Feds consider killing barred owls to save another type
The barred owl (pictured, left) could be targeted by the U.S. government to help save the northern spotted owl (at right).
February 29th, 2012
08:02 PM ET

Feds consider killing barred owls to save another type

A large owl from the eastern United States might pay for its intrusion into the West Coast if the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has its way.

The service is considering an experiment in which it would kill or transfer some barred owls sometimes referred to as the hoot owl, thanks to its call as part of a plan to preserve the smaller northern spotted owl, the agency said in a report this week.

The U.S. government has listed the northern spotted owl, whose range includes British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and California, as a threatened species since 1990. Its population declined by 40%  in the last 25 years, not only because of shrinking habitat, but also because the barred owl moved into the area starting in the late 1950s, the service says.

“Larger, more aggressive and more adaptable than the northern spotted owl, barred owls are known to displace spotted owls, disrupt their nesting and compete with them for food,” the service says on the Interior Department’s website. "Researchers have also observed instances of barred owls interbreeding with or killing spotted owls."

The service is now proposing killing or capturing barred owls in limited areas of the other owl’s range to see whether the removals allow the other owl’s population to bounce back.

The service is calling for one to 11 experiment sites in areas including national parks and recreation areas. Depending on the number of sites, the service would kill or transfer 257 to nearly 8,960 barred owls, according to the service’s environmental impact statement on the plan.

The larger figure represents 0.2% percent of the barred owl’s North American population, and 6.5% of its population in the northern spotted owl’s range, according to the service.

Killing the barred owls would involve attracting them with recorded calls and shooting those that respond. Capturing them alive would involve calling them and then collecting them with nets or other trapping devices, the service says.

Captured owls would be released elsewhere or live out their lives in captivity. The service has yet to determine what lethal/nonlethal mix to use.

“We can’t ignore the mounting evidence that competition from barred owls is a major factor in the spotted owl’s decline, and we have a clear obligation to do all we can to prevent the spotted owl’s extinction and help it rebound,” Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe said Tuesday in a news release.

If the experiment goes forward and works, the service would propose a wider-scale barred owl removal program in the northern spotted owl’s range, with the ultimate goal of getting the populations to the point where they can co-exist.

The Seattle Audubon Society was among the groups that consulted with the Fish and Wildlife Service before the service made its proposal. Shawn Cantrell, the Seattle society's executive director, said he has yet to read all of the service's roughly 400-page environmental impact statement, but would generally be in favor of a small-scale removal experiment, provided that it be designed to answer questions like: How many would you have to remove to help the spotted owl, and for how long, and in how many locations? And how soon would barred owls return to those areas?

"The barred owl has grown as a challenge in the last decade, so we need to figure out what is the level of challenge that the barred owl poses, and what are the appropriate actions we might take concurrent with other things, such as restoring the habitat of the northern spotted owls," Cantrell said on Wednesday.

He said he wouldn't be in favor of a larger removal program, at least not until an experiment answered those questions. He also said he believes loss of the northern spotted owls' habitat through logging is a bigger reason the species isn't faring well.

"You can't use the barred owl as a scapegoat," Cantrell said, adding that the Seattle Audubon Society would comment further on the experiment plan once the group reads the whole environmental impact statement.

Both the experiment and the wider program would require separate public review processes. The service is accepting public comment on the experiment plan for 90 days, and a decision is expected later this year.

If the experiment happens, it could start next year and last for three to 10 years, the service says.

The barred owl is in the “least concern” category of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources' Red List of Threatened Species.

Separately, the Fish and Wildlife Service on Tuesday proposed new rules and maps for “critical habitat” areas for the northern spotted owl. The proposal, which identifies 10 million acres where protection rules would apply on federal land or nonfederal land that gets federal funding or permitting, will be subject to public review before a final decision in November.

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Filed under: Animals • California • Nature • Oregon • Owls • Washington state
soundoff (281 Responses)
  1. Jadab Rajkonwar

    Killing one to save other is not a justified task.It is like playing God's role.It will be better to initate a captive breeding programme for the species in danger rather then killing the other species.

    March 3, 2012 at 3:52 am | Report abuse |
    • Re Creator

      Who are you to say what is "God's role?" If YOU think killing one animal to save another is wrong, then just say so. But don't try to justify your answer by pointing to "God's role," because no human is able to know or state what God's role might be.

      There's nothing wrong with opinions based in religion and faith. But, if you argue that something is right or wrong because "that's God's role" or "that's what God demands," then you'd better be consistent and you'd better have something specific to back up your statement. Otherwise, your argument is silly and meaningless.

      God created a beautiful wilderness. Mankind has created homes, shopping malls, roads, dams, and even islands and lakes, every bit of which has destroyed and replaced a portion of God's creation. Was that playing "God's role?" Should we return to living in caves and tents?

      March 3, 2012 at 11:44 am | Report abuse |
    • A. Rogers

      Seems logical to save the owls from extinction by providing for them. I appreciate 'survival of the fittest' and suggest investing the killing funds into rescue funds, building a habitat for the little owls. Seems ridiculous to penalize one species just because they are safe and sound. Is a form of socialism alive and well in Birddom?
      Can we just get away from capturing and killing?

      March 3, 2012 at 7:13 pm | Report abuse |
  2. PF

    I agree with all of the other posts except for ARC. The problem is humans, not other animals. We destroy habitats & call it progress while we're doing it. Ever expanding housing developments & company's waste materials are the worst. We cut down forests so we can live in bigger houses or have more malls & dribble or emit waste materials into our waters or air space until we discover that it's killing a species. Then we blame an animal or fish for invading another animals's habitat. It's never our fault. Shame on humans for our methods of 'caring for the species of the world'.

    March 3, 2012 at 9:42 am | Report abuse |
  3. Paul

    Hey if you go to my youtube channel you can see some video of my local barred owl. Pretty cool, he let us get real close. I hope they don't want to kill these guys.

    March 3, 2012 at 11:19 am | Report abuse |
  4. Paul

    Go to you tube then type in wroughtirondude.

    March 3, 2012 at 11:20 am | Report abuse |
  5. outsider

    Why fight evolution...survival of the fittest

    March 3, 2012 at 11:28 am | Report abuse |
  6. mrklrsn

    I know I'll probably get blasted for this, but boy would it be fun to have the job of collecting those owls! I wouldn't want to kill them, they are very beautiful creatures. I'd love to be able to take several home and let them loose on the farm to keep the rodent population down. I believe we have a healthy population of them here in Northern Michigan, but I wouldn't mind having more. The echo in the valley as they call out to each other in the evening is one of my favorite parts about walking in the woods around my home.

    March 3, 2012 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
  7. H. J. Brown

    Please only safely capture and release in new safe area. The owls know not what they do. HJB

    March 3, 2012 at 5:08 pm | Report abuse |
  8. anthony vaughn

    Maybe we should hire these guys to get rid of some of our congress that are feeding on us....I'm postin this one!!!!

    March 4, 2012 at 9:38 am | Report abuse |
  9. Amanda

    Try it Feds, I dare you. You will have the entire South Plains Wildlife Rehabilitation Center up in arms over that. I work there and I am assigned to a Barred Owl named Shadow. A permanent resident who was hit by a car, her leg was broken so she can't hunt so we keep her. These owls are beautiful and strong, and should not have to die just because the Spotted owls are not. Find a different Solution to the Spotted owls, ban logging if you have to, but don't kill one owl just to save another. A life doesn't equal a life.

    September 17, 2012 at 8:41 pm | Report abuse |
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