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. montyross

    it appears the southern hispanic is moving in and displacing the whiteman, can they help the whiteman?

    March 1, 2012 at 9:24 am | Report abuse |
    • stealth

      allow adaptation and survival of the fittest .... human intervention will never save one species from overrunning another. stupid people

      March 1, 2012 at 9:32 am | Report abuse |
    • Glenn

      Well stated.
      This hairbrained scheme is just like my old neighborhood. It was once a nice middle class of shop owners, etc Then the Government came along to balance the makeup. Now it's gangs and drugs.
      So sad. YES. Let nature have her way.

      March 1, 2012 at 9:49 am | Report abuse |
    • Jon

      What a dumb comment. I wasn't aware the population of the "white man" was endangered and has decreased 40% in the last 25 years. Racists like you love to make dubious comparisons.

      March 1, 2012 at 9:54 am | Report abuse |
  2. Cobra-212

    ...and we need even more government. This is a prime example of having too much government that they can't figure out what to do, so they dream up stunts like this. The planet has evolved for eons. The reasons many species went extinct prior to the arrival of man was because that's natures way of ensuring survival. They say it themselves, "Larger, more aggressive, and more adaptable than the Northern Spotted Owl...". The most adaptable species are typically the ones that survive, but now the government wants to play "God" and decide which should live and which should die, instead of letting nature takes its course. Given this thinking we should start eliminating the most invasive species of all and the one responsible for the displacement and extinction of many other species, MAN. Instead what we need to do is reduce the size of government so they aren't running around looking for more things to do!

    March 1, 2012 at 9:25 am | Report abuse |
  3. FauxNewz

    We should genetically modify the spotted owl to have laser beam eyes and then let nature take its course, lol.

    March 1, 2012 at 9:27 am | Report abuse |
  4. naurob03

    I love that this issue has finally appeared in the national forum. Over the past ~30 years logging and fuels treatments have been stopped or reduced to less than 10% of Federal ground. The Forests have been changing to higher density forests that are not sustainable without fire or some other management (natural or man). If we let fires run through the landscape, the current situation will cause stand replacement where before the fire would have had mixed mortality. In the past we could have reduced clear cutting and went to thinning forests, instead thinning was stopped in many forests because of restrictions placed by the US Fish and Wildlife service. So now we have species moving into areas that were not habitat in the past. As those species move into dense forests they automatically become restricted from management, when the forests were more dominate pine stands before the exclusion of fire and thinning (fire suppression and restrictions placed by fish and wildlife). The best part of this is that black tailed deer populations are on the decline (19% to 7%) due to protection of the spotted owl. So we will protect the one species that favor dense forest types over a species that favor open grown conditions( this is true for grasses and forbs that prefer frequent disturbance and open conditions). So instead of one species being endangered we will now have multiple species that will be endangered. That is what the Northwest Forest Plan has brought to our federal lands. It has destroyed any ability to change the tide of the endangered spotted owl and has placed other species at risk of being endangered. Then throw in climate change to this whole conversation and none of this makes sense, but we are taking about the government. All climate data shows that the forest conditions that the owl needs will be gone.

    March 1, 2012 at 9:28 am | Report abuse |
  5. john

    This is natures way of extinction if an animal doesn't adapt to changing environments. This is not humans causing this. We should not interfere with this natural process. It will also cost taxpayers a lot of money to do this and it is not a justified expense. Survival of the fittest is nature's game that decides "whoooo"stays and "whoooo" goes.

    March 1, 2012 at 9:28 am | Report abuse |
  6. tacc2

    Did humans introduce the hoot owls to the west? If not and they are just naturally moving there, I think we should just let nature take it's course. It's one thing to try to correct something we're responsible for, but to try to save a species that is going extinct through no fault of ours is just arrogant.

    March 1, 2012 at 9:30 am | Report abuse |
  7. Palustris

    Just another potential fiasco where we taxpayers will fund something man has no business messing with. The feds introduced autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata) in their wildlife packets years ago and it has become a nightmare in choking off native species. I see it firsthand on my own nursery farm. And we have barred owls here, too. Leave 'em be. They migrated on their own...let nature take its course.

