The Balance Of Nature or Not- Shooting Owls Version

Some folks posted this last night under comments but I thought it deserved its own post.

Henson said the Northwest Forest Plan, which cut logging by 90 percent on national forests in the 1990s, has done a good job of providing habitat for the spotted owl. But the owls’ numbers have continued to slide.

Henson said unless barred owls are brought under control, the spotted owl in coming decades might disappear from Washington’s northern Cascade Range and Oregon’s Coast Range, where the barred owl incursion has been greatest.

It has taken the federal government a long time to get to this point. The California Academy of Sciences killed some barred owls in spotted owl territory on the Klamath National Forest in Northern California in 2005, and the owner of some redwood timberlands in Northern California regularly kills barred owls to protect spotted owls.

The idea of killing one type of owl to protect another underscores a fragile balance of nature that biologists have struggled with for years.

Between 2000 and 2006, wildlife officials captured and removed more than 40 golden eagles from the Channel Islands off Southern California to protect the island fox. They also hired a company to kill 5,000 feral pigs on Santa Cruz in a controversial program to restore the island’s ecosystem.

In Oregon, officials have used lethal injections to kill selected California sea lions that feast on protected salmon in the Columbia River. And in Yosemite National Park, saving bighorn sheep has meant hunting protected mountain lions.

The northern spotted owl is an icon of bitter disputes between the timber industry and environmentalists over the use of Northwest forests. Because of its dwindling numbers, the little bird was listed as a threatened species in 1990, which resulted in logging cutbacks and lawsuits.

Barred owls are bigger, more aggressive and less picky about food. They started working their way across the Great Plains in the early 1900s, and by 1959 were in British Columbia. Barred owls now cover the spotted owl’s range, in some places outnumbering them as much as 5-to-1.

Oh.. the “fragile balance of nature”.. it turns out it’s really the nonexistent balance of nature, as per Botkin. It’s OK to say “we like animal x more than y, so we are going to kill y to get more x.” Just don’t say it’s anything about what Nature wants. P.S. evolution and hybridization are also “natural” processes, albeit perhaps not “ecological” processes? I can’t keep up with what’s in and out of “ecology.”

48 thoughts on “The Balance Of Nature or Not- Shooting Owls Version”

  1. Dear Sharon
    The reason to proceed as you discribe it shows that the real intention was not the spotted owl, because after the prohibition nobody cared anymore to protect the bird
    but a very large and reputed company ( Home Depot) sawa good marketing and exclusivity
    to suport this atrocity. Once HD decreted that they would only purchase certified products
    the cause took off and still now starting from children to adults there it is still going strong.
    But it is also our fault as we did not react sooner and this is our problem and there is still time to react. Recently the authorities have recomended the population to use those materials that need low energy to produce them. This fits the wooden products
    in excellent form as lumber uses about 1/10 of the energy needed to produce steel ,cement and plastics ourcompetitors that before were saying USE STEEl, CEMENT OR PLASTICANDSAVE THE TREES but again this time, our golden opportunity we havedone nothing. ” A couple of weeks I saw an ad from the steel manufacturers that they are researching new new technologies to reduce the energy energy.
    Of course they will never reach lumber but in case lumbermen bring up the subject
    they have already prepared the answer
    Thank yu again Sharon

  2. Let’s see now: Kill barred owls to save spotted owls; kill sea-lions to save salmon; kill eagles to save foxes; kill mountain lions to save big-horn sheep; kill laurel oak to save gopher turtles, kill titi and bay to save spotted salamanders. Who decides what is killed for what, and what is the basis (best available “science”?) for these decisions.

