The Northern Spotted Owl

When President Richard Nixon signed the Endangered Species Act into law in 1973, he stated, "Nothing is more priceless and more worthy of preservation than the rich array of animal life with which our country has been blessed."

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) intends to conserve plant and animal species in danger of extinction over a significant portion of their range, as well as the ecosystems upon which these populations depend. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the ESA was the focus of a series of public, political, and legal controversies surrounding the protection of the northern spotted owl (Strix occidentalis caurina) on national forest lands in Washington and Oregon.

The debate over the spotted owl played across newspapers across the country and led to hostilities in many of the Pacific Northwest's small towns. Though the issues were in fact far more complex, many reports pitched the controversy as a struggle between loggers' jobs and protection of the owls' ancient forest habitat.

We present here a chronological survey of the northern spotted owl controversy as it swelled into prominence in the 1980s, crested with the 1990 listing as Endangered under the ESA, then spilled across the region's forests and towns, courtrooms, and newspapers.

To begin, click on the Spotted Owl Timeline and move through the subjects or year's events listed.