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A Bird in the Hand

Skittish, tough, this bird is a bullet of feather and bone.
Under the shadowy canopy of a high pine forest, it hurls itself from a tree like a two-pound smart bomb, crimson eyes trained on its airborne prey. Midair, it flips, overtaking a smaller bird from below, then forks its talons into the belly. The vanquished bird peeps, flutters, slackens in final defeat. The body will be plucked clean and carried back to the nest to feed the hunter's young. The head, the trophy, will be devoured by the hunter itself.

The victor of this race is a bird so agile, so fast that its nickname is "gray ghost." Its image once adorned the helmet of Attila the Hun. It can build a sturdy nest eighty feet above the earth or take down a speeding hare mid-stride. On a plateau soaring 7,000 feet above the Grand Canyon's floor, the northern goshawk (GOSS-hawk) is aerial king of the forest.

But the goshawk's kingdom is shrinking. In a government office 500 miles to the north, the bird and its reign have become the subject of legal warfare. This elusive predator has the power to make or break scientific reputations, to gut the Endangered Species Act, to suck the life out of the Western timber industry. If it lasts that long.

The goshawk is a bird on the edge.

Nobody knows the goshawk's regal beauty and ecological vulnerability better than Richard Reynolds. Nobody, for that matter, knows better what havoc this bird could wreak.

In a few minutes, Reynolds will lean back, prop his brown cowboy boots on his desk and take a swig of coffee. But for the moment he is perched on the edge of his chair, clearly agitated. For the past three days here in his Fort Collins office, Reynolds has spent countless hours talking on the phone with United States Department of Agriculture lawyers back in Washington, D.C. They should have had these conversations months ago, he grumbles. In less than two weeks, they'll be heading to court to fight an environmental group's demand for the reams of data Reynolds has collected on the northern goshawk. Raw data. His data. "As a scientist," he says, "that's my lifeblood."

More than three decades ago, while a graduate student at Oregon State University, Reynolds first made the connection between the survival of old-growth forests and the well-being of some rare birds, including the goshawk and the northern spotted owl. Continue to log old forests, he realized, and these birds might not survive. Sound the alarm, and perhaps both the old forests and their avian tenants could thrive.

"I've been in this business for 35 years," he says, "trying to find species that are sensitive." And he's succeeded: Every bird he's researched seems destined to cause major upheaval in the timber industry.

But today, mention Reynolds's name and Arizona environmentalists see red, not green. They lambaste his work in scientific rebuttals, fault him for not releasing data, charge him with being a U.S. Forest Service yes-man. The guy who'd rather spend his time in the woods than anywhere else is spending more and more of his days in offices consulting with lawyers.

Reynolds grew up near Santa Barbara but spent many happy, adventurous summers in Yosemite National Park, where his great-uncle worked for the National Parks Service and lived in a government-issued cabin in a cluster of ponderosa pines. After high school, Reynolds spent a year in college, then dropped out and went to work for the state forestry division in northern California. Four years later he returned to college to study botany, entomology and his wildlife specialty: owls and accipiters, which include Cooper's hawk, the sharp-shinned hawk and the northern goshawk.

Out scouting one day in the woods, Reynolds bumped into another OSU graduate student, Eric Forsman. Both were fascinated with the winged kings of the old-growth forests.

They would alert each other when their pet species were sighted and often trekked in the woods together. Reynolds recalls one trip during which they covered many miles; that night he fell into an exhausted sleep. When he awoke, he found himself and his sleeping bag buried under two feet of fresh snow.

Forsman and Reynolds were alarmed by the clear-cutting they saw in the Oregon woods in the late 1960s. "They destroyed forty, fifty, eighty acres in one fell swoop," says Reynolds. "And so the change in forests was rapid."

After Forsman was drafted and sent to Vietnam, Reynolds continued to witness their study areas bulldozed into dirt. "By the early '70s, I was upset," he remembers. "We had worked hard to find these rare birds in the existing habitat, and the next year they'd come in and clear-cut. I finally put together a big package of information that I was going to send to a bunch of environmental groups."  

Reynolds marched into his professor's office to announce his plan. "And my professor said, wait a minute--let's not send the package out. Let's get all of the players who might be involved."