  3. This has been portrayed as one species of Owl encroaching into the habitat of another. I say that is bovine excrement. Different species do not interbreed successfully (mule). By killing the Barred Owl the wildlife service is hindering the natural evolution of our northwest owl population. On top of that this “farce” of protecting the Spotted Owl has been used as an excuse to stop honoring the O&C timber act revisions of 1937 (stop logging). If it is officially determined that the Spotted Owl is not suitable to be listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act then the contract of 1937 still stands. By killing the Barred Owl so that it cannot interact naturally with the Spotted Owl pretty much guarantees a continued listing of the Spotted Owl on the endangered list. Hence cedes control of these lands under contract to be harvested sustainably into perpetuity to those who have no financial interest nor any business befouling our sustainable industries. What part of this is not smoke and mirrors you may ask? First the lands in question to be harvested are a vary small area when compared to the amount of land set aside as natural areas. Second these O&C lands have been designated as forest production areas to be harvested under the guidance of government stewardship to provide sustainable, eco-friendly means of harvest. Third, the reason these contracts exist is due to the fact that federal forest ownership in these effected counties excludes income from taxes and industry, therefore it was contracted to the counties to receive revenue from the harvest of these O&C lands into perpetuity to offset the financial loss caused by government control of most of the land within these counties.
    Our forests are our greatest natural renewable resource. Lumber and wood products have uncounted uses and are intertwined in our daily lives with uncounted benefits. We can harvest these forests and regrow them in less than a generation.
    It is known that Northern Spotted Owls live in regrowth forests as well as so called “old growth”. The original studies only sought to count them in “old growth forests”. Since that flawed study it has been determined they live in many places remote from these “old growth” areas yet the myth persists. They are interbreeding with their cousin the Barred Owl which is natural evolution. The agencies interfering with the owls future is the wildlife service, they are intentionally interfering. They are not protecting anything accept their perverted policies. Our Congressional voices, Senator Wyden and Representative DeFazio, are advocating a new contract between the counties and the government to include this time the voice of our state government. This will help who, and how? As events stand today (in my view) as soon as it is accepted that the Spotted Owl is in a stage of natural evolution, it becomes known that the harvest of timber from the lands designated by contract for sustainable timber harvest does not effect the natural evolution of any northwest owl populations, nor promote a decline. When these two facts are public knowledge and a matter of daily discussion it will be too late to force a new contract onto these counties who have lost hundreds of thousands of jobs and careers. Whose county, community and personal finances have been devastated for thirty years. And for many decades into the future we will suffer from the “brain drain” of our brightest students moving away to find financial stability. When and if this all comes to light it is time for the government to honor our contract which was based in sound science.

  4. Examples of natural tendencies towards the maintenance of dynamic equilibria abound. A common barometer of ecosystem health is measured by its degree of biodiversity. By any measure of biodiversity, we are in very BIG trouble.

    Examples of successful (did not result in large scale ecosystem disruption) ecosystem management by indigenous cultures worldwide abound. Examples of the Pandora’s box of “Western” anthropogenic – induced chaos unleashed by the genocidal campaigners exterminating indigenous cultures abound.

    Sharon’s continual failure to account for these truths is everywhere in this blog (including the denial of our current mass extinction event) and collectively, provides an example of denialism writ large. Her posts to this blog effectively represent a methodical attempt to normalize and minimize this unprecedented macro-crisis. (Mincing the linguistic minutia of, ‘what’s in and out of “ecology” ‘ is a handy example.)

    Consequently, the array of human caused large scale disturbances more appropriately referred to as a pandemic of planetary chaos initiating our current mass extinction event, will of course disrupt this natural tendency towards dynamic equilibrium.

    Barred vs N. Spotted owls are but a tiny example.

    (I will be offline for a few weeks and unable to respond)

    • David, you could point to a lot of bad things about the environment. I could point to a lot of things that have improved since Earth Day. One of the sciences I learned was “quantitative genetics”. The concept is that you select the traits, and you can develop an index to select the organisms you want based on how heritable each trait is, and and one of how important that trait is to you. This is way oversimplified but I thin the math related to what you are talking about… is the environmental future to be feared or not?

      Say my list has toxic metals in landfills, ozone, water pollution by fertilizers and pharmaceuticals, people making their own organisms with random bits of DNA, terrorists working on making diseases, etc. Your list might be completely different.

      You can make the case that everything is going to heck. But you choose the list of environmental problems worthy of note (the vector of traits equivalent). You choose the likelihood of things getting really bad (the heritability equivalent) and you choose the weight for how important each environmental hazard is to you. You could come up with “going to heck” and I could come up with “not going to heck”, based on what’s on each of our lists, the weights of importance in each of our minds of each element on the list, and each our our individual estimate of the likelihood of each element blowing up and causing Insurmountable Problems.

      I have to wonder if the Likelihood of Insurmountable Problems vector isn’t a complex function of our brain chemistry, or our spiritual beliefs or beliefs about human nature, and our experience with the science biz and it’s tendency to Make Bad Projections About Everything- Yet Some Things Turn Out Better and Others Worse Than Projected. (e.g., spotted owl). And serious Science Biz attention about hazards is devoted to Things Other People Do (e.g. logging); while very little such attention is devoted to Things Scientists Do (such as novel life forms).

      I apologize to other quantitative geneticists for oversimplifying, still I think it’s a helpful model for thinking about environmental concerns. What things are you concerned about? How serious do you think those problems are or are likely to become? How important to you is each concern compared to the others?

