Felix Salmon

The blameless Spotted Owl

By Felix Salmon
March 20, 2010

There’s a nice empirical post-script to the debate over the economic effects of classifying the Spotted Owl as an endangered species. Freakonomics cites a study putting the effect at $46 billion, but others, including John Berry, who wrote a story on the subject for the Washington Post, think it’s much closer to zero.

And now it seems the Berry side of the argument has some good Freakonomics-style panel OLS regression analysis of the microeconomy of the Pacific Northwest to back up its side of the argument. A new paper by Annabel Kirschner finds that unemployment in the region didn’t go up when the timber industry improved, and it didn’t go down when the timber industry declined — not after you adjust for much more obvious things like the presence of minorities in the area.

From the abstract:

The controversy that ensued with this listing quickly became framed as one of jobs versus the environment, a contention that often characterizes conservation efforts. This contention is closely tied to export-based economic theory which assumes that a rural area’s natural resource commodity base is the most important factor in economic development and community well-being. However, other factors could impact well-being… Industrial restructuring and the presence of minorities are the only significant explanatory variables for poverty. The presence of minorities is the only significant variable for unemployment rates.

That’s industrial restructuring in the timber industry as a whole that we’re talking about here, not the effects of the Spotted Owl decision specifically. Employment in the timber industry in the region generally was in terminal decline whether or not the Spotted Owl was made an endangered species, and the decision to list the owl had zero visible effect either way.

Just don’t expect this particular paper to make it into the next edition of Freakonomics.

2 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

Freakonomics would be well-advised to rely less on “data” fudged by book-cooking swindlers like Charles Hurwitz and Richard “Fatty” Pombo (who by rights ought to be endangered species) and peruse instead The Anderson Valley Advertiser on the sordid history of big lumber in the Pacific Northwest, from grass-roots perspective. So would everybody.

[subscriptions encouraged, this is one paywall I completely endorse]

Fascinating, if not exactly uplifting reporting. The clear-cutters have been clutching at straws like their “cost” of reluctantly saving the Spotted Owl for almost a generation now, but it’s just as fake an excuse for paper losses and community-wide slave-labor mayhem conditions as ever there was.

http://www.headwaterspreserve.org/html/p ublications_article_58.html

And yes, even in America, local news sources are at times the most reliable.

Posted by HBC | Report as abusive

There is an obvious need to collect more data in order to find the “real” cost of protecting said owl – which lies somewhere between nothing and billions, this I am certain. But I take some umbrage to the “abstract” statement that “The presence of minorities is the only significant variable for unemployment rates.” (And not simply for it’s racial implications.)

After all, one only need look at the actual cost and very REAL economic losses incurred from protecting the California Delta Smelt last Summer and Fall. There is always at least some economic impact when we legislate to protect our little earthly co-inhabitants.

Perhaps we ought to stop blame shifting – one to another – and recognize that we make choices, those choices have cost – and it’s not always someone else’s fault. Not even the Spotted Owls… well not entirely, perhaps.

Posted by ninaspeace | Report as abusive

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