Close to thirty people from the university, the timber industry and land-management agencies attended the daylong seminar where Reynolds laid out his information. "Basically, for the first time they were confronted with a possible effect of their extensive clear-cutting," he says. "And they didn't pay any attention, and they didn't pay any attention, and they didn't pay any attention. And then, sometime in the middle 1980s, someone filed a petition to list the spotted owl.

"Then crash went the timber industry. I mean literally, it crashed. Whereas if they had paid attention to the warning fifteen years beforehand, they could have made some early adjustments and never gotten into that crisis situation."

"If, early on, the industry had shown a far more proactive attitude--rather than 'Hell, no, we're not going to change'--I think the outcome might have been different," agrees Forsman, who continues to research the northern spotted owl and its habitat for the Forest Service in Oregon. "Instead, the forest industry came out with a black eye. It made people in the environmental community more distrustful, more cynical."

Reynolds has now worked for the Forest Service for twenty years, studying birds on the edge. He has overseen a tiny eighteen-year study on the even tinier flammulated owl, a nocturnal, insect-eating bird known for its red markings (the "flame" in flammulated) and its preference in Colorado for old-growth forests. He has become an authority on the Mexican spotted owl, whose dwindling numbers virtually shut down the logging industry in Arizona and New Mexico several years ago.

In 1990 the Forest Service brought in Reynolds to study the goshawk in northern Arizona's Kaibab National Forest. And there, for the past eight years, he has conducted the most extensive study ever of the bird and its habitat.

True to its placement within the Department of Agriculture, the Forest Service's historic mission was primarily to raise and harvest the public's lumber crop. Today it is still charged with selling trees (although timber sales lost $88 million in 1997, by the agency's own account); at the same time, it's under intense pressure from environmentalists to be a more careful guardian of forest resources, while still supplying Americans with nice places to camp.

Only 6 percent of the Forest Service budget is spent on researchers like Reynolds. "The reason the Forest Service is interested [in the goshawk] is because this issue has resulted in lawsuits, and I think they're valid lawsuits," Reynolds says with typical frankness. "What are we doing to the forests? That's the question. Lawsuits have been what move this agency."

In December, lawyers for the Tucson-based Southwest Center for Biological Diversity will make their third attempt to have the goshawk placed on the endangered-species list, a designation shared by 457 birds and animals and 668 plant species across the United States. The center has had an 83 percent success rate in court, and it expects nothing less from its latest campaign. "The implication of listing the goshawk is enormous," says Kieran Suckling, the center's executive director.

Environmentalists don't just cherish the goshawk for its lovable, hook-beaked, grouse-chomping self. The bird also is a major "indicator species" living at the top of the food chain in mainly old-growth forests. If the goshawk is found to be in danger of extinction, that points to a dire problem with the shrinking size or quality of its forest habitat.

Nine years after the northern spotted owl landed on the endangered species list, logging in old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest has plummeted more than 80 percent. Over the past decade, the Forest Service has shifted many timber operations into the interior West, biting into the goshawk's prime habitat. As a result, designating the goshawk an endangered or even "threatened" species could paralyze chain saws from central Kansas to the Pacific.

"It will mean," says Suckling, "that every old-growth forest in the entire West will be protected either by the spotted owl or the northern goshawk."

Since--and greatly in thanks to--its spotted owl victory, the environmental movement has grown tremendously in clout and savvy. It has found a voice and three powerful weapons: the 1973 federal Endangered Species Act, scientific data and the courts.

Reynolds's own career has felt the impact. In 1985 the Forest Service shut down his then-six-year-old studies of the goshawk and flammulated owl in the Manitou Experimental Forest outside Colorado Springs and transferred him to less controversial turf: Laramie, Wyoming, where Reynolds looked at how plants and animals were faring in the faltering aspen forests. Although Reynolds has "absolutely no proof" as to why the Forest Service halted those bird studies, he admits, "I think the outfit thought, here's another northern spotted owl coming down the pike."  

Does he relish being in the thick of things? Reynolds, who has the solid shoulders of a lumberjack, shifts in his chair. "Yeah, I kinda do," he says. "I like having an effect. I like taking data and saying, 'Look, the data says you ought to do it this way. Let's do it.'

