Forks, Washington, and the Spotted Owl

Ever considered opening a restaurant?  Looking for a great location?

Check out this this opportunity in Forks, Washington. The former Vagabond Restaurant, all 8,100 square feet of it, is priced to move at $100,000 (or basically, make an offer).

That's about $12 a square foot.  Not to lease it, mind you. To buy it!

Think of the advantages:  Forks is set in one of the most beautiful areas in the U.S., just a few miles south of the northwestermost point in the lower 48. The snow-capped Olympic Mountains form the backdrop to the town. The beaches a few miles to the west are world-famous.

And, to a certain degree, Forks is a tourist destination.  Most importantly, it's the real-life home to the fictional crew in Stephenie Meyer's “Twilight,” the mega-successful series of vampires-and-werewolves books – and the even more successful movie series based on the books.  Even today, three years after the release of the final movie, the “Welcome to Forks” sign that greets visitors to town is a popular spot for photos, particularly among teenage girls.

In fact there's only one problem with Forks:  The local economy is a certified disaster, a gift to the people of this remote village from the U.S. government.

A little history

Before Twilight, Forks was famous for another reason: The surrounding mountains provided billions of board-feet of prime northwestern timber, turning Forks into a remarkably prosperous little town. In the late 1970s, for example, Bank of America built in Forks a 12,500-square-foot facility. The bosses were banking on Forks' continued growth, which at the time was remarkable: the town grew by 82 percent during the 70s, from 1,682 to 3,060. 

But then something terrible happened:  The U. S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management discovered the spotted owls that live in the area, and began the first efforts to preserve the old-growth forests that are home to the owls.

Over the next 30 years the feds kept expanding their reach.

   1981:  The Oregon-Washington Interagency Wildlife Committee proposed a thousand-acre buffer zone for each owl.

   1986:  The U.S. Forest Service adjusted its forest-management plan by proposing to set aside up to 690,000 acres of national forest for owl habitat.

   1990: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officially declared the owl “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, and government biologists proposed dedicating 3 million acres for owl habitat.

   1991:  Fish and Wildlife upped the number to 11.6 million acres across three states.

   1994:  The courts upheld a forest-management plan established by President Clinton and Vice President Gore to reduce logging to one billion board feet per year. That's less than one-quarter of the annual harvest in the 1980s.

   1995: The U.S. Supreme Court declared that spotted-owl protection rules also apply to owners of private land. 

Taken altogether, the effort to save the spotted owl was massive, and proved to be economically catastrophic for communities from northern California to the Canadian border. And, oh yes, there was one other problem.  It didn't work.

In 2000 wildlife biologists admitted the spotted owl population was declining more rapidly than they had anticipated.  

The results of the effort are now indisputable. A July 2014 article in National Geographic quotes U.S. Forest Service biologist Eric Forsman, who admitted, “Protecting habitat hasn't stopped the spotted owl's decline.”

"We thought that if we did a good job of protecting habitat, the spotted owl population would eventually reach equilibrium or even increase, and everything would be fine.”

Nope. Instead the spotted owl population is dropping by about 3.9 percent a year. In Washington the decline is even more rapid, at “7 or 8 percent a year,” according to National Geographic.

 

A bit of irony

Wildlife biologists place much of the blame for the decline on the barred owl, a recently arrived species that is bigger, stronger and meaner than the docile spotted owl. They are decimating the native population.

That's why Fish and Wildlife has started a new program to save the spotted owl. As we speak, they are in the process of killing as many as 3,600 barred owls in “about 2 percent of spotted owl habitat in Washington, Oregon and northern California.”

If it works, they'll ramp up the program.

But let's get back to Forks.  Thirty-five years after the spotted owl was spotted in the local forests, the town's economy remains stagnant, its downtown a shell of its former vibrant self.

It's a tragedy, because the people who have stuck it out are wonderful.  They are fun and social, and the town has a stick-togetherness that most other towns can only envy. And the natural beauty of the place is simply incomparable.

But hey, it's not as though Forks is desolate end-to-end.  And that's the subject (finally!) of this essay.  In what may be a glimpse of the future in over-regulated America, where birds take precedence over people and where the government can't learn from its past hubristic efforts (or say “oops” and then stop!), there is one industry that is growing and glowing in Forks.

