Town of Forks shuts down to protest owl restrictions on May 23, 1991.

  • By Julie Van Pelt
  • Posted 12/06/2007
  • Essay 8395

On May 23, 1991, Forks businesses except city offices and banks close as residents travel en masse to Olympia to take part in a rally protesting critical habitat protections for the northern spotted owl. A sign on the outskirts of town announces "Forks will be closed Thursday to protest government stupidity in Olympia" (Dietrich).

Town Departs for State Capital

Almost a third of Forks residents left town early in the morning to make the several-hour trip to the state capital, joining woods workers from other Northwest timber towns. The grocery store, the newspaper, and gas stations, among other businesses, all closed for the day. Even the schools suspended classes.  

Cutbacks in timber sales from federal lands since the mid-1980s and the spotted owl's eventual 1990 listing as threatened under the Endangered Species Act had led to increasing anxiety in Forks, given the town's status as self-proclaimed "Logging Capital of the World." Olympic National Forest employees in the Forks office had just learned that staffing might be reduced by half because the timber harvest had declined by more than 90 percent.  

Critical Habitat?

The May 23 protest was specifically linked to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife hearing to review the critical owl areas the agency had recently announced in the Federal Register. Forks areas proposed as critical included farmland, second-growth forest, and an almost treeless mobile-home park, which left residents scratching their heads, since the owls nest in old growth. "We're still in shock at being listed," one resident told a Seattle Times reporter (Dietrich).

In January 1992, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated 6.9 million acres of federal Northwest forests as "critical owl habitat." This removed state, tribal, and private lands and reduced the number of acres protected, down from the 11.6 million acres proposed before the contentious public hearings of 1991.

In 2007, Fish and Wildlife sought to reduce the "critical habitat" to 5.3 million acres.

Sources: Peter Cannavò, The Working Landscape (Boston: MIT Press, 2007), 74; William Dietrich, "Timber Town Shuts Down for Owl Protest," The Seattle Times, May 23, 1991 (; David Schaefer, "Owl Habitat May Be Reduced," Ibid., January 8, 1992 (; Kathie Durbin, "Rule to Extend Owl Protection," Oregonian, April 23, 1991, p. A-1; Julie Van Pelt interview with Sherrill Fouts, Forks, November 15, 2007; Bill Knickerbocker, "Northern Spotted Owl's Decline Revives Old Concerns," Christian Science Monitor, June 27, 2007 (

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