"I can't do the political work. I'm a scientist. I have to remain impartial. This whole process is really driven by the environmental movement, which is willing to go out and learn what it can about various species. They have an objective: They want to stop timber harvests, or at least change timber harvests. And they go out looking for tools. In this case, they're using the goshawk as a tool."

That tool could be powerful enough to shut down logging in seventeen Western states.

The Kaibab Plateau is one of many goshawk habitat areas throughout North America. But it may be the best.

Part of the Kaibab National Forest (the Paiute word means "mountain lying down"), the Kaibab Plateau lifts from the earth just north of the Grand Canyon. From a shrub steppe, the plateau rises to elevations of 6,000 to 9,300 feet; the southern edge offers breathtaking views of the canyon below.

Its inaccessibility shielded the Kaibab Plateau from the railroad logging that decimated most southwestern forests a century ago. From the late 1800s through the 1920s, railroad companies would build a spur into an area, log it out, then pull out the tracks and move on. "Of course there was no regulation then," Reynolds explains. "They would cut down anything that was at least ten inches in diameter and sound. So they raped a hell of a lot of country all throughout the West."

Years after the railroads went bust, logging trucks were able to trundle onto the Kaibab Plateau, and in the pro-harvest 1980s, the Forest Service took full advantage. (One wildlife expert says the harvest allowance in the Kaibab "tripled" after a timber-industry leader privately lunched with President Ronald Reagan.) Logging on the tableland continues, although it has dropped from some 40 million board feet a year in the 1980s to about 6 million board feet a year today.

Three major forest types band the plateau: spruce fir on the highest elevations, mixed conifer below that, and ponderosa pine--home to the Kaibab's greatest concentration of goshawks--in the lower areas, starting at about 7,200 feet. Over its 300-year life span, the long-needled, yellow-green ponderosa pine can rise upwards of 200 feet and grow from four to eight feet in diameter. Valued for its high-grade lumber, it is considered the most economically important pine in the West. American Indians used resin from the trunk to waterproof baskets; red squirrels dine on the seeds from its prickly cones. The ponderosa pine forest yields another gift, too: a sweet, bright smell, like a mix of vanilla and butterscotch.

Although the goshawk does exist in open plains areas, it thrives in older forests like the North Kaibab. The bird is a high-strung, "short sit and wait" predator that spends only seconds on a perch to survey for prey below, then moves on. The clustered pines create a protective, shady canopy where the bird can nest and hunt for small wildlife, which prospers in and around fallen logs on the grassy, needle-strewn floor. Nature engineered the goshawk for the forest: Unlike the falcon, whose broad wingspan and short tail help it dive over open lands, the goshawk's long tail acts as a rudder. Short wings help it rapidly hit top speed--an estimated 100 mph, even in thick forest vegetation.

The gray ghosts are highly prized by falconers, who in some states can obtain a permit to take a hatchling from its nest and raise it as a hunting bird. "It's a status symbol if you can get a goshawk to hunt for you," says Melissa Siders, a wildlife biologist for the North Kaibab Ranger District. "They're like a fighter pilot."

Siders once saw a goshawk attack a black bear. Many times she's approached a nest for research as a panicked mama goshawk careened through the air to tackle the intruder. "They come and beat the daylights out of you," she says.

Over the past eight years, Reynolds's crews on the Kaibab have also become experts on the goshawk's aggressiveness, its elusiveness and the clues it leaves behind: the molted feathers and "whitewash," or scat; the bits of fur pulled from a freshly killed squirrel; the "keck-keck" danger calls sent through the forest. From mid-April through the end of October, a dozen and a half college students and graduate students comb the 700-square-mile study area checking for old goshawk nests and looking for new ones. Goshawks are territorial, monogamous birds; on the Kaibab, each male-female pair tends to rule a territory of about 640 acres but may hunt in a range of up to 10,000 acres.  

The crew members live in a cluster of red-sided cabins built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. When the researchers moved in, seasonal timber markers and firefighters had to move out, causing some tension with the locals. Big Springs, the only large surface water on the plateau, bubbles out from under a nearby cliff; if the crew members want to make a phone call or a beer run, they have to drive thirty miles to the nearest town.

"You're living under intense conditions," with a broad range of personalities, long workdays and three to four people per cabin, says Suzanne Joy, a Ph.D. student who ran the crews until she took off time last summer to have a baby. Reynolds understands the dynamic and keeps morale high, she adds. "He's a very kind person, a very personal type of supervisor. He's very interested in the individual and takes the time to get to know each person's strengths and weaknesses. Some supervisors send you out in the field and you never see them again. He guides the research on a daily basis."