  5. David Beebe, I have no doubt you believe we are at the precipice of some sort of mass extinction. You are wrong. Life is prevalent. Advancement of the human race is of uppermost importance. Many who promote the myth of the Spotted Owl seem to wish for humans to live on tiny reservations and eat soilent green so they do not disturb anything. Great, everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. What they or you are not entitled to is to control others when they are engaged in the serious business of harvesting what is possibly the most beneficial renewable resource known to man. If you are not advocating a solution to a specific problem, you are a problem. We ( “we” being the affected counties with O&C contracts) have a contract that is solidly based in science, with the ability to improve our forestry techniques as we learn from our mistakes (and we do). The false claim of owl extinction is just that, false, with no peer reviewed evidence to back it up and ongoing evidence reported that refute it. At this time we have congressmen urgently pushing for a new contract before this whole owl farce topples. As soon as it is common public knowledge that the Spotted Owl is not endangered by timber harvest on O&C lands we may see some common sense actions to restore our forests to productive use instead of the ashes and landslides we have experienced over the last two decades.

  6. This is just another show of how ludicrous and illogical things have become. Man is wise enough to decide when evolution needs to be altered for all species but forests. Man, or should I just say foresters, are so stupid that forests (and, therefore by default, all of the components of forest ecosystems) should only be managed by evolution (nature and her cataclysmic management style).

    Why can a lot of simple foresters see the contradictions in the spoutings of our urbane, sophisticated, self proclaimed intellectual elites who tout that they have the answers to things that they don’t even begin to understand? They speak of the butterfly effect yet they fail to understand the complexity that it speaks to as their arrogance continues to spew silly platitudes.

  7. It is too simple to say that the “balance of nature” is “non-existent.” It might be more accurate to talk about concepts such as: the interplay of positive and negative feedbacks, far-from-equilibrium self-organization, quasi-equilibrium, dynamic equilibrium, punctuated equilibrium, ecosystems moving between basins of attraction or alternative quasi-stable states, etc….

    Sharon’s post is also too dismissive of the arguments in favor of barred owl control. She seems to assume that the barred owls’ migration from eastern North American was a natural process, but most of the experts say it was facilitated by human-modification of the plains ecosystem.

    The barred owl invasion is another stress on top of multiple additional human-caused stresses on the spotted owl.

    If one argues for inaction in the face of such threats, they should give equal consideration to proposals for “no action” on federal timber sales. If the balance of nature is “non-existent,” one could argue the “need” for timber sales is also non-existent. It’s just a figment of our culture.

    • TreeC123

      The Balance of Nature is dynamic – it is survival of the fittest – it is evolution. To impose a static state is to reduce the chance of survival in a constantly changing environment. Change is one of only a few constants. It doesn’t matter why the barred owl went west. It did. It is silly to think that mankind can decide the appropriate action to take to reverse this. Whether it was human modification of the plains ecosystem or not could be argued all day. Whether continued NSO decline is the result of the Barred Owl or the Mexican Spotted Owl or both could be argued all day. The only thing for sure is that no matter how many drastic interventions over decades and lost jobs and artificial forest ecosystems created and tailored just for them, the Northern Spotted Owl continues to decline. Only God could figure out how to untangle such a complex dynamic. Man has only made things worse by worrying about micro components of the forest ecosystem instead of focusing on the pyramid species (the trees making up the forest) that drives the ecosystem.

      Re: “If one argues for inaction in the face of such threats, they should give equal consideration to proposals for “no action” on federal timber sales. If the balance of nature is “non-existent,” one could argue the “need” for timber sales is also non-existent. It’s just a figment of our culture.”
      –> Man’s role in managing the forests doesn’t create a static state, it simply moderates mother nature’s management by cataclysm so that man can use the skills nature/God has given him in order to survive a lot better.
      –> It is very interesting that you would consider agruing that our culture is part of the global ecosystem. The need for timber sales is because timber is a renewable resource and its utilization has a smaller environmental impact than any other construction material. Now, if our culture doesn’t matter, then humans don’t matter, but I really don’t think that you can name anyone who is willing to give up their life to allow nature to run rampant. OOppps, man is part of nature. Hmmmm. Even animals, insects and everything else modify their ecosystems. Just think of all of the microorganisms and animals destroyed by the 40 to 60mph super heated crown fires when lighting strikes massive contiguous acreage of beetle killed timber – you can’t have it both ways.

      Like I said, in a comment on another post. If you are going to accept Nature Only as your god, then you have to accept plagues, famines, feudalism, and wars as a good means to control the human population, Sorry, no cures, no medicine, no nothing. OOppps, Even returning man to a more primitive state includes indiscriminate destruction of ecosystems as people do whatever they want to survive. OOppps, that means stopping man from evolving. OOppps, that means trying to set up a static state by stopping evolution. You can’t win.

