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magazine / mj06

May/June 2006 issue


FEATURE
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.


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"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 empty.

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.

For the rest of this story, visit your local newsstand or go to our store to buy this issue.





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