Don’t Look – Don’t Tell –
Life experience has taught me that our species is prone to taking actions that are not in our best interest; in spite of seeing the horrifying images of a smoker’s lungs, people smoke; in spite of knowing the down sides of doing it, some of us can’t resist the call of a bacon cheeseburger; and in spite of understanding the reality and risks of climate change, we continue to fire up the vehicle for trips we really don’t need to take. One of my personal weaknesses is that in spite of knowing that it puts my livelihood as a forest keeper and landowner at risk, I persist in the habit of monitoring the birds and other species in our forests.
But what could be risky about that? Isn’t the image of forest keeper making the time and effort to annually monitor and analyze the birds in the forest an appealing one? Isn’t it is society’s best interests to encourage land owners to ask and answer such questions as: “what species use and live in this forest? What does this tell us about our use of the land? How can we manage to provide better habitat?” Certainly this evokes the image of the westerner keener to build longer term relationships with the land than our legendary “get the money out of it and move on” predescessors; but let’s be honest – our choice to monitor the birds in our forest is as, or more, contrary to our self interests as smoking, beef biting, or joy riding.
Our livelihood depends on our ability to reliably harvest and sell wood from the forest; the finding of certain species in the forest would bring to an end our ability to maintain a working forest. Put more simply, it would put us out of buisiness and force us to sell the no longer economically viable land at a significant loss.
Here are the details – our 160 acres forest, near Timber, Oregon, measures one half mile on each side. Should a Northern Spotted Owl take up residence we would be required to leave a 70 acre circle undisturbed and have no activity in a 2,600 foot circle from March 1 through Sept. 30. A Bald Eagle would require a 200 to 300 foot circle undisturbed throughout the year and no activity in a ½ mile circle Jan. 1 through Sept. 30. Either would make logging activity essentially impossible. How serious is the risk? We know that multiple Northern Spotted Owls nest nearby in the Tillamook State Forest and that logging activities are scheduled to increase on these lands.
In these times when the need for a commitment to land stewardship is increasingly important, why do we tolerate policies which serve as significant disincentives to the types of landowner attentiveness that we should be encouraging? It seems like a bad choice for government and society to place landowners in a position where they must choose between paying attention to the communities of life on their land and protecting the economic security and viability of their land-based business. Wouldn’t it make more sense to have policies where paying attention and improving habitat lead to increased security and viability and less uncertainty and risk? What are we going to do to at least remove the current disincentives and at best provide incentives for attentive land owners willing to ask and answer such questions as:
– What species live on and use this land?
– What does their presence – or absence – tell us about the land’s ecological health?
– How can we best manage to maximize habitat value?
For the time being when we ask the question “who, but a fool, would choose to monitor the bird life in their forest?” the answer remains – no one. And that is not OK with me.