      Sound Forest Management is one of the most significantly good things that can be done for global good. Sound Forest Management is a continuously improving process whereby foresters incorporate input from all of the “ologists” as both on the ground experience and science shed new light on doing the best for mankind which has to be the best for the planet or it isn’t the best for mankind.

    • We need full and accurate analysis of the “No Action” alternatives, so that people and Judges can see what can, what might and what will happen if the action does not happen. I think this will help people understand the purpose and need of a project, sometimes in more dramatic terms. Projects (and alternatives) are often picked because of the bad impacts to doing nothing. That just means we need to be exhaustive in laying out ALL the bad impacts of the “whatever happens” strategy, so loved by preservationists.

  8. Tree- I know about many of those concepts. They are attempts to take the complexities and dynamism of Nature and see if mathematical concepts explain some of it. Because mathematicians come up with these things and biology has always suffered from “physics envy,” it is a cool thing in Science World to do this.

    But fundamentally an ecosystem is a fake human construct that was supposed to be helpful to scientists attempting to understand Nature. But humans have reified the concept to where people can’t see the organisms and their complex dynamics (Nature) because they tend not to look at organisms anymore. They look at “states” and equations. They can’t see the reality of the complexity of Nature because their models are in the way (and they aren’t actually looking at Nature anymore).

    • Sharon says “an ecosystem is a fake human construct.” Note: Unless you have something better to replace the “ecosystem construct” with, you are just creating a vacuum of nothingness, where something real does in fact exists. I.e., the idea that “ecosystems are fake” is also fake. It pretends there is nothing where there is something, and that something is not entirely random, like the ant races on your TV. It includes real patterns in space and time and energy flux that are susceptible to description, and that is what we call “ecosystem.” Calling it fake is a form of denialism that is entirely unhelpful.

      • TreeC123

        Amazing, we agree on something. Ecosystems are real. They can be seen, felt, smelled, tasted, and heard. They are an association of climate, drainage, soils, topography and other inanimate components which supports an association of biological components that synergistically benefit from each other and the environment that they occupy except when changed through evolution or the introduction of exogenous influences that alter the system characteristics.

        Merriam-Webster is a bit more concise: “the complex of a community of organisms and its environment functioning as an ecological unit”

        • Gil: What’s an “ecological unit?” I think the problem I always have with conversations regarding ecosystems is that everyone seems to be talking about a different scale when they try to describe them. I understand the biosphere as being a unit — and an aquarium or island — but where are the lines drawn in between?

          Once we get this unit thing figured out, the next problem is how to get the environment to “function” as one — especially the climate part. I think this is an obvious artificial construct — similar to WUI’s or riparian “zones” or county lines — that is relatively easy to model and to teach: just like Clementsian succession. I can’t see where it has any real value in managing resources (other than theoretically), or even in studying them.

          I’m from Missouri. Show me an “ecosystem” I can smell or touch or eat. Outside my list, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a “unit” function in any such manner.

          Do you think “niches” are important?

          • Bob

            Sharon has the essence of it when she says elsewhere in this post: “When I took ecology, I was told that the Earth can be considered an ecosystem, the Rockies are an ecosystem, a pond is an ecosystem, a turtle is an ecosystem, a pile of elk dung can be an ecosystem. It is all about measuring stocks and flows and applying other concepts from “systems” thinking.”

            Elk dung contains its own microbes, parasites and who knows what else that it contained when it when it was dropped and it also contains those that move into it from the surrounding larger ecosystem. Eventually the Elk ecosystem is absorbed by the ecosystems around it and ceases to be. Though it might not be advisable, I am sure that you would agree that you can see, feel, smell, taste and after tasting, you can hear it hit the ground. 🙂

            So again, Sharon was right in her original comment to the effect that the concept of ecosystems is a construct of mankind in that the lines are wherever you draw them in order to define an area containing a confluence of animate and inanimate entities to study/talk about. The most easily identifiable ecosystems are things like forests which to some seem to be static but those who have studied them know that even those ecosystems are dynamic and in time will pass just like the elk dung ecosystem.

            So how do we name an ecosystem? An ecosystem generally gets its name from the primary components of the ecosystem. Hence, we get “Tropical Rain Forest”, “Cove Hardwood”, “Bluestem Longleaf Pine”, “Spruce Fir” ecosystems and on and on. The key biological components of an ecosystem are known as the keystone species in that they interact with the inanimate components to create the macro environmental conditions necessary for the dependent micro ecosystems within the macro ecosystem.

