Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Library Death By Spotted Owl

Here's another one to irritate people. Most of you are probably familiar with the story of Jackson County, OR, which is closing its entire library system because of a lack of funding. Despite my own criticisms of particular areas of public librarianship and, for that matter, particular areas of the country, I too wish these libraries could remain open. Rural folks have it hard enough, what with having to live in the middle of nowhere and all. Take away their libraries, and there's nothing left of civilization but the McDonald's and the local bowling alley. I am in favor of the libraries remaining open, and I do think the lives of Jackson County will be impoverished somehow without libraries. But what a strange story.

I haven't paid any attention to what other library bloggers are saying about this. I'm sure everyone agrees it's bad. The only cause I've seen named is "Federal budget cuts," but that's the easy and shallow answer. One person quoted claimed the Federal government lied because Teddy Roosevelt took the land and the Feds were supposed to keep paying Oregon for it. That doesn't seem to be entirely accurate, according to the article. Teddy took the land, but the deal was to pay Oregon a portion of the timber profits from logging the land. For decades the Jackson Countians did quite well out of the deal.

But now no one's logging, and there are no profits. The Feds have been bailing out this rural county for six years, but not any more. As much as I think libraries are, or at least should be, important to Jackson County, I don't support the US Government paying to keep this county running. Perhaps they should give the land back to Oregon, but there's no reason why anyone outside of Oregon should subsidize a county government that can't sustain itself. The citizens themselves voted down a property tax increase last November to keep the libraries open. They have another chance to vote in May. Their future has to be in their own hands. And there are projects more important to the nation as a whole than whether one county closes its libraries.

But the thing I was most struck with was why the logging, and therefore the money, stopped. According to the article, "the good times petered out in the early 1990s, when the northern spotted owl was listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, all but shutting down large-scale logging." So the environmentalists are responsible for shutting down the Jackson County libraries.

Before you start accusing me of bashing all environmentalists, I'll note for the record that I myself am some sort of environmentalist. I support the conservation of public land. I am concerned about the long term degradation of our environment and the danger it poses for our future. I support efforts to address environmental concerns. I'm certainly not what you would call a "tree hugger," if for no other reason than I like the idea of trees but don't particularly want to be out among them unless they're in a well kept park. But I am some sort of environmentalist.

I do care about the environment as a whole and its effect on human life. What I don't care about is the spotted owl, or any other individual endangered species, unless it's a species absolutely necessary to the food chain that ultimately leads up to human beings. This is where I part company with many versions of the environmentalist movement. I've never seen a spotted owl, I don't care if I ever see one, and if they all die off it won't bother me a bit. Same with all the other bugs and snakes and toads and whatever else is on the "endangered species" list. The only endangered species I care about is my own, and even that one I'm not so sure about sometimes.

But many environmentalists don't care about human beings, and what we get are public libraries closing. Logging can be a sustainable enterprise as long as it isn't logging old growth forests. Logging isn't necessarily going to destroy anyone. It might destroy the spotted owl, but if I have to choose spotted owls or public libraries, I'd choose public libraries. If I had to choose spotted owls or people, I'd choose people. Many environmentalists have made their choice. They prefer the spotted owl to people. That's why it's more important to them to save the owl than to save the libraries. I know they probably didn't think about that when they lobbied to save the spotted owl, but it seems to me a completely understandable, if unintentional, consequence of choosing the owls in Jackson County over the people of Jackson County. They didn't plan to close the libraries, but they knew the local economy would be significantly harmed, and they didn't care. Saving the spotted owl is not like reducing greenhouse gases. The extinction of the spotted owl isn't going to mean the extinction of the human race or the potential for disasters because of global warming.

You might be thinking, why can't we have both? Why not the spotted owl and the libraries? Because that's not the way it works. You have to make choices, and once you choose the owl over people, you have to live with those choices. The choice turned out to be between the spotted owl and libraries, and many environmentalists chose the spotted owl, and they still would if given the choice again. Jackson County made the choice between police services and libraries. They chose police services. I'd say Jackson County made a wiser choice than the environmentalists, but their difficult choice was necessary because the environmentalists chose the spotted owl over people.

