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. David

    Is this really what this country has come to picking between owl species; how 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 10:53 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Joshua

    Why do humans feel it necessary to interfere with the process of natural selection? Why intentionally assist the propagation of an unfit species? This is cognitive dissonance at it's finest.

    February 29, 2012 at 10:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Aaron

      Its not natural selection because barred owls were artificially transferred to the western United States.

      February 29, 2012 at 11:23 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Not Likely

    Good. The spotted owl is clearly the superior owl, as can be seen in the picture accompanying this article.

    February 29, 2012 at 11:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • One4All

      Agreed. The spotted owl is pretty. Maybe natural selection is out and humans can pick which animal should survive by beauty. We can vote. I vote for rainbow fish, red fox, and blue birds.

      February 29, 2012 at 11:35 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Mark R.

    It's not interfering with natural selection when it was human interference (destroying and taking over their natural habitat) that started the decline of the Northern Spotted Owl in the first place. When it was mans' fault for bringing a species to extinction it should be mans' responsibility to save it.

    February 29, 2012 at 11:12 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Owl! get Down!

    Slow, slow news day eh CNN? And... Leave the dang owls alone... Survival of the fittest has been the way of the planet for millions of years.

    February 29, 2012 at 11:14 pm | Report abuse |
  6. 2tired2care

    Put the two owls in a cage match, two go in but only one comes out!

    February 29, 2012 at 11:21 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Fenrisulfr

    I've been an environmentalist since before the first Earth Day celebration (we were called conservationists then). This has to be the dumbest thing I've ever seen when it comes to interfering with nature.

    February 29, 2012 at 11:26 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Daniel

    Why do people have to interfere with EVERYTHING? Species die out naturally, happened for billions of years before humans ever evolved from chimps. For what seems like the 1st time in ages, a species will die out and not because of humans. It's the evolutionary process, leave it alone.

    February 29, 2012 at 11:28 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Dovah

    I'm not saying this out of ignorance, but an owl is an owl in this situation. If it were like 'kill an owl species to spare a deer species', that might be something. But this is just not right. Owls eat the same things between species. The rodent population is not going to rise or drop drastically low by letting the hoot owl live. Goodness gracious.

    February 29, 2012 at 11:29 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Daniel

    And to save one species people will kill others. [sarcasm]How brilliant![sarcasm]

    February 29, 2012 at 11:29 pm | Report abuse |
  11. svann

    "..and we have a clear obligation to do all we can to prevent the spotted owl’s extinction and help it rebound,"

    No you dont. You are interfering with nature. Though we do have a right to interfere, there is obviously no obligation to.

    February 29, 2012 at 11:36 pm | Report abuse |
  12. TriXen

    This seems incredibly stupid. There are many, many species which once roamed the earth and are now extinct. We didn't kill them all and we can't save them all either. Let nature run its course. If the northern spotted owl is meant to die out, let them die. Survival of the fittest!

    February 29, 2012 at 11:38 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Moonshine

    I've seen more spotted owls in the last twenty years than I've seen in the previous forty, the damn U.S. Fish and Wildlife need to get off the paved roads to find them....

    February 29, 2012 at 11:39 pm | Report abuse |
  14. / Through a Scanner, Darkly /

    Leave the Owls Alone. They Know what they are doing. This is Natures Business not man's.

    February 29, 2012 at 11:39 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Toni Monte

    who cares

    February 29, 2012 at 11:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Yawn

      The owls.

      February 29, 2012 at 11:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • democratlen1958

      people who care about nature, and humans doing what nature should do for itself,by itself.

      February 29, 2012 at 11:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Fletch

      I'd spare all owls to get rid of you, Toni.

      February 29, 2012 at 11:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Derp

      The Barred Owl is mostly indigenous to the region – it was not directly introduced to the area by humans. There is some speculation that this was due to human establishment (Barred Owls survive better amongst human communities)...emphasis on speculation. This is just natural selection at work. This is totally backwards – we should just let nature do its job.

      Oh, and this is mostly old news. The plan was originally announced in early 2007. The wildlife service is just finally getting around to some more "planning". Way to get on the news 5 years late.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:38 am | Report abuse |
    • Earthy person

      YOU care obviously or you would not have bothered to comment - one more comment about how the Fish and Wildlife subgroup of the Department the Interior should be doing something else not this owl business - really do we have better things to do? YES!!!

      March 1, 2012 at 4:52 pm | Report abuse |
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