            A forester’s job in location specific forest ecosystems is to apply science and experience to each place specific forest ecosystem subject to Best Management Practices designed to safeguard the environment in order to maximize mankind’s ability to survive. The clearcuts hated by so many environmentalists are practical for certain keystone forest species to reproduce successfully. Others, like the hardwoods of the Northeast are exactly the opposite. Clearcuts are suited for those species that are shade intolerant and require a significant degree of bare soil to regenerate effectively. Sure, we could wait on nature to create those conditions over centuries as proposed by extreme environmentalists but then nature’s management by cataclysm would make life more prone to loss of life and assets and to wild fluctuations in resource availability just as if we outlawed farming. To deny mankind’s place in managing resources is to commit to return to the lifestyles that our ancestor’s strove to rise above.

            Those who would deny that mankind has any role in managing ecosystems, implicitly deny that mankind is a keystone species in the super macro global ecosystem and therefore, mankind impacts each of the component ecosystems of the global ecosystem. Some are conflicted to the degree that they believe the two opposing viewpoints that: A) mankind has no place in nature and therefore is not or should not be a keystone species while espousing that B) there is global warming and mankind is the cause and therefore the keystone species along with cows and their flatulence.

            Then we could go on to discuss the fact that the global ecosystem is but a component of the solar ecosystem which greatly impacts the global ecosystems and its component sub ecosystems. Then we could consider that the solar ecosystem is …

          • Bob

            Sorry but I didn’t answer your last question as to “Do you think “niches” are important?”

            In my mind, niches are small ecosystems. I’m not an expert on cove hardwoods but they are generally a niche ecosystem in that they are usually forest ecosystems that occupy a small area. I love Tulip Poplar Coves, they are magnificently beautiful to me with their own micro climate. Does the fate of the world hang on the state of cove forests? No.

            However, in aggregate, niches are extremely important in that they are storehouses of genetic diversity. To me, a proliferation of well dispersed, small niche forest wilderness’ inside of larger, soundly managed forest ecosystems is much more important in preserving genetic diversity than vast wilderness’ and road less areas located in relatively few locations and subject to devastation due to “nature only” catastrophic management as is the present practice.

            So, YES, niches are important.

            In my opinion, we’d be a whole lot better off, in terms of preserving genetic diversity, if we sold off a whole lot of the supersized wilderness and roadless areas and used the proceeds to buy up a more dispersed pattern of niches protected inside of soundly managed forests. Some niches already are on and protected by industrial forests under memorandums of understanding (MOU’s). Of course any of this would need to consider the existence of available appropriate ranging and migration areas coordinated over both federal and private lands managed within the constraints of MOU’s.

            • Gil: I think you and I are probably talking about the same things, I just don’t think of them as “ecosystems.” A pile of dung is a pile of dung and a stand of trees is a stand of trees. Any names we give them or “functions” we assign them are entirely arbitrary and artificial. Why confuse the issue by calling things by different names and having to give them human-assigned “functions?”

              My degree is in ecology, so all of the textbook stuff you’re reciting here is familiar to me. I just don’t know what it is good for, other than programming (mathematical simplification of processes and dynamics) or teaching (easy to teach concepts that can’t be actually found or simulated in nature; e.g., Clementsian succession).

              What is the value in renaming a stand of trees an “ecosystem,” or some birds or forbs “niches?” If we are going to generalize forests and their components out of existence by renaming them so they can be wedged into a systems diagram, who knows where it will lead? Next thing you know, they’ll turn everything into binary digits and we will all be stuck dealing with stupid dumbed-down concepts such as “wet” and “dry” forests.

              At some time we need to return to calling a spade a spade and stop putting everything into computer-speak. All of our great foresters and forest scientists from the early part of the last century did some great work without ever needing to invent new acronyms, words, or definitions for what they were doing. Imagining an ecosystem, to me, is like imagining swimming or imagining kaleidoscopic patterns. What’s the point?

              • Bob

                Sorry that I gave an ecologist a refresher course in ecosystems 🙂

                Re: “What is the value in renaming a stand of trees an “ecosystem,” or some birds or forbs “niches?” If we are going to generalize forests and their components out of existence by renaming them so they can be wedged into a systems diagram”

                –> 1) We can’t make our language stand still. Obviously, ecosystem is a more generic term covering more than just forests. In an age where people have such hatred for forest management, speaking of a forest ecosystem is an attempt to show that foresters are more than just timber barons and that word that Sharon has forbidden me to use.

                The uninformed in the environmental movement would very much like to “generalize forests and their components out of existence”. Environmentalists like it because they appear to see it as a tool to elevate every component of a forest to a value equal to or superior to that of the keystone species so that they can use it to hamstring sound management of the keystone species.

