||May/June 2006 issue||
ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENTIST OF THE YEAR
Last call for the spotted owl
The northern spotted owl is disappearing along with
its old-growth forest home. A recently launched lawsuit may be its only
hope of survival.
Excerpt of story by Brian Payton
On a cool spring afternoon two years ago, wildlife researcher Joel Gillis entered a patch
of oldgrowth temperate rain forest three hours east of Vancouver. Here, stands of cedar, hemlock
and Douglas fir tower 30 metres above the forest floor. He gave a couple of short hoots, and
soon a female northern spotted owl appeared, gliding silently overhead and alighting on a nearby
branch. Hoping she might have a few precious owlets to feed, he offered her a snack.
"I put a mouse on the end of a stick, and this great big owl came swooping down and
grabbed it," he says. "She didn’t make a sound."
She returned for three more mice, but a quick inspection revealed the worst. Her nest was
At the time, the 30-year-old crew leader for the British Columbia Conservation Foundation
saw himself playing an important role in the preservation of the owl and its habitat. Gillis
believed that the population survey data he and his crew of a half-dozen technicians were
collecting would be used by the government to help protect the bird and the forest.
Today, Gillis holds few such illusions. After hundreds of cold, sleepless nights spent
searching for northern spotted owls, he has come to accept that like the bird, his days in
Canada are likely numbered. That is, unless a last-ditch legal effort — the first action
of its kind under Canada’s Species at Risk Act — succeeds in preventing further logging
in Canada’s spotted owl habitat.
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