Reynolds spends most of the six-month season on the Kaibab, returning to Fort Collins only to do administrative work and check on his other field studies. He gets to see his wife, a Denver-based helicopter nurse, about once a month. The Kaibab study has cut into his sailing races and competitive tennis, and it doesn't leave much time for cross-country skiing and studying prehistoric rock art, two other hobbies. And camping is out, because it's too much like work. "I'm always over the next ridge looking for a pair of goshawks," he says. "Or I'm up all night, looking for an owl."

For Reynolds's Kaibab crew, nesting season is the summer's climax. Each group of two or three rises hours before dawn and steals off to an area where the students spotted a goshawk nest earlier. Wearing headlamps and working quickly to ward off the desert-night chill, they string up a breakaway net, about twenty feet long and fifteen feet high, some hundred meters from the sleeping birds. When the moon is bright, they set up a blind just opposite the net so the goshawks' flat, round nest is silhouetted in the silver light.

The goshawk hunts by day; the owl, its foe and only match as a predator, hunts by night. Just before dawn spills over the horizon, a crew member places a gray-horned owl (found injured in the wild and trained in captivity) behind the net. Another worker turns on a tape recording of the owl's hoot.

If all goes according to plan, one of the rudely awakened goshawks will plunge from its nest to scare off the nocturnal enemy and become entangled in the net. The crew members then bolt from their hiding place; one hoods the bird to calm it. "When you put on the hood, about 50 percent of the birds will just fall asleep in your hands," says Joy. Another worker secures a lightweight aluminum band around the goshawk's leg if the bird isn't already banded, then takes measurements and draws a blood sample. The process lasts about twenty minutes, after which the bird is set free.

Crew members who return year after year get to know the unique voices and behaviors of individual birds. For seven years the group searched for "Bo," a male goshawk trapped in 1991 and tagged with the tracking code "B-zero." Bo finally reappeared this summer.

A male goshawk generally forages for small prey while the female sits quietly on the nest to conserve energy for egg-laying. Females are actually larger than males; scientists theorize that this is so they can hunt for larger prey after their babies are old enough to be left alone in the nest. Mature goshawks measure up to 24 inches long and produce up to four eggs each year; their life span in the wilderness is unknown.

Within five days of fledging, the baby goshawks' legs are strong enough to support an ID band. Reynolds and his crew, trained in technical climbing, shoot ropes into the trees and scoot up some eighty to a hundred feet to reach a goshawk nest. The climbers wear long sleeves, leather gloves and a helmet and come equipped with steel nerves. "One time I had to crawl ten feet out on a branch," Joy recalls, while an irate parent launched an air strike. "Often they'll dive at you and swoop by your face. They'll close their foot and hit you with it, or open their talons," sometimes ripping a climber's shirt. "You have to stay focused," she adds. "You're handling young with tender legs and muscle tissue."  

Most of the crew's work in the forest is done in silence. "You're searching for territories. You have to be quiet so you can hear the birds," says Joy. "For me, it's almost a spiritual experience. It's very peaceful, especially among the ponderosa pines."

The hundred miles surrounding the Kaibab Plateau "is the prettiest spot in the whole world," Reynolds says. "It really is."

All this work, which has cost $2.5 million to date, is designed to get a complete picture of the bird and its environs. Once Reynolds knows how many goshawks are laying eggs, how many of the young grow up and reproduce, and how faithful the birds are to their territories, he can link habitat quality and reproduction. In forest-management lingo, it's a matter of pitting "source habitats" (older woods, where birds may reproduce better) against "sink habitats" (in which birds may produce young, but not enough to replace their own "sinking" population).

Reynolds's crew has identified 112 pairs of goshawks living on the Kaibab Plateau. The study area overlaps part of Grand Canyon National Park, which has few roads and is therefore harder to survey; Reynolds suspects another 28 pairs of birds might be found there.

His study has shown a huge variation in reproduction: In 1993, for example, 77 percent of identified pairs laid eggs, while only 22 percent laid eggs the following year. Reynolds wants to continue his study for at least another year--or longer--to determine if the drop is related to the loss or degradation of older forest or if it is an example of the "natural variation" curve often seen in nature.

