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. Hey You

    Apparently the Fish and Wildlife service hasn't heard of evolution. Species move, they compete with each other – it is the way it has always been.

    March 1, 2012 at 9:55 am | Report abuse |
    • DB5

      What? How can you actually believe all that is around you, beneath you, and above you is a product of evolution? Evolution is an absurd myth. Look through a telescope at the night sky, or even easier for you, Google topics about space. The vastness and all that it contains is CREATED! There is a logic behind it all.

      March 1, 2012 at 10:18 am | Report abuse |
  2. DDM

    "logging is a bigger reason" "shrinking habitat" – Can we lure in the loggers and human population taking over the habitat, then kill them off? There is no shortage of people – quite the opposite, the human herd needs to be culled. Wars, starvation, disease are unable to keep up. Over 7 billion now polluting (literally) the earth.

    March 1, 2012 at 10:00 am | Report abuse |
    • You first?

      So who would determine this culling? You?
      I believe you have some serious underlying issues...

      March 1, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Sally Baker

    We have saved the Whooping Crane and the Bald Eagle, species that are large and recognizable. Less visible birds should be given the same chance. At the same time we will add to our knowledge of what causes these birds to become endangered in the first place.

    March 1, 2012 at 10:00 am | Report abuse |
  4. Douglas

    It's always a mistake when we fool around with the environment. Unless this owl is an introduced species, I think nature needs to take it's course. Perhaps the effort should be applied to the European Starling and House Sparrow, both of which were introduced to North America by humans and have proved disastrous to native songbird species.

    March 1, 2012 at 10:02 am | Report abuse |
    • johnnyp

      Couldn't agree more.

      March 3, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Heidi

    Please reconsider this action. It seems that the first response to human intervention when it comes to our planet is to dispose of one to accommodate another. We have been given the gifted privilege of caring for our planet and one another. History speaks loud and clear that this is not the appropriate step to be taken. If the owl could be asked, I am sure he would agree. These creatures are relevant and have their place as we do in existence.

    March 1, 2012 at 10:21 am | Report abuse |
  6. Allison

    I think the issue of logging needs to be brought more to the forefront. If it does become necessary to remove barred owls, I think it is completely reprehensible to kill them off. It may take more effort to have them displaced, but it's not our call to say which species lives and which dies.

    March 1, 2012 at 10:22 am | Report abuse |
    • joep199

      Correct. And since the threat, in this case, is from a similar species expanding its domain, I don't see why it is necessary, or appropriate, for us to interfere with the course of nature.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:46 pm | Report abuse |
  7. luap nosduh

    Habitat loss or the introduction of an invasive species is the primary cause of all declines in all species. If farmers were allowed to grow hemp, much forrest land could be saved, thus pproviding habitat for many species. Hemp can be used to make fabric and paper, so no trees would have to be harvested for these purposes. BTW, most species of hemp grown for the manufacture of fabric and paper does not contain enough THC to warrant use for getting high.

    March 1, 2012 at 11:10 am | Report abuse |
  8. Amanda Meltz

    This is a complex issue with many parameters. It is likely the changing of habitat (opening up of more edge due to logging in the old growth) that has allowed the barred owl access to an area that it otherwise would not inhabit. Due to the access, it is able to compete with a species that it would normally interact with (the spotted owl). There is plenty to be said about maintaining the species of spotted owls. It would be a shame to lose the genetic information and also their role in the ecosystem. Further, it would be ashame to punish a species that is only doing what species normally do in response to changing conditions–migrate to the most suitable habitat. I would like to see a compromise where the barred owls are relocated to suitable habitats that do not conflict with the spotted owls as much as possible. Perhaps in addition a manipulation of the current habtiat will be necessary to accommodate both the spotted owl and the barred owl while attempting to limit the overlap of the species.

    March 1, 2012 at 11:34 am | Report abuse |
  9. Yikes!

    One thing I think most people will agree on; either one would be super creepy to have staring at you in the dark of the night.

    March 1, 2012 at 11:38 am | Report abuse |
  10. HeroicSlug

    The one on the left is more aesthetically pleasing.

    Kill the one on the right.

    Why cant we owls just get along?

    March 1, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Richard

    Let me get this straight. Its OK to kill barred owls, but not OK to build the Keystone pipeline for ecologic reasons.
    Rather typical of thinking of this Obama administration. Absolutely ridiculous!

    March 1, 2012 at 12:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • johnnyp

      Barred owls are a very common species, very aggressive and adaptable to human interaction, which are rapidly expanding their habitat along with human disturbance of local ecosystems; the situation is similar to that experienced by native local frog populations facing the expansion of the aggressive and common American Bullfrog. However deplorable, the expansion is largely natural.

      Whereas is the pipeline is about as natural as dioxin, pcb's, and crack cocaine. I mean, if you like having oil in your aquifers, feel free to add some into your daily drink of choice. I, however, prefer mine as oil-free as possible, without the added cost of a superfund cleanup site. And as always, you're welcome to move to the Gulf... I hear they have plenty of extra oil in their seafood, these days, provided free-of-charge by BP.

      March 3, 2012 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
  12. J_Koz

    F&WL – a tool of the Universe.

    Which one tastes more like chicken ???

    March 1, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Report abuse |
  13. You first?

    Ummm....I believe this is called evolution. The stronger more efficient species takes over or the weaker adapts. Its been happening long before the DO Fish & Wildlife decided they are better at playing god than mother nature.

    March 1, 2012 at 12:34 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Laura L

    We, the human race,created these kinds of crises by destroying these species habitats in the name of mass consumerism,and now our best answer is to kill the less endangered (as of yet) species to protect the species we endangered in the first place? Really? We NEED TO FOCUS ON BEING POSITIVELY CREATIVE instead of Our widely accepted,unnatural practices of destructivity. Each one if us shares the responsibility of nurturing and preserving that which naturally does the same for us.Respect LIFE! LOVE MOTHER EARTH! love and light to all beings<3

    March 1, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Report abuse |
  15. SunJo

    As a former DEP employee, park ranger and wildlife rescuer/rehabber, this plan bothers me on many levels. For those who say it is evolution, you are correct. We do not know at this point whether the barred owls moved into the spotted owls' territory due to a natural progression or, the more likley scenario, human impact – logging, development, habitat encroachment, loss of prey & habitat from human activity, etc. But the bottom line is, for whatever reason, it happens. More adaptable species prevail and push out less adaptable ones all the time. It is nature's way. I do not want to lose the spotted owl, but killing another species that is naturalized, not human-introduced, is ridiculous. The barred owls made the move on their own, for whatever reasons. They are not introduced, invasive exoctics. This plan violates the ethics of habitat and species preservation. It makes me ashamed of environmental scientists who become so pigeon-holed in their thinking that they literally cannot see the forest for the trees. They are worried more about coming up with exciting plans to secure funding for their own job preservation than what is right, good ethical science.

    And yes, for those who say we need to focus on kinder, more earth-friendly living, you are correct too. Carrying capacity and sustainable development are terms every human on this planet should become familiar with and embrace. There are too many of us living without regard for the implications of our actions on one another and this planet. We need to love one another and our planet home!

    March 1, 2012 at 2:16 pm | Report abuse |
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