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. Jeff Frank (R-Ohio) "On The Lunatic Fringe"

    The Syrian government faces a similiar problem, except it's with human beings. And they don't seem to give a hoot about them.
    I know..stay on topic Jeff.
    So is the barred owl thing any different than the wonderful control they're putting on chinese carp that threaten the fishing industry of the Great Lakes?

    February 29, 2012 at 8:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • A Forester-Not A Wildlife Biologist

      Jeff... do you know what an invasive species is (going to just say no for you)? The barred owl is indigenous to North America... its range is just expanding. Big difference between everything you said.


      February 29, 2012 at 9:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • hooch

      The barred owl has just simply taken the path of pioneers. Go West!
      How 'bout instead of the owl we pick out the proponents of this #%&*! idea
      and carefully relocate them to a good inpatiient mental facility in San Francisco.
      Or the middle of The White Sands Proving Ground.
      Please, just dont send them to the Southeast.
      Btw I am a lifelong hunter. I choose my prey carefully.
      But picking these folks was really a no -brainer.

      March 1, 2012 at 11:42 am | Report abuse |

    Has the US Government listed the NON-invaded countries... as "Endangered Independent Countries" who's natural resources haven't been swindled away?

    February 29, 2012 at 8:30 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Doosh-LaRooush

    Guess the government meddling has reached new lows.

    February 29, 2012 at 8:37 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Sanity

    Let me get this straight. Is someone actually proposing that the way to save one species of indigenous owls is to kill members of another species of indigenous owls? Is this coming from the same administration that opposes removing illegal aliens from the country even though their presence may be detrimental to citizens of that country? I guess liberals just have to cling to their guns and their religions.

    February 29, 2012 at 8:43 pm | Report abuse |
  5. The1calleddoc

    So the strongest won't be allowed the strive?

    February 29, 2012 at 8:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • A Forester-Not A Wildlife Biologist

      Ah... touche! The fools who batten the hatches when it comes to preaching natural selection in schools try to stop it when it comes to the true cycle of it.

      February 29, 2012 at 8:50 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Sanity

    This has nothing to do with spotted owls. The spotted owl has been used by some lunatics to justify denying civil liberties to property owners; just as Gore and his disciples have lied about polar bear populations to try to fleece the poor. It is just more bs from the left to control the behaviors of rational people.

    February 29, 2012 at 8:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • democratlen58

      Well, Insanity, somebody has to restrain folks. If it's a choice between suburbanites and their gated communities and McMansions, I choose the owl.

      February 29, 2012 at 11:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • democratlen58

      If it's a choice between suburban development and nature, I choose nature. We need to return to the cities, and leave the outskirts to farmers and nature.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:01 am | Report abuse |
  7. A Forester-Not A Wildlife Biologist

    IMHO – this is the stupidest thing I could think of... The Feds think they know best when they know the least. Why chase wet dreams when a species is unable to adapt to the changing climate and environment? Killing barred owls will do absolutely NOTHING. Sorry, but Darwin's theory of natural selection is proving a point, but the morons who swear by evolution seem to always try and stop it. Kudos you fools.

    February 29, 2012 at 8:49 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Jim

    You will learn NOT to mess with Mother Nature!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    February 29, 2012 at 8:50 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Jeremy

    Leave the owls alone. Nature can take care of herself in this case. If the barred owls are invading now on the land set aside for the spotted owl, they would have done it anyway. We can't and shouldn't control everything.

    February 29, 2012 at 8:51 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Rags

    Let nature decide and keep your lousy fingers out of it. The Feds have messed up most of the world already and needn't mess with Mother Nature!

    February 29, 2012 at 8:52 pm | Report abuse |
  11. gaylela

    One minor point: "The northern spotted owls' habitat through logging is a bigger reason the species isn't faring well." We won't stop until we eat everything, destroy everything, pave everything. But for, let's blame the other owls and kill them! Whee! Maybe we can eat them too and make hats.

    February 29, 2012 at 8:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • gaylela

      (Fixing typos) One minor point: "The loss of the northern spotted owls' habitat through logging is a bigger reason the species isn't faring well." We won't stop until we eat everything, destroy everything, pave everything. But for now, let's blame the other owls and kill them! Whee! Maybe we can eat them too and make hats.

      February 29, 2012 at 8:57 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Will

    ???? Come on people.. Natural selection... the Owls moved into the area, then evolution is at work..... One species will dominate and exterminate the rival. We cant save every bleeding species. I hate that there are many things that will go extinct before I die. But its better that this is a natural extinction vs a man made one.

    February 29, 2012 at 8:53 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Sandra LeVin

    Why don't they just leave the owls alone???

    February 29, 2012 at 8:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sanity

      Because the spotted owl is a symbol long used by extreme environmentalists in their campaigns against developers. They cannot allow natural selection to prove the fallacy of their arguments.

      February 29, 2012 at 9:03 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Jamie

    I don't like it when people describe evolution like they know what they are talking about. Natural selection is miniscule in the eyes of evolution. It'l only create variations. It is all about genetic mechanisms. Darwin had no knowledge of genetics when he came up with his theory. People need to start referring to Gould instead of Darwin.

    February 29, 2012 at 8:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jamie

      *minor variations

      February 29, 2012 at 8:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • SKZ

      Thank you! Mother nature...let the fittest survive the weak...

      February 29, 2012 at 9:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rod C. Venger

      I'm a former commercial Orchid grower and made quite a few hybrids over a decade's time and I can tell you that when you cross a species 'minor variations' aren't necessarily the norm. Unlike Orchids, owls don't produce thousands or millions of seeds, they lay a few eggs. Nontheless, looking at a population of 1000 flowering Orchids, hybrids on their first bloom, the range of variation is often quite wide. Some are aesthetically ugly, some quite the opposite. Those few plants get cloned for mass-sale and further breeding. Some are radically altered or disformed, so much so that their natural pollinators would fail to pollinate them in the wild. Others may be altered enough to accomodate a different pollinator. We followed genetic rules in making hybrids but the offspring had astounding variations. Owls would be no different except that with so few offspring, a surviving offspring that's seen to be radically different is a rare event...but it does happen. If it didn't, the variety of related birds in the world today would not exist.

      February 29, 2012 at 9:13 pm | Report abuse |
  15. fanypack

    mother nature was already screwed up. i.e logging... Its too bad the owls are paying the price

    February 29, 2012 at 8:57 pm | Report abuse |
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