The northern spotted owl is a Pacific Northwest forest dweller that lives only in tall, dense old-growth forests. More than a century of logging in Western Washington has taken a major toll on the habitat for these owls, and in the late 1980s and early 1990s, environmental groups successfully petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the owl as a threatened species.
As a result, loggers are required to leave 40 percent of old-growth forest intact within 1.3 miles of any reported spotted owl activity or nesting. Since then, the region has lost thousands of jobs in the logging industry, although some studies suggest that other forces are at least partially to blame. Ironically, spotted owl populations have also continued to decline, perhaps because the barred owl, a fierce competitor, has begun invading the territory of the spotted owl.
Loggers and their allies tend to regard the whole episode as part of a leftist agenda that puts the survival of a largely insignificant species over the economic livelihood of people. Environmentalists see the plight of the owl as a microcosm for the environment as a whole and a call to reform and conserve.
Despite the heated controversy that rages on below, the unassuming spotted owl seems personally disinterested in all of the fuss.