                –> 2) I have done a fair amount of modeling but I don’t see the term ecosystem as having anything to do with modeling or a systems diagram precisely because, as you/someone said/implied ‘the concept of an ecosystem is just too complex to model’. Diagramming and modeling the life cycle of a particular component of an ecosystem is about as good as it gets. Trying to include all of the interactions between components is impossible because mankind can not begin to entertain all of the perturbations. Only God fully understands the butterfly effect. I think that it is totally inane to think that anyone can manage an ecosystem for more than the keystone species (Forest Type in a forest ecosystem). The failures from subverting sound management of the keystone species for the last two decades or more can be seen in the nightly news.

                Based on my training, experience and thought processes – ecosystem is useful terminology. I accept that it makes no sense to you and, as you stated, I recognize that we are talking about the same thing.

                So in conclusion, it’s all just semantics that we have no control over.

                • Gil: Don’t feel bad — Sharon won’t anyone else use the R-word on this blog, either — even though you and I and many other participants here have been called many variations of that term (usually by Enviros) directly and indirectly many times during the past 40 years. She makes some good arguments for not doing so, too.

                  I’ve seen lots of attempts to diagram ecosystems since they were invented. It’s what is called “systems diagrams,” which are basically “models.” And I can’t imagine anyone outside of government “managing an ecosystem.” In any event, the principal keystone species in every area I have researched shows human beings filling that niche. We are a very disturbing animal, and there’s a lot of us.

  9. What are the ecological effects of the extinction of the spotted owl? Would there be a significant impact on red tree voles, wood rats, and northern flying squirrels, the owls’ primary prey? Is there any significant ecological impact?

    • Steve: I never really did swallow ecological niche theory, so I personally don’t think we’d miss spotted owls at all if they just went away. I’m not sure how we got away with eliminating mastodons from the environment, but we (and the owls) are here today without any apparent repercussions.

      That being said, it appears as if barred owls are attempting to replace spotted owls: maybe by breeding them out of existence. Isn’t that how evolution is supposed to work?

      “Ecological impact” is a personal value assessment. If you love owls and/or hate woodrats, the loss of the owls might be “devastating,” as lots of advocates say they believe. If you really don’t care about owls all that much (and rarely ever see one anyhow), the ecological impact might be almost zero. MAYBE there will be an irruption of woodrats, voles or some other owl prey, but coyotes, bobcats and other predators would likely benefit as a result.

      Anyhow, that’s how I see it.

      • With barred owls being a little bit bigger than spotted owls, maybe goshawks think twice about attacking. Yes, spotted owls are bigger than goshawks, too. I also wonder if barred owls are less picky about nesting habitats, too. In the end, goshawk nesting habitat is still the same as spotted owls nesting habitat. Currently, do all three species share the same nesting habitats?

      • The “personal value assessment” plays a huge role here and colors every decision we make about the owls. You can ask the same what-if question about salmon. What if Chinook, coho, and others were to become extinct? There would be large changes in both fresh and salt waters, to be sure, but Nature wouldn’t “care.”

        • While I’ve never read this.. another approach would be to focus on the cleanliness of air and water, and hanging on to good soils and figuring Nature can take it from there (as She has done so magnanimously in the past).

          However, this view of environmentally most important things would empower certain disciplines and disempower others, and I’ve never gotten good vibes from anyone for suggesting it, in a variety of settings, besides hydrologists and air quality specialists.

          • What is clean air? good soil? They sound just as fake as ecosystems. You have clearly revealed the real danger of your approach. To destroy the concept of ecosystems is to take away useful tools for distinguishing good management from bad management. An example, if we focus on the chemical purity of water we will forget to maintain the ecological processes that recruit large wood (and high quality sediment for spawning). Large wood serves many purposes unrelated to the chemical purity of water. It adds channel complexity, dissipates energy, partitions space so that more fish can share a pool.

            • Tree: You write: “To destroy the concept of ecosystems is to take away useful tools for distinguishing good management from bad management.”

              What “useful tools” are you talking about? And what does “recruiting” large wood have to do with it? Or water purity? Or “fish sharing a pool?” I’m not seeing any connection here except a bunch of abstract concepts that can be individually discussed and debated.

            • Tree, that’s precisely my point. Eco”systems” are a term derived so that scientists could apply”systems science (or thinking or mathematics) to the environment. There are no “shoulds” in all that.

              When I took ecology, I was told that the Earth can be considered an ecosystem, the Rockies are an ecosystem, a pond is an ecosystem, a turtle is an ecosystem, a pile of elk dung can be an ecosystem. It is all about measuring stocks and flows and applying other concepts from “systems” thinking.

