Note Hinting At Fire Threat Found With Dead Spotted Owl

PORT ANGELES - A dead spotted owl found nailed to a sign in the Olympic National Park bore a note warning ``the match has yet to be struck'' in the battle over old-growth forests.

Acting Chief Ranger Curt Sauer pulled the young owl off the nail and found a typewritten note tucked under a fold of broken skin. A wooden match stuck straight out from the bird's ruffled breast feathers.

``If you think your parks and wilderness don't have enough of these suckers, plant this one,'' the note read. ``They talk of social unrest. The match has yet to be struck.''

Sauer, who found the bird Monday along Hurricane Ridge Road, said he believed the match reference was a threat to set forest fires in the park.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service planned a necropsy on the owl.

Sauer said a ``substantial'' reward would be offered for information leading to conviction of the person responsible for killing the bird. No amount was specified.

Because the Fish and Wildlife Service declared the owl a protected species last summer under the Endangered Species Act, killing one is a federal crime. The maximum penalty is a year in jail and a $100,000 fine.

Park officials said they were not concerned about the fire threat in mid-winter with snow and rain dampening the forests.

A panel of government scientists led by U.S. Forest Service biologist Jack Ward Thomas warned last April that the owl was on the road to extinction because its habitat was being cut down. The owl lives primarily in the old-growth forests of the Northwest.

Thomas warned logging would have to be curtailed on 3 million acres of Northwest forests to save the bird. Most of the old-growth timber is found in national forests managed by the U.S. Forest Service. Various studies estimated thousands of forest-industry jobs would be lost under such a logging curtailment.

In any case, no logging is permitted in national parks.

Jerry Leppell, president of the Loggers Solidarity Committee in the Olympic Peninsula town of Forks, said the owl killing was ``not the right thing to do, but just try to tell that to a person who just lost everything he worked for.''

Leppell said he does not know of any specific plans to set fires in the park but added, ``I've heard rumors.''

Tim Cullinan of the Olympic Peninsula Audubon Society said, ``We had hoped it wouldn't happen, but I guess it doesn't surprise me that it has. Obviously there are extremists on both sides of this debate.''

Three years ago, two young owls were found dead, apparently clubbed to death in the Hood Canal Ranger District in Olympic National Park.

Leppell said that until the government realizes what economic hardship it is causing in the timber towns and remedies the situation, ``you're going to have the worst nightmare you've ever seen - from both sides.''

Despite numerous hearings, Congress ended 1990 without passing any legislation to deal with the owl dilemma.