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.

Post by:
Filed under: Animals • California • Nature • Oregon • Owls • Washington state
soundoff (281 Responses)
  1. Earthy person

    I am appalled and disgusted like so many others writing here - with the obvious use of an animal as a scapecoat for the lumber industry. Those two owls the spotted and the barred even mate and produce offsprings. I suggest that the most likely reason for spotted owls to decrease by 2% a year has to do with habitat. If you want to experiment- you should build nesting sites and experiment with that not experiment with SHOOTING to KILL wildlife that is hurting nobody and by the way we love the sounds of the HOOT HOOT HOOT - and another point:

    Ken Salazar, head of Department of Interior should be FIRED by Obama right now because people reading this stupid plan which is supposed to be great science- the public is blaming Obama - I am working hard to get Obama reelected and I like the rest of you writing here do not appreciate this plan at all.

    March 1, 2012 at 4:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kim

      You said it all. A scapegoat for industry. It's disgusting how government and industry are BFFs. It's all about the $$$.

      March 2, 2012 at 6:21 pm | Report abuse |
  2. FU

    What could possibly go wrong?

    March 1, 2012 at 4:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • johnnyp

      I, for one, welcome our new owl overlords!

      March 3, 2012 at 2:19 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Walker

    Why is the goverment thinks they know what they are doing? They interfere with the rights of every living thing. Now owls. Let's wait to see if they ever straighten out the post office first. Leave us to life ,liberty , and the happiness .

    March 1, 2012 at 5:14 pm | Report abuse |
  4. ken teut

    I say live and let live. Reinstate california's suction dredge permits so the miners can mine,i'm sure they will be happy to nail up a few nesting boxes on there claims. just sayin.

    March 1, 2012 at 9:39 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Lynn K

    SICK SICK SICK..once again we're messing where we shouldn't be. Who gives us the right to get involved in this? I agree with previous posts – check out the lumber industry and habitat destruction. As an observer of local barred owl populations in the province where I live, I cannot see how this is justified. As with wolf culls, coyote culls, you name it, we as humans think we can just obliterate whatever appears to be shifting the populations within nature, WITHOUT realizing our huge impact on species. Look in our own backyards if we dare!!!

    March 2, 2012 at 9:24 am | Report abuse |
  6. George W.

    So what if the Spotted Owl then takes over and crowds out another owl species? What then? Kill them too? Nature knows how to balance. Man doesn't. Everytime we physically meddle with nature, we screw it up by creating another problem. Remember the introduction of the mongoose in Hawaii? No native snakes, now the place is over run by mongoose, and that's just one example. There are hundreds of plant and animal population culling remedies that have failed here in the United States alone. Let the Federal Government fix the man-made problems like over-spending and a failing healthcare system. Let nature do it's job.

    March 2, 2012 at 10:57 am | Report abuse |
  7. OregonTom

    Every barred owl would have to be killed or trapped because they mate with spotted owls. The cat is out of the bag. Thankfully logging has really slowed down in the northwest. Maybe some spotted owl habitat can be reclaimed? Honestly though the spotted owl is an evolutionary dead end.

    March 2, 2012 at 11:13 am | Report abuse |
  8. Edward 'Ned' Mueller

    Typical of our country, we think guns solve problems. Get rid of guns, not owls..
    But then another problem appears: If the Spotted owl goes extinct anyway, do the loggers get all the trees that it protected, probably at the cost of some jobs?. Cannot other jobs in wildlife restoration be created for the same workers?

    March 2, 2012 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |
  9. NCR_2281

    Its called Natural Selection. Let nature decide who goes, not the gun.

    March 2, 2012 at 3:33 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Appalled

    When do the human experiments begin?

    March 2, 2012 at 4:24 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Desert1

    Relocate them instead of killing them

    March 2, 2012 at 5:08 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Jon

    Uh, why do we try to do Nature's job for it? We think we are smarter than nature and just end up killing a whole bunch of beautiful animals because we can't allow nature to do what nature does best. Pathetic.

    March 2, 2012 at 5:20 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Jon

    What right do the Feds have to kill off these beautiful animals? Just another example of the government thinking it can play God and nobody can do anything about it.

    March 2, 2012 at 5:23 pm | Report abuse |
  14. MMallon

    This is what happens when you empower a government with authority over life and death. Picking and choosing which species win the lottery is right up the feds' alley, it's what they do with special interest groups all the time.

    March 2, 2012 at 7:29 pm | Report abuse |
  15. ARC

    I suggest discovering their new, isolated habitats now that they've established themselves, then bring in their natural predators for a short period of time. Let Nature takes its own action, then remove both existing prey/predator species after a full season.

    March 2, 2012 at 10:42 pm | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13