The Story of Nature’s Decline

In the Pacific Northwest, 223 million acres of fertile land is filled with towering trees that are over 200 years old. Within this ancient forest, the elusive northern spotted owl lived happily for many centuries, but when man traveled west carrying greed and monstrous machines, the owls and their sanctuary were demolished. This was the story environmentalists constructed and disseminated throughout the nation. The environmentalists made a significant impact in the fight to protect northern spotted owls because of their powerful narrative that resonated with the courts and the public. The aim of this paper is to demonstrate the power of their narratives and to analyze how successful or unsuccessful the environmentalists were in the war to protect spotted owls.

One reason the environmentalist’s narrative was so robust was because their arguments were supported by scientific evidence. For instance, after environmentalists pushed for further research in 1981, scientists determined that spotted owls were an indicator species that required ~1000 acres of land per nest (Layzer 2016). By spreading the knowledge of the owl’s plight, the environmentalists were successful in persuading some government officials and judges to support the cause by state-listing the northern spotted owl as an endangered species in Oregon and Washington and filing dozens of injunctions against logging (Layzer 2016). Unlike the timber industry who were driven by political and economic interests, environmentalists held biocentric values which often draws strong support from scientific research.

Another aspect of the environmentalist’s narrative that determined its success was accessibility. The environmentalists consistently protested the increase in timber harvest and sales, especially throughout Reagan’s and Bush’s administration, while emphasizing the importance of old-growth forests for providing refuge to endangered wildlife (Layzer 2016). These protests successfully captured the attention of several judges whom called for a reevaluation of a certain policies (Layzer 2016). In addition, they gathered public support by raising the salience of the issue throughout the entire nation. The plight of the spotted owls and the old-growth forests was published in newspapers, journals, magazines, and other forms of media that was easily accessible to the public. By telling their story, the environmentalists were able to mobilize the public to partake in the debate to save the spotted owl.

Although the environmentalists successfully transformed a regional issue into a national debate, they failed in some respects. The environmentalists faced strong opposition from resource extraction interests who likewise framed a narrative to combat protection of spotted owls. As spotted owls gathered national attention, the timber industry organized themselves into coalitions and published a series of advertisements and articles that predicted massive job losses and disastrous economic repercussions if timber harvests were reduced (Layzer 2016). Although the critical habitat for the spotted owl was expanded under Obama’s administration, some logging operations were allowed to continue in designated areas (Layzer 2016). Despite the best efforts of the environmentalists, the timber industry still has a dominant presence in the Pacific Northwest forests and it is unclear whether the spotted owl population is recovering or declining in these ancient ecosystems.

Environmentalists constructed a strong narrative that maintained robust scientific evidence, solid biocentric interests, public accessibility, compelling motivation, and a pro-environmental mentality. Although the story was durable and well-executed, the land management agencies’ commitment to timber harvesting operations and the political agendas of different presidential administrations made this war long-lasting and difficult. Yet, the environmentalist’s narrative was key to the creation and change of many policies that provided some protection for the northern spotted owls and old-growth forests.


Layzer, Judith A. 2016. “Jobs versus the Environment”. In The Environmental Case: Translating Values Into Policy, eds. Sarah Calabi, Raquel Christie, and Olivia Weber-Stenis. London: Sage Publications, 239-275.

On my honor I have neither given nor received unauthorized information regarding this work, I have followed and will continue to observe all regulations regarding it, and I am unaware of any violation of the Honor Code by others



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