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. Kevin

    This was an issue when I was in college studying biology. Now that I am about to retire after 27 years as a wildlife biologist the Feds are getting around to "considering" a small-scale, removal experiment.

    February 29, 2012 at 11:47 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Richard O

    So they can't think of a better way to handle this than KILLING THEM? That's absurd. What a ridiculously UNSCIENTIFIC solution to a problem that demands intellect and research. Those people purporting to be competent Fish and Wildlife officials need to relinquish their positions to someone who actually comprehends the WORK that accompanies those things called JOBS.

    February 29, 2012 at 11:50 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Humanist

    Speciesism at its finest

    February 29, 2012 at 11:51 pm | Report abuse |
  4. isitrigged

    They are interbreeding, it's part of the never ending cycle of evolution. On species dies off while giving rise to another.

    February 29, 2012 at 11:54 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Jeryl

    reminds me of that movie Legend of the Guardians !

    February 29, 2012 at 11:55 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Andrew Noronha

    I can understand protecting a species that declines due to human interference. This is natural evolution though, the better owl is winning. This does not make any sense, to protect either owl.

    February 29, 2012 at 11:58 pm | Report abuse |
  7. VK

    Erm... just a few things to think about before you start posting about "survival of the fittest", "balance of nature", etc.

    – The barred owls are invasive species. The spotted owls are native species.

    – No one is proposing the barred owls be driven to extinction. They just want to control the size of non-native populations.

    – Species have indeed been going extinct since life first evolved. However, we are currently experiencing extinction rates far greater than those in the past. The spotted owl's decline is extremely rapid compared to the speed of extinction of species that lived millions of years ago.

    -There is no such thing as a universal, Pocahontas-style "balance of nature". Although ecological populations do occasionally reach a stable equilibrium, this is not necessarily the norm. Unstable equilibria do occur.

    Feel free to get back to the debate.

    March 1, 2012 at 12:00 am | Report abuse |
    • Lise

      Since you have posted one of the few relevant comments, might I draw attention to the fact that rarely, if ever, does the introduction of any species to compete with another work – there are countless examples, especially in Australia. I feel this kind of effort will result in the same type of imbalance, such as the population of whatever the barred owl feeds on exploding as predation ceases, bearing in mind they eat rodents. These actions are never a good thing, and it's about time more thought was put into wildlife or pest management.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:16 am | Report abuse |
    • SAVIOR

      The white man was the invasive species. Indians were the native species just think how things might have turned out if there was some one there to control the size of the non- native species ..LOL..just kidding around
      I see ur point

      March 1, 2012 at 12:20 am | Report abuse |
  8. Julie M

    like the feds dont have better things to do!! I've only seen One Owl my entire life they already seem instinct to me, unless you walk through the woods at night all the time.. lol whooo whooo whoooo would do that??

    March 1, 2012 at 12:03 am | Report abuse |
  9. Irene Lindsey

    It is interesting that the scientists have determined another reason for the Spotted Owls' decline. Originally the lumber industry was entirely held responsible. Are the Feds now insisting on the use of respectable and repeatable scientific methods for research? Before legislation and policy changes occur that adversely affect species, industry, jobs and our economy, it is essential that good quality data is collected and analyzed, not junk data.

    On another note: If a competing species overwhelms a weaker one, is 'balance' achieved? Is stability or sustainability achieved? We, as Americans, advocate for the underdog.

    March 1, 2012 at 12:06 am | Report abuse |
    • bannister

      Irene, you wrote: "On another note: If a competing species overwhelms a weaker one, is 'balance' achieved?"

      The same thing is occurring within the human race. Our government actively helps less intelligent humans demographically overwhelm more intelligent people by subsidizing the births of low achieving, low IQ populations (i.e. welfare)

      March 1, 2012 at 12:17 am | Report abuse |
    • Willowspring

      Let nature take it's course. The spotted owl was on the way out years ago and the feds literally Stopped an entire industry (lumber) to Save it to no avail. It is Still declining. Protecting it did Nothing to stop the decline. And now they are considering Killing the species that has moved in?? If the spotted owl is meant to survive, it will. It is just as bad as the meddling Fish and Wildlife closing down an entire agricultural industry to save a little fish when all they needed to do was either divert some of the water or farm the fish if the fish were so critical. They are constantly playing god.

      March 1, 2012 at 1:08 am | Report abuse |
  10. Who Who

    Will ensure that the owls can sort it out amongst themselves because nature knows how to do this better than us bungling our way into their territory – leave them all alone and record that for 20 years ..

    March 1, 2012 at 12:23 am | Report abuse |
    • Willowspring

      Well said

      March 1, 2012 at 1:09 am | Report abuse |
  11. rodwick

    Let the best owl win and the new interbred species begin.

    March 1, 2012 at 12:47 am | Report abuse |
  12. nojustice

    This is not a man made issue, it is nature. We need to allow nature to evolve the way it chooses and if we want hoot owls, put them in zoos. Destroying the stronger species so that the weaker can survive because of one crossing boundaries contradicts natural processes and is not necessarily a good act on our part, nevertheless the fact that at this point in time do we really need to justify the expense of this project over more pressing issues?

    March 1, 2012 at 12:55 am | Report abuse |
  13. LB

    Hmm...are the owls edible?

    March 1, 2012 at 12:57 am | Report abuse |
    • aviator

      Sure! They taste like chicken. Especially roasted over an open fire doused in KC Masterpiece Bar B Que sauce.

      March 1, 2012 at 3:31 am | Report abuse |
  14. Help

    hmmmm can't send them back where they came from so we kill them......I've seen this movie.

    March 1, 2012 at 1:06 am | Report abuse |
  15. C. Darwin

    What ever happened to the laws of nature? Survival of the fittest.

    March 1, 2012 at 1:15 am | Report abuse |
    • Rev. Schaeffer

      People came along who cared. If your family was being murdered, would you not intervene or would you just shrug and say "survival of the fittest"? You may not be able to empathize with those who consider all living things as part of their family, but I assure you that there are folks who are able to extend their compassion beyond their immediate self interest. And it's not a matter of placing one above the other, such as caring about owls more than people, it's about caring for all things equally.... love is not divided, it is multiplied.

      March 1, 2012 at 1:37 am | Report abuse |
    • Carl

      Rev Schaeffer, man should not interfere with nature...this is not "murder" any more than coyotes catching a rabbit is "murder". If we could go back in time should save the dinosaurs from being "murdered"?

      March 1, 2012 at 2:11 am | Report abuse |
    • tired hippie

      (in response to Schaeffer) dude, someone killing your family and owls competing for survival are so different it ain't even right to compare em. if the barred owls just happened to start moving into spotted owl territory then killing/ removing them to protect the spotted owls is wrong

      March 1, 2012 at 2:14 am | Report abuse |
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