And if the people of Jackson County vote down supporting their own library system this year, perhaps because it's just not affordable, things will be harder for a lot of people and their lives will be made worse in ways they probably won't even think about. But they'll have this comfort--now that they can't waste time in the public libraries, they can go out into the woods and watch the spotted owls.


Anonymous said...

You have a very simplistic view of the situation. The logging stopped nearly 15 years ago. No one in Oregon seems to have made a successful attempt in the past 15 years to develop the Jackson County economy so that the county will be less dependent on one source of income. The owls and the enviromentalists are being used, at least by you, as scapegoats for a state and county that refused to diversify its economy.

While I realize that you like to make inflammatory posts, you might start to do a little research before you post them. Why not go all the way and blame the closing of the libraries on a plot to keep those west coast liberals ignorant so that they won't interfere with the US foreign policy? Or, of course, you could blame it on the Illuminati or the Templars. I am really starting to think that all librarians should be forced to take Economics 101 in library school. It might help them to understand funding issues.

- a lover of conspiracy theories

Anonymous said...

I can only assume you are trying to make some kind of satirical joke with your reasoning on why we should allow the owls to go extinct. If not, I'm absolutely appalled and rather disgusted.

mdoneil said...

I'd take the owls. After 18 months as a reference librarian in a public library I don't like people. Heck I'd rather have the clap than deal with library patrons ever again.

jantorx said...

I love owls! Owls uber alles!

Alexandra said...

I have to agree with anonymous 11:01. The owls are being blamed for a lack of effort on the part of Jackson County. They knew they wouldn't have logging revenues, and they could have been working on alternate sources. What have they come up with? I admit I don't know, but I do know you can't blame the owls for the county's failure to adapt. And the fact that the people voted down the taxes that would allow their libraries to stay open just shows that they are still unwilling (or unable) to make changes. As they say, Adapt, Improvise and Overcome.

AL said...

Perhaps I'm joking, perhaps I'm not. Perhaps I'm just being inflammatory. I completely agree this is a simplistic view o the situation. I will also note that I actually do know something about economics, anon @11:01, but talking about it isn't as fun as just making stuff up. I don't know anything about Jackson County in particular, but I am familiar with the economic situation in rural areas in general (and I'm assuming this is a rural area). It's hard to diversify your economy when you don't have many people. That's why there are so many small towns around the country heavily dependent on a particular industry, or in the case of some small towns, on a particular factory. Aside from whatever small industry drew people to the area in the first place, there's no point in anyone being there. And public services can become more expensive per person when people live scattered out all over the woods.

While the Jackson Countians have had 15 years to diversify their economy, a serious question is why did they have to. They were doing just fine until certain environmentalists chose owls over people. I may have simplified the situation, but I didn't oversimplify the question. That is the question. Owls or people? Personally, my question for Jackson County is why don't you all move to civilization where there are jobs and stuff.

Anon at 11:06, you'll just have to continue to be appalled and disgusted, because I really don't care whether the owls go extinct. That part wasn't exaggerated. Why am I supposed to get upset about an owl's extinction? I'm more upset about the billion or more people barely eating everyday in the world. I'd rather feed them owls than have them starve.

And I wasn't blaming the owls. The owls didn't do anything. I was blaming the environmentalists for choosing owls over people. If you like the choice of owls over people, that's fine. I'll be happy to politely disagree with you. But choosing owls over people definitely put a heavy burden of change and adaptation on the people of Jackson County that otherwise they would not have had to bear. Why do they have to "adapt, change, and overcome," when that is so difficult? They had to do it because some people think that their lives and the burdens they face are less important than owls.

Anonymous said...

The closing of the library is a symbol, but it is a lens through which to view the cause and effect of mindless adherence to dogma.

Small towns bloom, wilt and die. Just like species. No one knows *with certainty* how many species of anything exist, how and why new ones form or why some become extinct. Yet the phrase "endangered species" opens up wallets to pay lawyers to stop some form of human progress. I love nature and the envirnonment, but you have to be rational. The owls would move or morph into some slightly different new species, with less spots or another talon. There can be a balance between the land and the human activity. Notice the environmental funds never pay to relocate those who are displaced or have lives disrupted by their lawsuits.

