Twenty years after northern spotted owls were protected under the Endangered Species Act, their numbers continue to decline, and scientists aren't certain whether the birds will survive even though logging was banned on much of the old-growth forest in the Pacific Northwest where they live in order to save them.
The owl remains an iconic symbol in a region where once loggers in steel-spiked, high-topped caulk boots felled 200-year-old or even older trees and loaded them on trucks that compression-braked down twisty mountain roads to mills redolent with the smell of fresh sawdust and smoke from burning timber scraps.
Regionwide, the owl populations are dropping 2.9 percent a year. In Washington state, they're declining at 6 to 7 percent a year.
Tens of thousands of people were put out of work and dozens if not hundreds of rural communities were devastated by the logging ban. Families have been uprooted and separated -- all for an environmental theory that was obviously wrong. This is one of the consequences of adhering to the so-called precautionary principle.
Fortunately, the realization is slowly dawning that people are part of the ecosystem, too.