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. p-body

    This is to protect the balance of nature and offsetting the natural selection that changes the balance

    March 1, 2012 at 1:32 am | Report abuse |
  2. the word


    March 1, 2012 at 1:33 am | Report abuse |
  3. p-body

    we are created to balance nature as well, rather than destroy it. The planet made us to protect it and survive it

    March 1, 2012 at 1:33 am | Report abuse |
    • Carl

      Wrong. Human kind's first law should be don't interfere. If humans did not cause the barred owl to migrate, let it be. If the dinosaurs were meant to be extinct and we could somehow go back in time, should we save them too? NO!

      March 1, 2012 at 2:08 am | Report abuse |
  4. Dandy

    How much is this going to cost? Is this really necessary?
    Would you spend your money to do this? If not then why is the Gov going to do it?

    March 1, 2012 at 1:38 am | Report abuse |
  5. Curt

    Maybe they are moving because the area they lived has become toxic by Monsanto... Just a thought

    March 1, 2012 at 1:42 am | Report abuse |
  6. Carl

    “Larger, more aggressive and more adaptable than the northern spotted owl, barred owls are known to displace spotted owls" ...so...this is nature. Sounds like the spotted Owl was on its way out before humans messed with them. Man did not introduce the Barred Owl. They migrated over long periods like so many other species.

    March 1, 2012 at 2:04 am | Report abuse |
  7. shaun

    Leave the animals alone.

    March 1, 2012 at 2:15 am | Report abuse |
  8. larry5

    The government messes up everything like this it touches. Maybe the tougher owl is needed to survive in this changing world. Besides if the US government pulls this stunt and Canada is left alone then they are just side tracking the problem and creating more problems in the future. If you really want to balance nature then the humans should get out, altogether but that's not going to happen either.

    March 1, 2012 at 2:25 am | Report abuse |
  9. Doowangle

    Oh I'm sorry, have all of mans problems been solved so perfectly that we need to focus attention on this? I just can not believe how unintelligent and ridiculous people have become. This is common sense stuff. Worry about your own problems and let the animals worry about theirs. If your life is so empty that you are unable to connect with people in your own species and you need to be throwing yourself into the problems of the animal kingdom, why even bother living anymore?

    March 1, 2012 at 2:41 am | Report abuse |
  10. Tom118

    The Feds propose killing barred owls to save spotted owls. I ask you: WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG ???

    March 1, 2012 at 2:53 am | Report abuse |
  11. Griff

    "Researchers have also observed instances of barred owls interbreeding with or killing spotted owls."
    How does the barred owl decide whether it wants to interbreed with or kill the little spotted owl? The spotted
    owl is saying "Can't we all just get along?"

    March 1, 2012 at 2:56 am | Report abuse |
  12. Bobby Joe Knows Mo

    “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."

    Sounds like what the Europeans did to all the non-white cultures of the world, especially the native peoples of the Americas....North, Central, and South. White Europeans = Barred Owls....

    March 1, 2012 at 3:04 am | Report abuse |
  13. lsn2me

    the feds brought the wolf to the lower 48, it seems, at great cost to tax payers and at the cost of creating even more pain and suffering for this magnificent animal who does not belong where ranches now exist. this animal, as predicted, is now being shot, trapped and or poisoned and pursued and tracked. wolf season has now opened up in some states. the owls need to be left alone to interbreed, then the best of both genetic endowments will enable the birds to survive. let nature take its course and stop meddling. put the tax payers money into land restoration and rehabilitation.

    March 1, 2012 at 3:11 am | Report abuse |
  14. Burr

    The administration is promoting the killing of barred owls because some random genius in some office in the basement of some building who probably is smoking crack has noted that barred owls are killing spotted owls. Therefore from the 'I'm prissy enough to believe my lack of common sense trumps the course of nature' office an order has gone out to kill these animals..
    Just wait until someone tells said crack smoker that 96% of all life that has been on earth is now gone. This will probably prompt this genius to order the killing of all animals that eat other animals. Hence my decision to become a closet carnivore only. On the plus side at least Mockbama isn't blaming Bush for this one. I would suggest though that he rename the spotted owls 'bush owls' in an effort to convince the American people to be crazy enough to vote him in again.

    And you all wonder why the country is amassing debt in the trillions faster than the spotted owls are falling....

    March 1, 2012 at 3:23 am | Report abuse |
  15. Mietzsche

    Great another thing for the government to control. Leave natural selection alone!

    March 1, 2012 at 3:35 am | Report abuse |
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