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Introduction Christian Ecological Ethics and Biodiversity In the Pacific Northwest, the corner of the world where I live, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposes to shoot owls in order to save owls. The birds to be shot are barred owls, a species native to the eastern side of the continent that has expanded its range, becoming particularly numerous in the Pacific Northwest in the 1990s. The birds to be saved are northern spotted owls, one of the most famous subspecies protected by the Endangered Species Act and an icon of environmental conflicts in the Pacific Northwest and across the nation. Spotted owls make their homes in the old-growth forests of this region, into which barred owls have moved. When northern spotted owls were listed as a threatened species in 1990, the chief danger to their survival was the timber harvesting in western Washington, Oregon, and northern California. This sparked a contentious national debate in which many citizens understood the economic interests of logging communities as diametrically opposed to the environmental interest of preserving the subspecies and its habitat . After numerous controversies and compromises, the federal government set aside a critical habitat of 6.9 million acres of old-growth forest for the owl, and logging was forbidden on those lands. This changed the economic structure of many communities and created a symbol of the perceived division between human and environmental interests for decades to come. Years later those divisions have not fully healed, and many questions remain about whether habitat conservation and economic prosperity can coexist. Unfortunately, something else that remains is the threat of northern spotted owl extinction. Already weakened by a reduced habitat, the owls face new threats, including mutating viruses such as West Nile, an increased risk of forest fires because of climate change, and an invasive species. This last threat is among the most severe: barred owls have the same nesting and dietary needs as their spotted cousins, and they are much more aggressive when competing for breeding ground. 1 2 introduction Researchers have found extensive evidence that the competition between the two species is reducing northern spotted owl habitat and thereby making breeding and survival less likely.1 The Endangered Species Act charges the Fish and Wildlife Service with protecting most threatened species, and it is under this authority that the agency proposed in 2008 to expand an experimental program to capture and kill the invasive owls. Since they are not members of a threatened species, it is entirely legal to shoot barred owls in order to help northern spotted owls survive and, one hopes, return to a viable and self-sustaining level of population. The Fish and Wildlife Service argues that something must be done to control the invasive barred owl to prevent the threatened spotted owl “from declining irreversibly in the foreseeable future.”2 This case is deeply complicated: the economic interests of some human beings clash with the interest of a subspecies of bird, and the interests of that subspecies clash with those of another group of owls. These conflicts are an unintended consequence of industrialized human society in North America, but the nonhuman world around us forms their context. As a society we must make difficult choices about what we value, what we should do, and how much we are willing to act and sacrifice on behalf of—and against—other creatures with whom we share this planet. Of course, the northern spotted owl is just one of almost two thousand species listed by the Endangered Species Act, and these represent only a small sample of the variety of life threatened with destruction and extinction across our world.3 Each threatened species, community, and ecosystem poses moral challenges as difficult as those raised by the spotted owl. Clearly, the project of protecting the variety of life on our planet—the conservation of biodiversity—is a complicated and dif- ficult one. These complications and difficulties are the inspiration for and a subject of this book, which is about the global epidemic of biodiversity loss and its primary cause: human beings in industrial societies . An Ethics of Biodiversity calls for changes in the ways we think and act toward the variety of life, beginning with the premise that the decline in the variety of life on our planet can be halted only by significant changes in human behavior. Life on Earth today is wildly diverse but the future of that...


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