Animals over people.

Four legs good, two legs bad.


shade said...

If you've seen the type of logging they do, you would realize the trees would eventually be gone anyway and probably fairly soon. Then you would have no trees, no owls, no library and probably no town. It is quite disturbing to be driving through a lovely forest and suddenly come to an area that is simply naked stumps for miles and miles. The people who really don't care are the logging companies, who will pack it all up and go to Brazil.

Anonymous said...

People over owls? cmon AL, your wit and wisdom is generally second to none, but in this case your pushing a false dichotomy. We are talking about the death of a species versus the inconvenience of some lumberjacks, not death of the lumberjacks. Personally, I prefer the Redwood Forrest and the Spotted Owl to lumberjacks any day.
Take a look at this website and then tell me if you think this way of life is something to be protected. And who cares about their library. I can only imagine the sorts of things they checked out.

AL said...

I still say it's people versus owls. Lumberjacks are people, too, though not necessarily my favorite people. But consider your comment, latest anon--"And who cares about their library. I can only imagine the sorts of things they checked out." You've chosen owls over people because of your contempt for the people. You may find lumberjacks and logging contemptible, but I bet you use wood. Where do you think that wood comes from?

Regarding saving trees, I'd rather save trees than owls. My claim was that logging Can be sustainable, not that the Jackson County logging is. Logging isn't necessarily bad, though it is necessary to humans. The owls aren't necessary to humans at all.

Anonymous said...

Ain't got no spotted owls.

Ain't got no forests to cut down.

Ain't got no enviornmentalists telling us what to eat, drink, wear, conserve, use, or whatever.

But, we gotta' first class public livrary, paid for by both taxes and individual donations.

Go figure

Anonymous said...

Regarding: "Rural folks have it hard enough, what with having to live in the middle of nowhere and all. Take away their libraries, and there's nothing left of civilization but the McDonald's and the local bowling alley."

.... WALMART, you're forgetting WALMART!


Anonymous said...

And for a refreshing change of direction - I'm consistently amazed by those who could never dream of small-town living who think those who live in rural areas must be so tortured by that fact. I'm stuck in the big city for the moment (in fact in a city far larger than I ever wanted to have anything to do with), but one of these days, I'm going to get back to my rural roots. Those who live in small towns are not poor, unfortunate souls. Most of them like it. So what if there is only a McDonald's and a bowling alley (by the way, no McD's where I'm from)? It's quiet, and you never have to worry about traffic tie-ups. Even the occasional livestock in the road is easy to get around without slowing you down too much.

But I do agree on one have to take care of your people or the town will die. Not only does that mean diversifying your economy however possible, that means keeping up your community resources: cops, firemen, libraries. When your library goes away, it IS difficult to get what you need. Even when you can drive into the nearest city to visit their library, you don't pay taxes there and they don't want you using their stuff for free. (Oh, you thought the library was free, did you?) You start having to buy everything you want to read, and guess what? That's expensive. Never mind what happens when your older brother develops kidney disease and you need to research dialysis. Luckily, in my hometown, the county allocates an ample budget for the two public libraries and still has enough left over to pay my parents' salaries. I do sympathize with those whose governments don't see it that way.

Anonymous said...

Actually, Jackson County includes Ashlands, Oregon, the home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. The county as a whole as a strong counter-culture element interspersed with a conservative population. (I have a librarian friend who lives in Medford).

Much of the county income comes from pear orchards and vinyards, as well as from tourism. I would suggest that the county explore alcoholic pear beverages. It might also step up the tourism.

Seattle, for example, was highly dependent on Boeing. When Boeing moved to Chicago, the Seattle economy took a nosedive.

I still think it would have been more dramatic to blame the Illuminati.

-lover of conspiracy theories

AL said...

I think you would find, "lover of conspiracy theories," that command of actual facts about any given situation makes it very difficult to write provocative and alarming blog posts about said situation. Keep that in mind! Having said that, I find it sad the any place dedicated to promoting the Bard wouldn't vote to support their libraries. Maybe they don't need libraries, since everyone there at least owns the Bible and Shakespeare, and so needs no other reading. They just anxiously await the Shakespeare Festival.

