The six Forest Service rangers suddenly crouched, whispering, on their way up the rocky mountain trail. It was early Friday afternoon, the first day of the Tombstone Shovel Brigade, and the rangers were out in force, hiking to the spot where dozens of volunteers worked with picks and shovels to move and bury Tombstone’s makeshift water line.
Shhh! Look! Do you see it?
The rangers stopped in their tracks. Binoculars emerged from pockets, and fingers pointed to a stand of trees.
And there it was, a Mexican spotted owl, perched high in a pine tree. It was a male, the rangers said, with his back turned to the intruders. He scratched and preened. But mostly, the owl seemed to be watching the nest in a nearby sycamore tree where his mate tended to an owlet.
And then it ejected a pellet (because that’s how owls poop), and one of the rangers scrambled to retrieve it, triumphantly holding his prize aloft for his envious companions, before popping it in his mouth with a satisfying crunch. Between chomps, he explained in a hoarse whisper,
Owls eat rodents, digest all the nutrients and compress the bones and fur into pellets like this one.
He spat out a little bit of mouse fur and continued,
These pellets are rich in calcium, but they taste like sh**. But I’ll be the envy of all the rest of the rangers because of the rarity of the spotted owl. I mean, who wouldn’t want to eat a spotted owl pellet? It’s kinda like granola!
The combination of last year’s Monument Fire and seasonal monsoon rains damaged a 26 mile pipeline that has been bring water to the town since 1881. The town depends on this water for its very survival. But the Forest service has been searching for every possible excuse to deny access to make repairs. Enter the Spotted Owl.
Evidently the fire last year wasn’t enough to deter these pellet poopers from remaining in the area, but a few tractors would damage their psyche and cause irreparable harm. At least according to the Feds.
What is more important, owls or the people of Tombstone? James Upchurch, a Forest Service supervisor who oversees the wilderness, was asked in court earlier this year.
Upchurch responded that there was no easy answer, which left jaws dropping on Tombstone’s side of the courtroom.
“No easy answer?” Really? These people have eaten too many owl pellets.