But environmentalists don't want to wait. The evidence is in, they say, and it proves the goshawk is in trouble.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department, which has jurisdiction over wildlife in that state, has poured funds into at least two dozen goshawk studies, including Reynolds's. "We're obviously interested in making sure he can continue his study for the long term," says Susan MacVean, a state wildlife biologist, adding that a reliable demographic study takes at least a decade. Because the Kaibab Plateau is thought to be the best goshawk habitat around, if Reynolds finds that population declining, "that would be very alarming."

And no one would be more alarmed than the Forest Service itself. In a 1997 statement on the Kaibab National Forest Plan, the agency noted that funding for Reynolds's project was diminishing, even though it is "probably the most important work-enabling study and monitoring effort in the Region, and possibly in the Service. The results, if completed and published, may well provide significant evidence about the continuing viability of the northern goshawk in an area which has received substantial logging activity. This sort of information may be just what is needed to prevent listing of the northern goshawk."

That statement "is a rather obvious pre-determination of the outcome" of Reynolds's study, says Suckling, whose Southwest Center obtained the document using the Freedom of Information Act. "Would the Forest Service request more money if they thought Reynolds would conclude the goshawk is declining?" Suckling asks. "Would Reynolds make any other conclusion if his funding support depended on it?"

Although Suckling and Reynolds have never met, they've become outspoken adversaries in this battle of data, documents, science and law. They both say they want to save the goshawk and old-growth forests. But each thinks the other is going about it all wrong.

On November 13, the Southwest Center filed a FOIA lawsuit demanding the Forest Service hand over Reynolds's goshawk data. All of Reynolds's logs, stats and forest measurements--made with instruments like the "clinometer" (to measure a tree's height) and "densiometer" (to estimate the density of the forest canopy)--constitute a valuable arsenal in the environmentalists' fight. But Reynolds argues that releasing his raw data now would be scientifically irresponsible.

The U.S. federal court in Phoenix is considering the case and is expected to rule within a month.

"He's a pretty good scientist. I don't question his data at all, but his data and his conclusions come from different planets," Suckling says of Reynolds. "He's under extreme pressure from the agencies. I can guarantee the agencies are saying, 'Don't give out the data.' It's a real classic Forest Service phenomenon. His data shows in the clearest way possible that the goshawk is going down the tubes on the Kaibab Plateau."  

Suckling already has a stash of FOIA documents on the northern goshawk. Internal memos. Confidential files. Personal e-mails. "What we're getting into is the seedy side of science, but that's what we're dealing with," he says. "These are human beings. They want to get funded for the long term; they don't want to piss off their bosses. All these conservation issues come down to data. Whoever controls the data controls the issue."

Although the Forest Service has paid for most of Reynolds's research, U.S. Fish and Wildlife--and now the courts--have a critical say in whether to raise the goshawk's status from the legally impotent "sensitive species" to "threatened" or "endangered."

Any American citizen can file a petition requesting that the Fish and Wildlife department list or de-list a species. "We have a joke that you could write a petition on a bar napkin," says Steve Spangle, Fish and Wildlife's regional listing coordinator for Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma. "We've received petitions from congressmen, John Q. Public--even somebody who wanted us to list the 'American redneck Homo sapien.'"

To qualify as endangered, a species must be deemed likely to become extinct in the foreseeable future; a threatened species is one that is likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future. Fish and Wildlife must also consider whether a species' current range is under threat of destruction, modification or curtailment. Fifty-one plant and animal species native to Arizona are already on the list, compared with 29 in Colorado.

More than any other environmental law, the powerful Endangered Species Act insists that decisions be based on scientific proof alone. This summer, Jamie Rappaport Clark, director of Fish and Wildlife, concluded that a decline in goshawk population either isn't occurring--or has not yet been proven. Clark's agency also noted that "although mature forest habitat continues to be harvested, in general, habitat conditions on Federal lands are no longer declining as in previous decades, and are improving in many areas throughout the west."