And just between you and me, I've been very suspicious of those Illuminati for a long time, but I prefer to blame the Freemasons.

Anonymous said...

"Freemasons run the country!"
--Smithers' germs, Simpsons

Anonymous said...

"Freemasons run the country!"
--Smithers' germs, Simpsons

Infoart said...

This is the mistake most people make about environmental issues. Somehow, humans aren't affected by trashing the environment.

Yeah, let's just keep burning stinky old sulpher coal, driving SUVs, ruining streams in forests that are wacked down, overfishing the oceans and on and on.

Jackson County saw the writing on the wall in the late 1970's. I know, I worked for the library for a year before I was told I would be let go at the next budget year. (Best thing that ever happened to me, actually!)

That was because they had essentially cut all the old growth forests. Finally, someone was stepping in to save the last few big ones and the mills weren't equipped for small diameter logs.

Ever walk through an old growth forest? It's way different than a cut forest. Without being an ecologist you can tell the difference. So why not save the last 5%. GET THAT 5%!!!!!

So Jackson County avoided reality. It's not a lumber economy anymore and never will be. Now they pay the price for hoping that an anti-environmentalist government will come in and save the day.

Don't demonize "environmentalists." They are saving your ass. Demonize the government that continues to tell Americans they can have it all without paying for it.

I hate that the libraries are threatened. I'd like to see them come up with some reasonable alternatives. But blaming it on "tree huggers" ain't going to solve the problems by any means.

Anonymous said...

The anonmyous who suggested that Seattle took a nosedive when the Boeing headquarters moved to Chicago probably isn't aware that the Boeing manufacturing facilities are still in the Seattle area and in Wichita Kansas - - They haven't mloved an inch, and are busily turning out 777s, 737s, and ramping up for the 787 Dreamliner - - - and with a confirmed backlog of orders through 2010, plus being in the running to provide the Air Force with its next tanker fleet, built on the 757.

Tough nosedive.

AL said...

Infoart, I think you're guilty of a misreading, since I didn't demonize environmentalists nor any "treehuggers." I specifically noted the difference between environmental concerns that affect humans and those that don't, so you can save the "environmentalists are saving your ass" rhetoric for someone else. Of course environmental damage can harm humans. I noted as much. But the extinction of the spotted owl won't harm humans at all. Next time I suggest that you actually bother to consider all the qualifications of an argument before you begin your sarcastic rants.

Anonymous said...

We get it. If it's between AL and the owl, the owl loses, unless it's a close fight and the owl manages to get a quick talon into AL.

But I'd say the spotted owl is not guilty of anything more than hastening the day when Jackson County would go bust. Extractive industries like old growth logging always have an end point. Sooner or later the forest (or mine, or quarry, or grazing land) is clapped out and the economy that was dependent on the extractive activity goes bust as well. Countless ghost towns across the West give witness to this phenomenon.

In this case, I guess, I side with the owl. The entire issue was preserving the small patches of old growth forest that still remain, patches of forest that can never be restored or reproduced, patches that needed to be conserved in order to function as seeding areas so that the unique forest ecosystem could revive itself over the decades and centuries. Logging out those patches would've only delayed the inevitable bust a few years, while assuring the loss of a unique ecosystem and the spotted owl, a loss that would have been final.

At least the humans have somewhere to go. The owls don't have Portland waiting for them.

Infoart said...


Sorry you don't realize that you do demonize environmentalists when you write "So the environmnetalists are responsible for shutting down the Jackson County libraries."

The spotted owl is a red herring, so to speak. There are many species being threatened by the loss of habitat--old growth forests. It's not just the spotted owl.

I'm sure you are smart enough to know that it takes quite a few years for an old growth forest to form. Just where do you expect those species that have adapted to that environment to go while the forest attempts to come back?

Like I said, I'm sad that the government chooses to close libraries, but I can live with that more than I can the extermination of species.

You are right about one thing: you won't be affected by the elimination of the spotted owl. But this kind of thinking is what is so sad. Why make any sacrifices now when you won't be around to see the consequences of your choices.

