Save the owls!

Environmentalists try like heck to have it both ways in their dogmatic defense of all things green. On one side, they demand funding for cleanup and remediation projects and legal protections for sensitive acreage, arguing that such commitments will heal a resilient Mother Earth more quickly. On the other, they maintain that the evil agents of industry will completely destroy fragile ecosystems — forever — if allowed to make the slightest productive use of our lands.

So which is it? Can “threatened” areas and species be rejuvenated, or not? The answer, of course, depends on which is more effective in destroying economic growth.

The Bush administration wants to remove protections on 1.5 million acres of Pacific Northwest forests once deemed critical to the survival of the northern spotted owl. A nearly decade-long fight between greens and the government resulted in 6.9 million acres being declared all but off limits to logging, purportedly to save the owl.

Of course, the long legal battle was never about saving the owl. It was about the forests, and preventing the timber industry from cutting down more trees.

The old-growth forests have sufficiently recovered, even if the northern spotted owl hasn’t — the migration of the more aggressive barred owl species has brought further decline to the bird’s population. (Nature has quite the sense of irony.)

So the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants to shrink this “critical” habitat to about 5.4 million acres and kill off some of the rival owls.

“This is an effort to identify where forest areas are most important to the conservation and recovery of the spotted owl,” said Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Joan Jewett.

But remember, from the greens’ perspective, this fight isn’t about the owl. It’s about the forest. And a healed forest is still a threatened forest, as far as they’re concerned. Naturally, they’re opposed to the Bush administration’s plan.

If the last northern spotted owl (not to be confused with the California, Arizona or Mexican spotted owl) drops from the sky, you can bet the environmentalists will declare the protected forests critical habitat for the recently arrived barred owl, which happens to be an almost indistinguishable cousin of the northern spotted owl.

And local residents will pay for this rejuvenation — if it costs every job in the Pacific Northwest.

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