Friday, June 17, 2005

Our Role in Species Management

I am a bit disturbed by this US Forest Service plan to start shooting barred owls who are pushing spotted owls out of their nesting areas. By all accounts that I have read, the barred owls have migrated to the West Coast from the Midwest without any assistance from humans. So should we intervene in this case to keep spotted owl populations up? It's a tricky question. Humans have destroyed so many of the world's species that if we can save some, even if they are on their way to dying out naturally, maybe we should. Perhaps some of you are aware of the fate faced by the Tasmanian devils, who have developed a genetic mutation that makes it so they can't eat and is spread through biting, which the devils do to each other all the time. This mutation is wiping out the population of these animals very quickly. Australian scientists have quarantined some devils to hope they can rebuild the population. But by all accounts, humans have no fault in causing this to happen.

In both of these cases, humans are intervening to save a species that perhaps is doomed anyway. While humans intervene in so many natural processes, I am wary of this kind of thing. First of all, it's unlikely to be effective. If the barred owls are coming out here anyway, we can postpone the inevitable but as soon as the nation doesn't have the money or will to do this kind of work anymore the barred owls will likely finish off the spotted owls. If these were non-native species brought in by people from a different part of the world I might feel differently. But I have a hard time justifying intervention in yet another natural process. This is not mitigating the damages that human beings have caused around the world. This is playing God for the sake of playing God.

Still, maybe some of you out there could convince me otherwise. It's a tricky issue. Feel free to disagree me here and give me your reasons for doing so.