December 15, 2010

"Spotted owl soup" (and other Northwest memories)

By "Spotted owl soup" (and other Northwest memories)

Author: Daniel Himebaugh

The News-Review, a newspaper covering Douglas County, Oregon, is in the middle of a fascinating six-day series on the twentieth anniversary of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's decision to list the northern spotted owl as a threatened species.  The series comes at the right time, considering the Service recently announced that it will review the status of the owl in response to PLF litigation.

The first installment in the series flashes back to the early 1990s in the Pacific Northwest.  It was a time when restaurant menus featured "spotted owl soup," sardonically condemning the bird that was destroying the timber industry.  Meanwhile, environmentalists tried to save the owl by driving metal spikes into old-growth trees in the hope of damaging chainsaws and injuring loggers.

The most important piece in the series (so far) profiles Kevin Black, a logger who lived through the early days of the spotted owl controversy.  Black's grandfather, William Black, started the family logging tradition back in the 1940s, after moving from Arkansas to Oregon in search of work.  William eventually opened his own sawmill, and in 1971, Kevin began working the family business.

In 1990, the spotted owl listing catalyzed the decline of the Northwest timber industry.  The listing forced loggers out of the woods and into unemployment lines.  Douglas County alone shed 2,800 timber industry jobs from 1990 to 1992.  And logging operations that did survive were increasingly bidding against each other to cut fewer trees, Black tells The News-Review.

Fortunately, Kevin Black managed to stay in business.  He now works alongside his two sons.  But the Blacks are exceptional.  The News-Review reports that few young people are interested in a timber industry career these days.  In fact, a local community college program that offered to train students in industry practices was recently canceled because only one person enrolled.  Unlike earlier generations, today's younger workers just don't see much future in logging.  And who can fault them?  The industry has never rebounded from the spotted owl listing.

The News-Review should be commended for devoting an article in their spotted owl series to the story of logging in Douglas County.  It is a perfect reminder that environmental regulations can have dire economic consequences that must not be ignored.

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