Clark's decision was based on an inch-thick "status review" authored by ten researchers, including Reynolds. The June 1998 report was ordered by a federal judge after the Southwest Center filed petitions to list the goshawk as endangered in both 1992 and 1996. Fish and Wildlife had rejected both those petitions on technicalities; when the center sued, the judge agreed with the environmentalists, calling Fish and Wildlife's actions in the 1996 case "arbitrary, capricious, unlawful" and "an abuse of discretion."

Sharp words have also come from the Arizona and New Mexico game and fish departments, which have criticized Forest Service guidelines designed to restore goshawk-friendly habitat on the Kaibab Plateau. In May the New Mexico agency noted "with alarm" that "absolutely no monitoring has been initiated for the guidelines."

In its new lawsuit, the Southwest Center will argue that Reynolds's data shows a goshawk population decline starting in 1991, the same year the guidelines were put into place. And the center will challenge not only the contents of the 1998 status review, but also what it does not contain. "Fish and Wildife ignored a whole lot of data," Suckling says.

He points to the case of Coleman Crocker-Bedford, a Forest Service biologist who claims that his 1990 study showing a goshawk decline mired him in years of intimidation, character assassination and harassment.

"I've been famous or infamous, depending who you talk to," says Crocker-Bedford, who concluded that 260 pairs of goshawks lived on the North Kaibab before timber harvests began there in the 1950s. Crocker-Bedford found that by 1972 the number of pairs had declined to 130, and by the late 1980s the population had shrunk again by half.

After Crocker-Bedford's study was published, "all hell broke loose with lawsuits," he says. And then came the stuff of spy novels: The original and two copies of his 500 pages of raw data, collected from 1981 to 1987, vanished from government offices, as did all of his goshawk maps and location photos. "I was grilled in deposition for two long days by a team of twelve people whose goal was to discredit my research and myself," Crocker-Bedford adds. "I was intimidated into refusing free counsel from two different civil-liberties attorneys." At one point, he says, the assistant U.S. attorney told him to sign an affidavit that would recant his published findings and during interrogation actually shook Crocker-Bedford by the shoulders and told him to answer questions faster.

Today Crocker-Bedford is lead wildlife biologist for the southern third of the Tongass National Forest in southeastern Alaska. He and his family moved there for the rugged wilderness, he says; bears fish in the stream behind his house, and his yard is sometimes filled with wild bald eagles. But Crocker-Bedford wonders why the Forest Service removed him from a more recent goshawk study in the Tongass. He's also unhappy that Reynolds wants to guard his Kaibab data.  

"To have conclusive scientific proof on a region-wide basis is nearly impossible," Crocker-Bedford says. "It's not like you're working with white mice in a lab. You're working with animals in the wild, where there are many variables." He likens the decision not to list the goshawk because of "inconclusive evidence" to the cigarette industry's argument that no "proof" exists that cigarettes cause cancer.

Suckling believes Reynolds's raw data will support the earlier findings of Crocker-Bedford. "If his data stands, the National Forest Service is in real trouble," Suckling says, noting that Crocker-Bedford "went through hell" for reporting a goshawk decline. "You think Richard Reynolds wants to go to Alaska and collect polar bear scat?"

I'm hoping like a son of a gun that the research community is paying attention," Reynolds says, eyeing the telephone, expecting a call any minute from lawyers in Washington.

Inside the squat, brown USDA building on Highway 14, just across from the Waffle House and Motel 6, Reynolds points to the neat piles of research spread throughout his office--on his desk, on a table, on the floor. Bird feathers, goshawk sketches and snapshots of his tan, beaming Kaibab crews line the office walls; a goshawk screen saver dances on his computer monitor. "Scientists are not going to do research when they know their research could be FOIA'd," says Reynolds.

Scientists traditionally keep their data close to the chest until they can analyze and publish it in a major journal; while they fear their raw data could be misinterpreted, their worst nightmare is getting scooped.

"Interpreting the raw data is really up to the scientific community," says Patricia Kennedy, a professor of wildlife biology at Colorado State University who has studied birds of prey, including the goshawk, for more than twenty years. "Richard is an extremely good scientist. I have tremendous respect for him. The problem is that the scientific process is sometimes too slow for policymakers."

Kennedy agrees with Fish and Wildlife's conclusion that not enough evidence exists to list the goshawk. "I am very concerned about over-harvesting in old-growth forests," she adds. "I just don't think the Endangered Species Act should be misused in this way." Instead, she asks, why not try to list the large trees that are endangered or push for an "endangered ecosystem" act?

