When a dead snowy owl was found on the roof of the Washington Hilton hotel in the last week in January, the building engineer placed it in a hotel freezer, thinking it would make a fine gift for the Smithsonian. Hotel managers, however, made him remove it for "security reasons." President Bush was due at the hotel, and no one wanted the Secret Service to mistake a frozen owl for a booby trap.
The owl did get to the Smithsonian and the President was safe, but he is in danger of falling into a much more dangerous owlish trap: the temptation to repudiate the Endangered Species Act.
A shrill chorus of loggers, developers and ranchers, not to mention the Interior secretary himself, is lobbying for exactly this: They got the Administration to convene the "God committee," a seldom-invoked provision of the act, to decide whether to grant an exemption to allow federal timber sales in Oregon.
The exemption proceedings, due to conclude April 24, will determine whether the clear-cutting of 4,750 acres of federal forest lands in Oregon, which will push the spotted owl closer to extinction, is in either the nation's or the region's best interest.