              Let’s use an example.
              So an acre of land has infinitely many “ecosystems.” It only has one set of soil, whose depth, and pH and a variety of other attributes and organisms can be measured at a 10 x 10, or other spacing, across the site. You can bound it in a way that makes sense- the soil on this acre. Certainly there are inputs and outputs from the one acres. But calling it a “one acre soil ecosystem” doesn’t tell us any more about how we should manage it than saying “the soil on one acre.”

            • TreeC123

              Do you realize that it wasn’t all that terribly long ago that ‘ologists’ were proclaiming the opposite of “Large wood serves many purposes unrelated to the chemical purity of water. It adds channel complexity, dissipates energy, partitions space so that more fish can share a pool.”

              Forest ecosystems are real and current forestry practices have changed as the supporting sciences have evolved. Sharon does believe in the use of ecosystem terminology as a valuable tool, if I read her correctly. All that she is doing is explaining how the terminology came into use. All terminology is contrived by mankind. Even our names are contrived by our parents. Elsewhere above, in my comments to Bob, I hope that you will find an explanation of ecosystems that bridges the gap that is allowing the two of you to talk past each other.

    • Steve

      For some reason CNFP blog posts and comments here ignore the impact of the Mexican Spotted Owl. Until I found this group, I had gathered that the MSO was the primary species displacing the Northern Spotted Owl because the MSO was moving into the same territory and was a more aggressive competitor for the same food.

      Interestingly enough there is disagreement among scientists as to whether or not the MSO and the NSO are the same species. So, in my humble opinion, if things are that close and knowing that the MSO population is increasing would seem to answer your question with a firm “No Ecological Impact”.

      • The “splitters” say that the California Spotted Owl is between the MSO and the NSO. There is a loosely defined border between the Cascades and the Sierra Nevada. There WILL come a day when some people will insist that the CASPO be listed, despite the elimination of clearcutting and highgrading (no trees over 30″ dbh can be cut, except for safety) in the Sierra Nevada. Forest management in the Sierra Nevada has been defined by the needs of CASPO since 1993.

        • I will continue to contend — until convinced otherwise — that they’re all just slight variations of the brown-eyed hoot owl, which is North America’s most common owl.

          Then you’ll have to explain what’s wrong with evolution, and why it is important for government agents to begin killing things with guns because of genetic purity issues. Especially isolated scattered animals that no one ever sees very much.

          Good luck with that!

          • Indeed, just looking at the owls, I can’t tell the difference. It seems there are more differences between humans than there are among barred owls and spotted owls. Maybe we should have a bunch of new human species, based on ethnic traits? *smirk*

            • If barred hoot owls and spotted owls are actually different species, then Pygmies and Swedes are certainly different species; particularly since there is no indication the latter two have ever produced viable offspring. Too, I think us redheads are an important subspecies that is being bred out of existence, so it would probably be a good idea to begin limiting populations of blondes and brunettes in the interest of preserving biodiversity in our ecosystem PDQ ASAP. Maybe some government workers with shotguns would be a good start.

              Why do these people even have jobs? We could save a lot of money by taking these nitwits and putting them on food stamps, energy assistance, and government housing and start managing our public resources with common sense and good information.

                • They’re pretty rare, even for redheads. Probably a captive breeding program before re-releasing into the general population. Plus, it would be paid for by taxpayers!

                  The more we can protect biodiversity, the more our grandchildren will thank us for saving the planet.

                  (I almost can’t believe our nation’s taxpayer-financed wildlife management program has come to this. Almost.)

  10. Shooting barred owls is silly. Doesn’t anyone remember that the whole spotted owl thing was genetically engineered as a surrogate to protect wet old-growth Douglas-fir/western hemlock ecosystems? How does shooting barred owls further this goal?

    • Andy, the Douglas-fir/western hemlock “ecosystem” (as opposed to a forest) will be out of “balance” without spotted owls, it might reach a “tipping point” and “unravel.”

      Whereas a Douglas-fir/ western hemlock forest would probably do just fine with no spotted owls.. well the trees probably don’t care who’s nesting, but the birds and other creatures who will take advantage of the absence of spotted owls will be fine(r). “Nature red in tooth and claw.”

      Let’s leave geneticists (as in engineering) out of this; we believe evolution is a process that shouldn’t be tinkered with. That would be “unnatural” ;). And “keeping all the pieces” is not the way evolution works.

