By Michael Doyle
Protecting the northern spotted owl cost an estimated 32,000 workers their jobs in the Pacific Northwest, a significant loss but still far less severe than some had predicted, a new study found.
The analysis by two environmental economists underscores the real-world human costs of the Endangered Species Act. But it also undercuts the worst-case scenarios floated by critics of the politically sensitive owl-protection efforts, which are now undergoing yet another do-over.
“It should … not be taken as a cautionary tale to prevent the listing of species, but rather an example of why we need solid data to show that the costs are real, manageable, and not infinite,” study co-author Eyal Frank, an assistant professor at the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy, said in a statement.
Frank and co-author Ann Ferris in their study, published in the Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, noted that the losses were less than the 130,000 jobs some predicted would be lost.
After millions of acres of old forests were designated as critical habitat in the years following the 1990 designation of the species as threatened, the study found timber industry employment declined by 14% compared with regional employment in the sector. It declined by 28% in the affected counties compared with the industry at the national level, amounting to a decline of about 32,000 jobs in the “Lumber and Wood Products” sector.
“Those job losses were a short-term cost, which likely had real welfare impacts on the workers, but in exchange we got back the chance to save a species and protect many others,” Frank stated.