Case Studies in Earth & Environmental Science Journalism

The Spotted Owl Debate.

Questions to Ponder and Discuss

General Issues to Consider.


1973 Congress passed The Endangered Species Act.
1976 The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) began a national assessment of the health of the country's forests. During this undertaking the Spotted Owl first began to be evaluated and even considered as a possible indicator species.

Environmental groups campaign t o have the Spotted Owl listed as an Endangered Species.

Estimates of remaining old-growth forest range from 10% to 30%.

1988 Judge Zilly ruled that the government acted illegally by not listing the Spotted Owl as an Endangered Species.
1990 The Spotted Owl is listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Federal Judge Dwyer of Seattle issued a ruling that halted logging in designated owl habitat - totaling some 25 million acres.

The Bush administration placed restrictions on 11.6 million acres of forest, considered "critical habitat" in an effort to save the owl as an initial stage of a habitat protection plan. About 75% of the designated land was federal protection land.

1992 Clinton and Gore participate in the Forest Summit in Portland Oregon.

A three- judge panel of a D.C. circuit upheld, two to one, the interpretation of "harm" in the ESA to include habitat modification.

Judge Dwyer revokes his initial ruling and allows some logging under a Clinton administration compromise plan.


In March, the same three-judge panel as the previous year, reverses its decision on the interpretation of what it means "to harm". The vote was two to one.

The Interior Department rejects a bid to remove the Spotted Owl from the Endangered Species List.


Sweet Home vs. Babbitt (Supreme Court): At issue is the scope of the Department of the Interior's regulation that makes it illegal to harm endangered species by modifying its habitat.

Congress enacts an Emergency Salvage Timber Sale Program, which was designed to allow the collection of timber from forest fire areas, but also would allow some logging in areas where it had been banned due to the ESA. The program was sponsored by Sen. Slade Gorton of WA., R., and was supported by all but two senators.

1999 Judge Dwyer issues a decision that effectively blocked plans for logging about 100 million board feet of timber.



Background information:

Gillis, A. M. (1990). "The New Forestry." BioScience 40(8): 558-562.

Mitchell, J. G. (1990). "War in the woods Part II: West Side Story." Audubon 92(January1990): 82-121.

Technical Articles: Spotted Owl.

Platter, Z. J. B., R. H. Abrams, et al. (1998). Roadblock strategies: Stark prohibiitons and their variability. Chapter 14 in Envirnomental Law & Policy: Nature, Law & Society, 2nd edition, West Publishing Co.: 671-694.

Dawson, W. R. e. a. (1987). "Repoprt of the Scientific Advisory Panel on the Spotted Owl." Condor 89(1): 205-209.

Simberloff, D. (1987). "The spotted owl fracas: Mixing academic, applied and political economy, part of a special feature- Spotted owl." Ecology 68(4): 766-772.

Dixon, K. and T. C. Jeulson (1987). "The political economy of the spotted owl, part of a special featur _ Spotted owl." Ecology 68(4): 772-776.

Salwasser, H. (1987). "Spotted Owls: Turning a battleground into a blueprint, part of a special feature - Spotted owl." Ecology 68(4): 772-776.

Mills, L. S., R. J. Fredrickson, et al. (1993). "Characteristics of old-growth forests associated with northern spotted owls in Olympic National Park." Journal of Wildlife Management 57(2): 315-321.

Popular Articles: Spotted Owl.


Sullivan, C. (1987). "Feathers fly over logging controversy." Christian Science Monitor (8/6/87).

Egan, T. (1988). Ruling on owl stirs new hope for trees. New York Times (11/18/88).

Lehman, H., Jane (1989). Oregon court clears path for loggers. Ban to protect rare owls is lifted in Pacific Northwest. Washington Post (5/27/89).

Nolte, C. (1990). Spotted owl declared threatened. San Francisco Chronicle (5/27/89).

Diringer, E. (1991). Whitehouse's plan to save spotted owl, 116 million acres of forest may be 'critical habitat'. San Francisco Chronicle (4/27/91).

Anonymous (1991). Conservation; Owlmageddon. The Economist, (UK edition pg. 41) (5/4/91), pg. 27.

Pringle, P. (1994). Ruffled feathers in the forest. The Independent. London (5/16/94), p. 17.

Sonner, S. (1994). Government rejects bid to remove spotted owl from threatened list. Associated press (9/1/94).

Schneider, K. (1995). Power to protect species may hang on a word. New York Times (1/6/95).

Westneat, D. (1996). War of the woods (cont.) - Contracts to log Virginia old-growth renew northwest's debate over forests. Seattle Times, (1/31/96).

Verhovek, S. H. (1999). Judge, faulting agencies, halts logging deals. New York Times (8/5/99).


Nicolai, D. (1990). "The destruction of America's rain forest." Utne Reader (July/August) p. 23-4.

Casey, C. (1991). "The Bird of Contention." American Forests 97(9 -10) p. 28-68.

Gentry, B. and A. Barber (1995). "The Environmental Case of the Decade." American Lawyer (May 1995) p.50.

Beardsley, T. (1995). "Endangered: One endangered species act." Scientific American 272 p. 18-19.

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