The Endangered Species Act has been up for Congressional renewal since the early 1990s--and there could be political fallout if environmentalists push the act too hard, Reynolds suggests. "To list the goshawk now," he says, "could have a huge impact on the economy and the Endangered Species Act--in case after this study we find the species is doing fine."

But Suckling doesn't worry about fallout. "Every time you take action like this, you get on TV," he says. "Beyond the technical stuff, what gets out to the people is that the bird is being harmed on public lands and the government could stop that if it wanted to. Educating the public ultimately feeds back into the political system. Those are the voters."

In the Pacific Northwest, a hundred mills closed and between 30,000 and 40,000 people were thrown out of work as a result of the northern spotted owl lawsuit, according to Chris West, spokesman for the Northwest Forestry Association. Now the U.S. imports 40 percent of its softwood lumber from Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Chile--countries with less stringent environmental policies than the U.S. "The environmental community is determined to change the management of land throughout the West," says West. But listing species like the goshawk in order to halt logging "is abuse of the act."

In the Kaibab region, protesters don't need to chain themselves to trees or throw their bodies in front of bulldozers in order to curb logging. It's already been cut back. Seven of the nine mills that operated in the area have closed in the last decade, says Lewis Tenney, vice president of Precision Pine and Timber Inc. In the late 1800s, Tenney's great-great-grandfather hauled the first steam-powered sawmill by oxen team over the Colorado River and into the Flagstaff area. In 1998, Tenney's mill didn't process a single tree from the Kaibab.

"We're not sure if there's a future" in southwestern timber, Tenney says. "We don't see much commitment by this administration and the Forest Service to future harvests. Congress and the people need to decide if we want to continue multiple-use forests."

Today individual trees on the plateau are selected for cutting by "a highly skilled marking group" of foresters, says Siders of the Kaibab Ranger District, and if loggers cut or even bump an undesignated tree, they are fined. "We're looking more for a sustainable, healthy ecosystem, whereas in the 1980s the emphasis was on commodity production," she adds. "It's a lot more wildlife- and habitat-driven now." Logging in all national forests has dropped from 12.7 billion board feet in 1987 to about 3.9 billion board feet last year.  

"The focus is on what you're leaving there, not what you're taking off," Reynolds says. "I think we can do forest management in a sound, scientific, ecological fashion and maintain the forest ecosystem. We just need to learn to do it right. But it may be that we actually will cut considerably less board feet. We'll undoubtedly be managing our forests in a much more gentle fashion."

But not everyone believes in this kinder, gentler Forest Service. Despite the pro-conservation leadership of director Mike Dombeck and the fact that only 8 percent of wood harvested in the U.S. today comes from public lands, the system is still skewed toward timber sales. Congress still requires national forests to make money (which they seldom do), and funding for wildlife programs is linked to the bottom line. The decline in sales "is actually becoming a bit of a problem," Siders says. "We used to get a percentage [of profits] back for habitat work."

Ironically, the chain saw may not be the most deadly enemy of the northern spotted owl and the goshawk. The eastern bard owl has invaded the Pacific Northwest, where it is rapidly displacing the spotted owl. In western ponderosa pine country, the suppression of naturally occurring fires has created a thick, dark forest, where it is more difficult for the goshawk to hunt. "Density in this kind of forest is negative," says Reynolds, "and that's blowing the environmental community away."

But it won't keep the environmentalists out of court.
The goshawk will be a tough species to list because of its huge range across the West--and that's exactly why environmentalists picked this fight. "Of course we knew what we were doing," Suckling says. With its limited financial resources--its lawyers work for free--the Southwest Center files those lawsuits that, if successful, will create the biggest shockwaves. "The goshawk," says Suckling, "is definitely one of those cases."

Reynolds is determined to keep the gray ghost under surveillance and off the endangered list. "The conundrum is, once they decide not to list, guess what happens?" he asks. "The pressure goes away, nobody cares about goshawks anymore.

"So guess what? The same thing is going to happen that happened with the northern spotted owl. Bam," he says, throwing a fist into the palm of his opposite hand. "It's going to shut down the timber industry, and it's going to shut down over the entire West. And it'll be ten times the economic impact of the northern spotted owl."

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