to the common environmentalist and loggers barmy. This fortnight, the spotted owl lost over 680 ha of its forest habitat in the Oregon region of western USA as the Endangered Species Committee (ESC) of the administration approved logging in these areas.
The trouble started in 1990 when the northern spotted owl was declared a threatened species by the US Wildlife Service and brought under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Act required that the forest habitat of the owl be protected. This meant banning logging in the Californian and Oregonian forests across 2.4 million ha.
As environmentalists rallied behind the owl, their fight with the timber industry heated up. Business alleged that the ban on forest-cutting would leave over 30,000 without jobs. Lumberjacks, who used to be regarded as the archetypal American heroes, suddenly became forest-rapists, "one step above child molesters", as one, saw mill owner put it. Public anger on both sides forced President Bush to take sides. Confronted with the issue, he responded that he was interested in the spotted owl, but also in the ."human equation in jobs and the American family". Finally, the ESC was asked to intervene. For the third time in American history, the, panel began deliberation to judge if the Bureau of Land Management can be exempted from the ESA.
This month in a five to two vote, the committee came to a compromise. Asked to approve 44 timber sales covering 1800 ha, it agreed to 13, in areas most heavily dependent on timber revenue.
But clearly, the fate of the owl will continue to haunt loggers and environmentalists alike, as the country learns to deal with the complexities of ecological management keeping the last owl and the last person in mind.
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