A drive through town makes it unmistakeable.  Just off main street there's a gleaming new high school, built at a cost of $11 million. The school's state-of-the-art biomass-burning heating system, largely built with federal grants, cost an additional $2.5 million.

The town also has a spectacular new arts center ($2.1 million, mostly derived from an insurance settlement after the former center burned). 

The University of Washington has a fabulous $6 million satellite facility perched in the Olympic Forest just south of town. It's pretty much empty most of the time, but make no mistake -- it's fabulous.

Forks City Hall is expansive and well-kept.

The town's $3 million Civic Center is nice, too. Too nice, in fact, which led to shutting down the swimming pool for five years.  Voters approved the original bond issue to build a monster-cool facility, but refused to spring for the maintenance costs, particularly the cost of heating the water.

The doors only stayed open by renting out the space to a private fitness company, and by using the rental fees from four nearby homes that were basically donated to the cause by the county government.

And the old Bank of America? With a $2 million investment, it's just been turned into a satellite campus of Peninsula College, the community college in nearby Port Angeles

Do you see a pattern?

Some people will say, “Hey, at least the government is stepping in to keep the economy alive.” That's because some people just don't get it.

Building a new public facility requires the public's money. That means money that might have been used to build up the local economy by supporting local businesses is siphoned off to government coffers.  Government services are sometimes a necessity, but they aren't economy builders. Government agencies don't create wealth; they consume it.

New, expanded government facilities provide expanded opportunities to do just that.

On the other hand, you can now buy an 8,100 square-foot restaurant in Forks for a hundred grand – and maybe much less. Sounds like a real bargain, doesn't it?

Unfortunately, thanks to the government, that's probably far too much to pay.

(Hat tip to Craig Welch of the Seattle Times for his time line of the spotted owl controversy.)

Theodore Dawes was a reporter, editor, and publisher for more than 30 years.  These days he's a consultant and speaker on media relations.  For more of his columns, see Theodore Dawes.  To contact Ted, drop a line to teddawesmobile@gmail.com.

Ever considered opening a restaurant?  Looking for a great location?

Check out this this opportunity in Forks, Washington. The former Vagabond Restaurant, all 8,100 square feet of it, is priced to move at $100,000 (or basically, make an offer).

That's about $12 a square foot.  Not to lease it, mind you. To buy it!

Think of the advantages:  Forks is set in one of the most beautiful areas in the U.S., just a few miles south of the northwestermost point in the lower 48. The snow-capped Olympic Mountains form the backdrop to the town. The beaches a few miles to the west are world-famous.

And, to a certain degree, Forks is a tourist destination.  Most importantly, it's the real-life home to the fictional crew in Stephenie Meyer's “Twilight,” the mega-successful series of vampires-and-werewolves books – and the even more successful movie series based on the books.  Even today, three years after the release of the final movie, the “Welcome to Forks” sign that greets visitors to town is a popular spot for photos, particularly among teenage girls.

In fact there's only one problem with Forks:  The local economy is a certified disaster, a gift to the people of this remote village from the U.S. government.

A little history

Before Twilight, Forks was famous for another reason: The surrounding mountains provided billions of board-feet of prime northwestern timber, turning Forks into a remarkably prosperous little town. In the late 1970s, for example, Bank of America built in Forks a 12,500-square-foot facility. The bosses were banking on Forks' continued growth, which at the time was remarkable: the town grew by 82 percent during the 70s, from 1,682 to 3,060. 

But then something terrible happened:  The U. S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management discovered the spotted owls that live in the area, and began the first efforts to preserve the old-growth forests that are home to the owls.

Over the next 30 years the feds kept expanding their reach.

   1981:  The Oregon-Washington Interagency Wildlife Committee proposed a thousand-acre buffer zone for each owl.

   1986:  The U.S. Forest Service adjusted its forest-management plan by proposing to set aside up to 690,000 acres of national forest for owl habitat.

   1990: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officially declared the owl “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, and government biologists proposed dedicating 3 million acres for owl habitat.

   1991:  Fish and Wildlife upped the number to 11.6 million acres across three states.

