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. A Forester-Not A Wildlife Biologist

    To the people against logging on the blog... you cannot have a productive and fire safe forest if you do not practice sustainable and ethical forest management. The forests of America – especially public forests and corporate owned forests are managed by foresters who have years of education and planning skills. They don't just clear cut Dougla-firs because they want all the timber; they clear cut for regeneration so that trees grow back. They are trees that require open sun – usually found after a large forest fire. Want to live in fire prone forests- support forest management. AND LEAVE THE BARRED OWL ALONE FEDS!

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

      Ax-men should mention that more on their show.

      February 29, 2012 at 9:15 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Milton

    The owls should fight back!

    February 29, 2012 at 8:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • SKZ

      If only...

      February 29, 2012 at 9:01 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Rod C. Venger

    Not one single tax dollar should be expended on this. Isn't this nature playing itself out? The strong survive, the weak do not, unless they can find a way to adapt. There seems to be some interbreeding going on. That is how new species are created. The hybrids will carry the qualities of both species, good and bad. I see no valid reason for humans to intrude into this.

    February 29, 2012 at 9:01 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Frank Garrett

    So they are going to wipe out 1 owl species to save another owl species?

    February 29, 2012 at 9:04 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Tom

    So it's ok for humans to move west at the expense of other humans, but God forbid owls do it...survival of the fittest, this is Darwins theory at it's best.

    February 29, 2012 at 9:06 pm | Report abuse |
  6. A Forester-Not A Wildlife Biologist

    The barred owl is one of the favorite owls... great horned is a nice one, only have ever seen 2 snowys, still waiting to see a great grey owl here in Wisconsin yet.

    February 29, 2012 at 9:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sanity

      We have a lot of great horned owls. Their call is more soothing than most other owls–great sleeping melody.

      February 29, 2012 at 9:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Earthy person

      I live on the East Coast and we have the barred owl in our woods– they like to nest in old big trees or snags– we love the evening and night call of the owl as wiki describes it: The usual call is a series of eight accented hoots ending in oo-aw, with a downward pitch at the end. The most common mnemonic device for remembering the call is "Who cooks for you, who cooks for you all."

      please NO KILLING of owls– bad omen!!! not necessary and not proven to assist the recovery of the spotted owl- previous experiments were done in 2007 and the Fish and Wildlife folks just love to shoot, trap and fish wildlife until it is wild death!!!!! I will hoot now : BOOOOOOOO

      March 1, 2012 at 4:37 pm | Report abuse |
  7. ADF_CC

    Sometimes it can be difficult to allow one species to parish at the hands of another. The Barred Owl will outcompete the Northern Spotted Owl, that is the natural way, unfortunately we have skewed the natural world so much that we must stop other natural processes to offset our destruction. So where is appropriate to draw a line on when to allow nature to attempt to offset us or decide to interfere?
    As Darwin said.....
    "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change."

    February 29, 2012 at 9:07 pm | Report abuse |
  8. gary a

    Aren't hybrids sterile? So how would that help create a new species?

    February 29, 2012 at 9:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rod C. Venger

      Not necessarily, no. Hybrids may be seen as sterile just for their inability to breed with either of it's different parents though they may be able to breed with others of their (new) kind. Others may be the opposite, unable to breed with their own kind but able to breed with either of their parents. Others may well just be sterile, like the mule. It's a matter of chromosome counts. One can predict whether or not a certain crossing will be sterile or not. A little research why a mule is sterile would be interesting to you, I think. But no, not all hybrids are sterile by any means.

      February 29, 2012 at 9:18 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Roadrunner

    It's the shoot anything that moves and fish anything that swims mentality. With a little planning, patience, and creative thinking these owl treasures could be relocated, not killed. They must have gotten the idea from the mass slaughter of wild horses and wolves when they get in the way of a new road, building, or some rancher's property. What a disgusting example for our children. Tell me where to go to help out and I will gather a group together and do the right thing!

    February 29, 2012 at 9:14 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Ummmm.....

    Sure. Be a convervative.....think you guys can conserve something once in a while? Wildlife? Oil? Natute? Anything? Shut up.

    Let the owls do what would be done natually....they're there for a reason, the reason being that's where they naturally have migrated to.

    Just quit blaming everything on the hated liberals, because you folks are really starting to sound batsh!t crazy....and these agencies were in place with consertvative presidents too........duh.

    February 29, 2012 at 9:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sanity

      Do you buy gas? Use wood? Flush your toilet?

      February 29, 2012 at 9:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ummmm.....

      No, I don't.

      March 1, 2012 at 8:13 am | Report abuse |
  11. Meep

    Too bad the real reason they are struggling is buried near the bottom of the article, logging, not the Barred owl. For the people who think logging is essential, mother nature did just fine without the human God having to "fix" nature. Forest fires are natural and essential for a forest. Large amounts of logging, however, is not. Relocate Barred owls and protect the remaining habitat of the Spotted Owl so they don't have to compete for the same territory and resources.

    February 29, 2012 at 9:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • A Forester-Not A Wildlife Biologist

      Sorry but forest management – with logging – is environmentally sustainable. The granola you eat every morning and the Prius you drive to work doesn't make you an expert on environmental sustainability. Foresters have as much education as psychologists do... maybe more.