  11. Hey… this thread is where the action is!(first time I looked at it) Nice debate, and yes, Tree is the “thinking man’s enviro.” ( that’s a compliment). For me, in my white trash way, I’ve always thought ecology was a philosophy masquerading as a science. It’s good to study it, but it seems so lost in the micro it loses sight of the macro. No IBM mainframe could handle the massive variables. It reminds me of a book I read by a medical bio-chemist (irreducible mousetrap Sharon), and the smaller they could see, the more complex it got.

    Public opinion isn’t so complex(pink slime). I’m sure the irony of “destroying economic systems for a bird that was gonna die off anyway” isn’t lost on the public. Egg on face. It does beg the question if the decline of the spotted owl observed in the 90’s wasn’t the result of the barred owl all along? Hey…that’s what the pink slimer’s will be thinking.

    It’s also refreshing, that enough time has passed that we’re starting to see more and more the effects of the enviro establishments cause. It’s not so easy being the one in charge is it?

    My evil twin thinks the AFRC should litigate this “shooting scheme” and tie it up for decades….just for kicks.

    • Derek

      Very well put “so lost in the micro it loses sight of the macro”. Focusing on the keystone species, which creates the environment for the micro, is about as good as we can do. The rest will follow.

    • I still think we need to make forest modeling go mainstream, with a “Sim Forest” game. You make all the decisions and you see the results of the programs you can prefer (and afford!) I’d bet that their already existing Sim games could be easily altered to simulate forests. That would be a good way to teach a large segment of the public about forest ecology and land management. The main thing to learn is that every choice is really a compromise. The trick is to have a collection of compromises, in order to “come out ahead”, in having a better “sim-landscape” than all of your friends. Having enough options to control would ensure that no two “sim-landscapes” would be the same, for better, or for worse.

      Hey, look at the fad-dishness of Facebook games, and how people get hooked on playing them, daily. Such a game could come together quickly, as the infrastructure code already exists. The trick would be in assembling the “Cumulative Effects Engine”, the part of the program that “re-writes” the landscape at every “turn”. One scenario could include a drying climate, and that would affect all the other values and outcomes.

      I would think that the people who would gain the most from active forest management would see this kind of public education as a great investment. Of course, it would be good to have a diverse set of “science advisors” to construct the thresholds and outcomes. Sometimes you need to trick the public into learning stuff. *smirk*

      • Larry: I am in total agreement with you on this. About 15 years ago I attempted to put together such a project, with the popularity of the Oregon Trail game (which I have never played) as an economic model. But with using facts, rather than manufactured circumstances, instead.

        I think it would be a great way to teach students, and maybe even make an income by doing so.

        • The Sim City game was used in college-level City Planning classes, back in the 90’s. On Facebook, some people became hooked on that Farm game, producing detailed and productive farms, with interesting strategies. Like other Facebook fad games, few people continue to play it. Like most games, a Sim Forest game would have a small-scale version to play online. The detailed deluxe off-line mega-landscapes can be easily shared and displayed. The ability to share and compare make such games irresistible to most gamers, with the detail and depth of the game appealing to strategy game fans. Getting the conservationists into the game would be the true education target, pulling them even closer to the middle.

          Years ago, I put together an “eco-interactive” game called “Virtual Yosemite”, where you explore the park through pictures, text and videos, learning about the outdoors as you go. It is pretty primitive by today’s standards.

  12. I think we may be going about this the wrong way. Maybe the barred owl is the “cavalry”, coming all across the continent to “back up” and hybridize with the spotted owls. maybe making them bigger and more able to fend off predators. There must be a size limit where goshawks won’t consider them prey, anymore. Would a new hybridized species also be listed, due to lack of nesting habitat? Larger raptors would still likely prey upon obvious nests, so canopy cover is still important.

    • Larry: So far as I know, hybrids are not counted. Too much sullying of the genes I think is the reason given. The whole thing needs a little (“lot”) more daylight.

    • I’ve had a hypothesis that all the studying, calling and mouse feeding has somehow disrupted the spotted owl’s life and given them a lot of unnecessary irritation and stress..

      • Sharon

        When the Red Cockaded Woodpecker was declared endangered, chainsaws and trucks weren’t allowed within a 100 miles for fear of stressing them (forgive my slight exaggeration). Yet the FWS could climb the trees all that they wanted, band them, pet them, check to see if they needed deodorant and check to see how many fleas they had and all of that wasn’t supposed to stress them. Go Figure 🙁

      • I think it’s much worse than that, Sharon. I think it has made a whole generation of owls dependent on government handouts to make a living, and left their offspring dealing with an unjustified sense of entitlement. No wonder they don’t stand a chance when competing with their eastern, less coddled, cousins.


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