   1994:  The courts upheld a forest-management plan established by President Clinton and Vice President Gore to reduce logging to one billion board feet per year. That's less than one-quarter of the annual harvest in the 1980s.

   1995: The U.S. Supreme Court declared that spotted-owl protection rules also apply to owners of private land. 

Taken altogether, the effort to save the spotted owl was massive, and proved to be economically catastrophic for communities from northern California to the Canadian border. And, oh yes, there was one other problem.  It didn't work.

In 2000 wildlife biologists admitted the spotted owl population was declining more rapidly than they had anticipated.  

The results of the effort are now indisputable. A July 2014 article in National Geographic quotes U.S. Forest Service biologist Eric Forsman, who admitted, “Protecting habitat hasn't stopped the spotted owl's decline.”

"We thought that if we did a good job of protecting habitat, the spotted owl population would eventually reach equilibrium or even increase, and everything would be fine.”

Nope. Instead the spotted owl population is dropping by about 3.9 percent a year. In Washington the decline is even more rapid, at “7 or 8 percent a year,” according to National Geographic.

 

A bit of irony

Wildlife biologists place much of the blame for the decline on the barred owl, a recently arrived species that is bigger, stronger and meaner than the docile spotted owl. They are decimating the native population.

That's why Fish and Wildlife has started a new program to save the spotted owl. As we speak, they are in the process of killing as many as 3,600 barred owls in “about 2 percent of spotted owl habitat in Washington, Oregon and northern California.”

If it works, they'll ramp up the program.

But let's get back to Forks.  Thirty-five years after the spotted owl was spotted in the local forests, the town's economy remains stagnant, its downtown a shell of its former vibrant self.

It's a tragedy, because the people who have stuck it out are wonderful.  They are fun and social, and the town has a stick-togetherness that most other towns can only envy. And the natural beauty of the place is simply incomparable.

But hey, it's not as though Forks is desolate end-to-end.  And that's the subject (finally!) of this essay.  In what may be a glimpse of the future in over-regulated America, where birds take precedence over people and where the government can't learn from its past hubristic efforts (or say “oops” and then stop!), there is one industry that is growing and glowing in Forks.

A drive through town makes it unmistakeable.  Just off main street there's a gleaming new high school, built at a cost of $11 million. The school's state-of-the-art biomass-burning heating system, largely built with federal grants, cost an additional $2.5 million.

The town also has a spectacular new arts center ($2.1 million, mostly derived from an insurance settlement after the former center burned). 

The University of Washington has a fabulous $6 million satellite facility perched in the Olympic Forest just south of town. It's pretty much empty most of the time, but make no mistake -- it's fabulous.

Forks City Hall is expansive and well-kept.

The town's $3 million Civic Center is nice, too. Too nice, in fact, which led to shutting down the swimming pool for five years.  Voters approved the original bond issue to build a monster-cool facility, but refused to spring for the maintenance costs, particularly the cost of heating the water.

The doors only stayed open by renting out the space to a private fitness company, and by using the rental fees from four nearby homes that were basically donated to the cause by the county government.

And the old Bank of America? With a $2 million investment, it's just been turned into a satellite campus of Peninsula College, the community college in nearby Port Angeles

Do you see a pattern?

Some people will say, “Hey, at least the government is stepping in to keep the economy alive.” That's because some people just don't get it.

Building a new public facility requires the public's money. That means money that might have been used to build up the local economy by supporting local businesses is siphoned off to government coffers.  Government services are sometimes a necessity, but they aren't economy builders. Government agencies don't create wealth; they consume it.

New, expanded government facilities provide expanded opportunities to do just that.

On the other hand, you can now buy an 8,100 square-foot restaurant in Forks for a hundred grand – and maybe much less. Sounds like a real bargain, doesn't it?

Unfortunately, thanks to the government, that's probably far too much to pay.

(Hat tip to Craig Welch of the Seattle Times for his time line of the spotted owl controversy.)

Theodore Dawes was a reporter, editor, and publisher for more than 30 years.  These days he's a consultant and speaker on media relations.  For more of his columns, see Theodore Dawes.  To contact Ted, drop a line to teddawesmobile@gmail.com.