Wednesday, February 09, 2011


A recent article in our local newspaper was about the proposal to conserve the spotted owl, an Endangered Species Act (ESA) listed bird, by killing barred owls, a species that is moving into spotted owl habitat and reducing spotted owl numbers. For those of you who don't live in the Pacific Northwest, the diminutive spotted owl was in the eye of an ESA legal hurricane here that pitted conservationists against the timber industry and timber industry communities. And it was a nasty fight!

But now, in spite of the ESA and the conservation measures it imposed, the spotted owls are still not doing as well as hoped, and the finger is pointing at the barred owls. The question being asked: should humans intervene in the struggles of nature by killing one species to save another? Some experts and conservationists think that the barred owls are expanding into spotted owl habitat because of human-induced changes in forest habitat. Their conclusion is that further manipulation of nature is therefore justified.

This is not an easy question resolve, and it is not the only situation in which killing one kind of animal to save another is accepted. In the lower Columbia River (the border between Oregon and Washington), federal and state authorities have justified killing California sea lions because they eat too many salmon and sturgeon (see my previous posts - you can search this blog - in which I interviewed Sammy C. Lyon).

So where does this end? I mean, there are a lot of situations where some species of wildlife are killing other, protected species of wildlife. Take a look at the nesting colonies of double-crested cormorants and Caspian terns in the Columbia River estuary, for example. Last year, the estimated 23,000 adult birds and their chicks in these two nesting colonies are estimated to have eaten about 25 million juvenile salmon, including those listed as threatened or endangered under the ESA ( Holy cow - break out the machine guns!

Maybe it's a good thing humans are the top of the food webs on this planet. Imagine, if you can, some higher form of life in the galaxy that has an inter-galactic Endangered Species Act, administered by the IEPA (Inter-galactic Environmental Protection Agency). And imagine, again if you can, IEPA staff stops by Earth for an inspection, and finds that the activities of Homo sapiens are causing the extinction of many, many other species. You know, things like over fishing; over cutting forests; building roads, dams, and cities; polluting the air, land and water; changing the climate; and etc., etc. Uh oh, open season on human beings!

But seriously, this is a tough one. One of the basic laws of ecology is that everything is connected to everything else, meaning that everything we humans do has some consequence. Are the actions of humans unnatural because they have negative effects on what we have labeled "natural?" Or is everything we humans do part of the natural order of things because we are, after all, a species of wildlife on planet Earth? (This means, of course, that nuclear weapons are natural!)

It's a conundrum.

- posted from the fisheyepad