I'm guessing you don't have kids and don't have to think much beyond 50 years out.

Anonymous said...

When jet orders spark job anxiety
A Boeing worker feels the turbulence:
August, 2006

I kept wondering why many people from Seeattle were moving to Brooklyn.


Anonymous said...

It would be relatively easy to build bird houses suitable for spotted owls and suspend them from trees that are not intended for harvesting.

Anonymous said...

I realize this posting is long, but I encourage everyone to read it. This is the most hidden fact about the spotted owl issue. The timber companies are using it as a scapegoat for their own lack of planning and forsight. Don't blame those poor library workers. As contributing members of society all they are asking for is a few benifits (ie sick leave and medical). And Jackson county voters turned down a small property tax that would have paid for it! We all enjoy libraries right?

Ok. Here is what the timber companies do not want to tell you: First, the national recession during the early 1990s hurt the wood products sector badly. But due to higher housing starts and timber prices, the industry began to recover. The timber companies in the NW did better in 1992 and 1993 than in 1991. In the first half of 1993, profits at those companies that rely most heavily on wood products were up 179 percent from the same period in 1992.
Through the mid-1990s, smaller sawmill companies in the Pacific Northwest were hurt by contracting supply and continued to decline in number. The companies disregarded forecasts, dating back to the 1970s, of a looming timber shortage during the 1990s. They also suggested that at the rate the loggers were cutting, the Pacific Northwest would have had severe supply problems by the year 2000, regardless of the spotted owl-endangerment controversy.
Lumber markets improved in 1996 due to tightened lumber supplies and better pricing for lumber products. Housing starts increased 5 percent in 1996, aiding wood products sales. However, the industry also struggled against competing materials, namely steel for wood, in homebuilding. An increasing number of builders used steel-frame housing; an estimated 80,000 houses were built with the technology in 1996, compared to 800 houses in 1992. The availability of affordable wood products, however, dampened this building construction trend.
Cutbacks of harvesting on federal lands has had a diverse impact on industry participants. Some believe that the largest companies—at least those with substantial timber holdings of their own—have been less than vigorous in fighting curtailments of logging on federal land. These firms have huge plantations of genetically improved trees, which afford them ample supply. Their reliance on federal sales of old-growth trees is relatively small, and the spotted owl does not appear to thrive on their own second- and third-growth forests. It has been argued, therefore, that these companies have been willing, and even happy, to accept restrictions on logging of federal lands.
Small, independent sawmill owners, on the other hand, have relied since World War II on public lands to supply the old-growth logs that can be turned into specialty products. The trees they used were often as much as five centuries old; consequently, they were often inhabited by the spotted owl. The trees that have been engineered by big corporations are but a tenth the age and only half the height of the old-growth trees. Often they are too small for the saws andconveyor belts of the old-time sawmills.
Level terrain, frost-free winters, and numerous highways made logging much easier in the South than it was in the Northwest. Trees in the region grew faster because of the relatively warm winters. Since most of the South's acreage was logged years ago, there is little of the old-growth forest that has aroused such strong environmental opposition in the Northwest. Most notably, some 90 percent of Southern timberland is privately owned.
The Asian economic crisis hindered industry growth during the late 1990s. Reductions in Japanese demand for wood products, especially for housing applications, meant a reduction in exports to that country and contributed to oversupply in the United States. Imports and the growth in forest product capacity in emerging countries, which protected themselves with high tariffs, also contributed to oversupply. The top five export countries in 1997 were Canada (22.0 percent), Japan (17.5 percent), Germany (8.0 percent), the United Kingdom (6.7 percent), and Mexico (5.5 percent). The top five import countries were Canada (83.5 percent), Indonesia (3.6 percent), Brazil (3.2 percent), Mexico (1.4 percent), and Chile (1.1 percent). The U.S. forest products industry saw the easing of trade barriers as critical. Government negotiators work to equalize international trade; however, a tariff agreement presented at the World Trade Organization meeting in December 1999 was not acted upon. The agreement would have eliminated tariffs on paper products between 2000 and 2002 and on wood products between 2002 and 2004.