The Return of the Spotted Owl: Earth First, Means Humans Last

by | Dec 11, 2000 | Environment

My friend Jack predicted this. When the first flurry of lawsuits was filed in Florida, he told me: keep an eye on the other news. Some government agency, he warned, will spring a new regulation on us — and they will get away with it, because everyone’s attention is distracted. And sure enough, Jack was […]

My friend Jack predicted this. When the first flurry of lawsuits was filed in Florida, he told me: keep an eye on the other news. Some government agency, he warned, will spring a new regulation on us — and they will get away with it, because everyone’s attention is distracted.

And sure enough, Jack was right. If you flip past all the pages of ink devoted to the Gore team’s latest hijinks, you’ll find a news item that has garnered almost no attention from the national media.

The Northern Spotted Owl is at it again.

Not the owl itself, of course, but its guardians in the federal bureaucracy. Effective today, Dec. 11, the U.S. Forest Service has suspended all logging on 11 million acres of national forest — a swath of land that starts just north of Los Angeles, runs past Lake Tahoe, and stretches all the way up to the Oregon border.

The reason for the shutdown? According to a tiny AP report tucked away in the nether reaches of the newspaper, the logging ban was demanded by environmentalists to protect the forests’ endangered species, including our famous friend the spotted owl. To the greens, the owl is a “leading indicator” of threats to the “old growth forests.” The preservation of these forests is regarded as an end in itself, to be pursued at any cost.

That includes the cost to California loggers, who have just been laid off, two weeks before Christmas, by the order of government bureaucrats.

Many Americans in the West make their living off the land, as miners, loggers, and ranchers. Much of that land is controlled by the government, which holds these workers in limbo, their livelihoods dependent on the ruling-of-the-week from some federal agency. But worse, these agencies now serve as the hatchet men for activists who want to seal off as much land as possible from human use.

What is their motive? An eloquent answer is provided by another recent news item. It was a report that stimulated a lot more concern and solicitous care than the plight of the California loggers. The object of all this sympathy was a tree.

It is the same tree that was home to Julia Hill, a young green zealot who talks about “Mother Nature” the same way a Southern preacher talks about Jesus. Hill occupied the ancient redwood for two years in a successful attempt to force its owner, Pacific Lumber Company, to agree not to cut it down. She gave herself an “environmentalist name,” “Butterfly,” and she also named the tree, calling it “Luna.” Hill believes that “Luna” is endowed with a personality — despite the fact that it lacks a central nervous system.

Sometime in the past few weeks, someone took a chain saw and made a 19-foot cut around the tree’s base, which will weaken and probably kill the tree. Observers claimed the cut was made by someone “adept at sawing large trees.” In other words, if you want to find the culprit, look for a disgruntled logger. But then again, that won’t narrow down the search very much.

The really unusual angle to the story — if a tree with a personality isn’t strange enough — is the fact that Hill and her supporters are now demanding that local sheriffs bring down the full weight of the law on the chainsaw-wielder. They want the authorities to track down the culprit and charge him with trespassing, vandalism, and, as Hill’s spokesman describes it, a “hate crime against nature.”

Remember that Hill trespassed on the tree for two years, yet she was never charged for her crime. But now she is wracked with psychic agony — she feels the attack, she says, “as surely as if the chain saw was going through me.” And so she wants to throw the book at someone for assault and battery against a tree.

Notice the common element in these stories. Thousands of loggers are thrown out of work, and no one cares. A tree is cut, and everyone is up in arms. The common element is the belief that trees take precedence over people. In this view, redwoods, owls, and countless other species are sacred and have a right to their unspoiled habitats — but humans don’t have any right to their own property and livelihoods.

It’s an idea summed up in the name of the radical environmental group “Earth First!” The implicit postscript is: humans last.

It’s also an idea that is a lot more ominous than any voting irregularities down in Florida.

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Robert Tracinski was a senior writer for the Ayn Rand Institute from 2000 to 2004. The Institute promotes the philosophy of Ayn Rand, author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. Mr. Tracinski is editor and publisher of The Intellectual Activist and TIADaily, which offer daily news and analysis from a pro-reason, pro-individualist perspective. To receive a free 30-day trial of the TIA Daily and a FREE pdf issue of the Intellectual Activist please go to TIADaily.com and enter your email address.

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