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Mug Shot Dan 05Way back before the first-grader was even born, the owl was a celebrity in the Pacific Northwest. Love the owl or hate the owl: for most people, there was no middle ground. And even though the owl is a little fellow, he made big things happen all along the Cascade and Coast Range mountains in Oregon, Washington and California.


Some folks decided the owl needed protecting and filed lawsuit after lawsuit until the little owl was protected by the biggest animal law of all: The Endangered Species Act. As part of that protection, the U.S. government decided it would cut fewer—a lot fewer—trees in places in and around where the owls lived.


But the problem was, the government had already decided that a good chunk of the money earned from cutting trees would go directly to the counties where the trees were located, for roads and schools.


Of course, in places like the Santiam River canyon in Oregon, or Forks out on the Olympic Peninsula, or Hayfork, Calif., the main businesses involved cutting down trees, or hauling them, or sawing them into lumber, or selling groceries and other stuff to people who did. So not only did the people working in these areas have to find other lines of work, they also needed to find a way to fund their schools.


Forgetting that the real problem was lack of trees to cut, the politicians said don't worry, we'll give you the school money even though you're not cutting the trees right now, and as soon as we come up with a tree-cutting plan, you can cut trees again. One big plan came and went, then another plan to speed up that plan. Each time the politicians and government officials claimed they had found solutions, but nothing really changed much on the ground, where there were still very few trees being cut.


Right around the time the first-grader was born, even though there were still very few trees being cut, the politicians again said they'd provide the school money for five more years—as they had done several times before.


But now the politicians say that's too expensive. Now, the politicians say they're going to sell some of the land where the trees grow, which should raise a few years' worth of school funds, but after that where the first grader's school money is going to come from is anyone's guess.


Meanwhile, the owls have a "sea of green" to themselves, as forests across the Northwest are closed to responsible management. The politicians are tapped out, with much more important priorities than funding schools in small towns where the first-graders barely outnumber the owls. The first-grader, if he ever learns to read, may some day learn how the politicians said cut the trees and keep the money, then said don't cut the trees, then said here's the money for the trees you didn't cut, then said we'll sell land instead of cut trees, then said tough luck.


Then again, if the politicians and the government are lucky, maybe the first-grader won't learn how to read at all.





Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM  Pacific

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