For at least a century, Charles Darwin has been a hero of the “progressive” moment for his landmark work on the evolution of species, which simultaneously enabled progressives to defend their atheism and to bolster their racist beliefs and eugenics program.
So it is interesting to see what happens when progressives run up against a basic principle of Darwin’s work in the course of practicing their favorite religion — environmentalism. A basic aim of environmentalism is to restrict human liberty and progress in order to preserve nature in its pristine state. In the United States, the holy writ of the movement is the Endangered Species Act. Since 1990, environmentalists have used the Act to wipe out the jobs of thousands of loggers in the Pacific Northwest, and to deprive humans of the timber resources of stagnant, old-growth forests, all in the name of preserving a pristine habitat for the Northern Spotted Owl.
It turns out that the Northern Spotted Owl is a relatively weak owl species because it is a specialist: it thrives only in old-growth forests while eating flying squirrels. It is now being threatened by a generalist: an owl species that will live pretty much anywhere, and eat pretty much anything smaller than it. This species is also highly territorial, and tough, known to harass and kill Northern Spotted Owls on sight (and even eat them).
In sum, there’s a new sheriff in town. Meet the Barred Owl — also known as the “Hoot Owl” (for its distinctive call).
While humans have been kept in check under the Endangered Species act, this tough, adaptable owl species is rapidly driving the Northern Spotted Owl toward extinction, at the rate of nearly three percent a year.
What, if anything, to do? Pursuant to Darwin’s principle of natural selection, all the Northern Spotted Owl would enjoy in a state of nature, unsullied by humans, would be a chance to compete on the merits with the Barred Owl. So environmentalists shouldn’t mind that, in the end, the more adaptable, generalist owls species will prevail over the less adaptable, specialist owl species. As one biologist put it: “invariably the generalist will win.”
But environmentalists do mind. For one thing, if Northern Spotted Owls become extinct at the beaks of the Barred Owls, it will mean that all the work of environmentalists, and all the costs imposed on humans, will have been for naught. Hobbled by the sunk-cost fallacy, those focused on past investments made to save Northern Spotted Owls conclude that letting nature take its course is “not a good alternative when you consider how much resources we’ve already committed” to saving the Northern Spotted Owl.
So what alternative is being pursued by the animal-loving scientists in charge of America’s environmental policy? As Noel S. Williams reports at The American Thinker, this fall federal wildlife officials will launch a “diabolical” program to “lure barred owls by propagating recordings of other barred owls, then shoot the birds to smithereens.” This program follows up on test killings of 73 Barred Owls between 2009 and 2012.
The feds will spend $3 million over the next four years to kill another 3,600 Barred Owls, a plan that’s been dubbed “Seduce and Shoot.” This is merely an expanded test program (confined to 1/20th of one percent of territory occupied by the Barred Owl), and the feds contemplate greatly expanding the program if it helps stem the decline of the Northern Spotted Owl.
This brand of “progressive” environmentalism is, like many of the ideas of progressives, a futile waste of money. As biologist Eric Forsman of the U.S. Forest Service puts it: “You could shoot barred owls until you’re blue in the face. But unless you’re willing to do it forever, it’s just not going to work.”
Noel Williams suggests a broader theme in play here: “Our government just doesn’t seem to celebrate success, whether in business or nature.”
“Give a hoot! Don’t ‘Seduce and Shoot’!”