The conservation of the Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis) has been the center of a 40-yr conflict between those who wish to conserve owls and old growth forests and those who wish to log trees as commodities. Although the Spotted Owl conflict seems unique because it has lasted so long, it is no different than many other conservation conflicts in which many scientists—and raptor biologists specifically—might find themselves engaged. Therefore, I explore the commonality among conflicts, including specific details of the Spotted Owl case, to illustrate the problems inherent in conservation conflicts and why these disputes last so long. I suggest two general motivations that I believe capture the reasons behind people's willingness to engage in conflict: money and passion. Yet the specific motivations (e.g., economic well-being and ideology) nested within these general motivations are complex and interconnected. This complexity can lead to intractable situations, such as Spotted Owl conservation, which have been defined as “wicked problems” that cannot be resolved to the satisfaction of most. But understanding these broad motivations and identifying the wide variety of specific motivations nested within them may yield opportunities to manage—rather than resolve—a conservation conflict. Accordingly, I present a conceptual overview of the owl situation as a case study, along with some guidelines for raptor biologists working in conflict environments.

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