    March 1, 2012 at 9:31 am | Report abuse |
  8. Noller

    The "Feds" are highly educated and concerned zoologists and wildlife biologists who are employed by the federal government to study and protect the environment. These owls are migrating to the Western U.S. because of urban development, not due to "natural selection" or "survival of the fittest." Humans do a great job of messing things up, and then we have to scramble to fix them. This is us scrambling to fix what we have screwed up by way of our selfishness and greed. It is sad that two species have to suffer, but that's what happens when we don't think ahead. That's what happens when we just think about that new house we want, on that gorgeous piece of virgin property, instead of thinking about the impact it will have on the many species that called it "home" first. If we'd stop for minute, use what we have, and let nature recover for a while, federal scientists may not have to kill and relocate an entire species to save another. This is exactly why we have hunting seasons – because federal scientists know that it is more humane to kill deer than to let them continue to reproduce and die of starvation in a habitat that is too small in area and resources to support them. This is not inhuman, this is a few good scientists trying to fix what humanity has broken. It's a sad process.

    March 1, 2012 at 9:32 am | Report abuse |
    • naurob03

      You're right in that we're trying to fix what we have screwed up, but you haven't addressed the situation concerning restrictions to the species that are currently on the decline such as the black tailed deer populations that prefer open grown conditions. The owl is going to go away and if you look at the climate change data they will not have the conditions that they need to survive the change. Killing the owls if opened to the public will be a nightmare. How are most folks going to discern the difference between a spotted owl and a barred owl. They will kill both in this situation. Let the owl go, it has been losing its population size since the Northwest Forest plan was enacted. Wildlife bios that have retired have said the we are enacting the wrong policy and that we are affecting the other species (open grown dependent species) by restricting management (natural fire suppression or thinning). We are placing species at risk of being endangered for the owl.

      March 1, 2012 at 9:55 am | Report abuse |
  9. Whooo are youuu

    pshhh. This story is for the birds.

    March 1, 2012 at 9:34 am | Report abuse |
  10. LK2

    Yes, KILLING is always the right thing to do! Idiots! Of the two options, I will not be surprised that they will go with killing them, instead of humanely trapping them, and relocating. How does "kill them" come so "nonchalantly" into their minds like that? It's unbelievable.

    March 1, 2012 at 9:39 am | Report abuse |
  11. GiantRobots

    Not seeing the problem with the barred owls. I mean, they're out hunting the spotted owl... but, it's not like they're an invasive species that is destroying entire habitats, like the zebra mussel or anything, right? Apologies if I'm off base here, but I just don't think we have any place trying to save a species unless it's humans who endangered them in the first place. Just let nature do it's thing!

    March 1, 2012 at 9:41 am | Report abuse |
  12. seriously?

    who cares?

    March 1, 2012 at 9:42 am | Report abuse |
    • Ramazan

      Hi There! I think these are just adorable! I have a fenrid whose little son is struggling with a fear of owls after seeing someone in a scary owl costume on TV. His parents are gently guiding him though it by reading books about owls and learning fascinating facts. I will definitely be passing along this idea, too! Thanks for sharing!

      March 14, 2012 at 10:32 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Shawna

    It said that due to declining habitat well why don't we start displacing some people and cutting down on the population so that all species have room to live. Before long we won't have to worry about any owls because there will be no habitat left if the Oil bedded Republicans have their way.

    March 1, 2012 at 9:43 am | Report abuse |
  14. Judy

    Stop inteferring with nature. It backfires every time. All you can do is make things worse. Leave them alone.

    March 1, 2012 at 9:45 am | Report abuse |
  15. James PDX

    Unless they can show that man has caused the barred owl to incur on the territory of the spotted owl, then this is just the course nature has chosen to take and we should stay out of it.

    March 1, 2012 at 9:53 am | Report abuse |
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