      February 29, 2012 at 9:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Meep

      A person who is claiming to care about logging as environmental sustainable but them goes on to criticize environmentalists as eating granola and driving a Prius, is schizophrenic. A right wing Forester is not an asset, I don't care how educated you believe you are. Obviously if an animal's numbers are declining because of too much logging it's obviously not environmentally sustainable. Driving a Hummer and eating dingdongs doesn't make you an expert on the environment.

      February 29, 2012 at 9:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • ADF_CC

      I agree with some of what you say forester, (I too am a forester), but sometimes the business of forestry is an uphill battle against ourselves. We overlogged a long time ago and still have to deal with the lack of trust issues with the public, many loggers themselves are not educated on sustainable practices and frankly DO NOT CARE about silviculture. We battle expanding populations into one time wilderness areas and then deal with protecting the inhabitants from nature. For example forest fires, to stay on topic with the original message, are natural, but suppression of them has resulted in a VERY unnatural fire return interval which allows for overgrown landscapes, poor forest stand health and epidemic insect infestations. All of these out West have become a snowball, and the only way to return to the naural environmental process is to allow homes to burn in fires and not suppress them to attempt a return to a natural state, allow wilderness areas to be reclaimed, and prevent logging from overharvesting. Unfortunately the only way to do this is for humas to be removed from the picture. As a forester I try and balance these conflicing ideals daily, and it's not always easy to do. A lot of times your land ethic does not match your audiences', yet sometimes you are afforded the opportunity to pass along your knowledge base.

      February 29, 2012 at 10:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • aviator

      As someone who worked for the U.S Forest Service in NW Montana for 3 years and know a he!! of a`lot more about it than you do,I can tell you the USFS used to do wonderful things in forest mgmt! When there was a timber sale we "Cruised" the forest sale area to estimate the board footage and species available. The logging companies bid on this figure. Then we "marked" the trees to be cut. One paint line above the 'cut' and one below. God help the logging truck going thru the 'scales' that Did NOT have a paint ring on any of the logs above the 'cut'!!! What you probaly do not know, in your arm chair expertise is the fact that most trees we 'marked' hadf MISTLETOE, you know, that thing you hang over the doorway so you can smooch an unsuspecting lady under it, in the upper branches. You see, Mistletoe is a parasite and KILLS doug fir, white pine, yellow pine, etc. Another order we had was to kill every porcupine we saw. Especially after they wiped out in a weeks time a many, many acre white pine nursery! Word is, it's now 'illegal' to kill porkys.

      March 1, 2012 at 3:17 am | Report abuse |
    • aviator

      "Forest fires are natural". True, as far as it goes. Most, in NW Montana were lightining strikes, some were railroad fires (sparks from 'hot boxes' and a FEW were human caused. One we determined, believe it or not, was caused by a 'hobo' camping in the forest leaving a broken mayonaisse jar bottom that acted like a magnifying glass and set the 'duff' on fire. If you don't understand 'duff', research it. Bottom line, the USFS had 'slash' crews that piled the 'slash' left over after logging in huge piles that were burned SAFELY in the winter when snow was heav on the ground. THIS WAS DONE TO PREVENT FOREST FIRES from spreading out of control and burning the HEALTHY remaining trees! Called good forest mgmt.

      March 1, 2012 at 4:09 am | Report abuse |
  12. PaulLewisville

    Doesn't the government have better things to worry about than owls? How about taking care of humans first? There are people starving to death around the world and we're spending money on owls? There are teachers being laid off due to lack of money. Firemen are losing jobs due to lack of money. And we want to spend money on owls?

    This is an example of government officials who have no idea about what is happening on planet earth and are only concerned about trying to "improve" their own little world.

    The government official who proposes spending taxpayers money to kill or move owls should be fired and replaced with a teacher at a school.

    February 29, 2012 at 9:24 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Spanglish

    Now the Administration is becoming a bird killer, where is the Audubon society and/or the Bird Watchers? We are suppose to protect the species not to murder them, let the life cycle decide.

    February 29, 2012 at 9:58 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Manticore

    Barred owls are one of the most common owls in the US, spotted owls are going extinct. I think the barreds can give a little. I hope a relocation plan will work out and as few owls as possible would be killed.

    February 29, 2012 at 10:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sanity

      Playing god, are we?

      February 29, 2012 at 10:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Earthy person

      the owls will not be relocated– that is too sensible and sensitive for the macho man who wants to shoot something– the Fish and Wildlife have stated that they will be basically all shot - estimate is 8,960 of them but in their draft EIS - they shy away from the word "killed" or "shot" and this is another reason why I object to that draft– not speaking truthfully and using euphemism when they mean dead as in dead as a doornail.

      March 1, 2012 at 4:46 pm | Report abuse |
  15. David

    Is this really what this country has come to picking between owl species; who does the government think the animals of the world survived over all the year before government intervention. Did anybody ever consider that some species need to go extinct because that would actually bring balance to nature and that by saving certain species you might actually be harming the environment.

    February 29, 2012 at 10:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • pn

      The extinction rate for mammals in the last 400 years is almost 50 times the background rate. For all species, the normal rate is 10-100 species a year and we are now exterminating 20000-30000 a year.

      Scientists are arguing that we are seeing a new mass extinction. Please don't talk about "balance of nature".

      February 29, 2012 at 11:23 pm | Report abuse |
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