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. aviator

    This is OLD NEWS! Most probably don't remember there was a small article by a reseacher, SHORTLY after the TREE HUGGERS killed off 30,000 jobs in the timber industry some years ago that the big owl was killing off the spotted owl. That article was on the back; page for maybe 3 hours before it was quashed! They problably killed the author/researcher or shipped him/her to Afganistan! Heaven forbid the TREE HUGGERS be exposed as 'Job Killers' and their reseach/expertise be proiven to be a hysterical sham!

    March 1, 2012 at 3:51 am | Report abuse |
    • jboo10141

      You mad bro?

      March 1, 2012 at 6:52 am | Report abuse |
  2. tweetybird

    Hey, Dan, pull your head out of your Ashe! Listen to Shawn Cantrell. It's the loss of habitat! Not the owls...like they say, It's the Indian,not the arrow, stupid!

    March 1, 2012 at 4:18 am | Report abuse |
  3. anne

    I am sick and tired of government INTERFERING with EVERYTHING. Gummint decides who should survive (businesses) and who should die (owls)

    WHY ???(novel thought) don't we let NATURE TAKE ITS COURSE AND GUMMINT MYOB!

    March 1, 2012 at 4:24 am | Report abuse |
    • jboo10141

      LOL let "NATURE" take its course? We are the ones who build homes and roads and destroy their habitat. We are also the ones who brought the other owl to the West coast in the first place... how's that "Nature" thing working for you now?

      March 1, 2012 at 6:55 am | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      Well, since we're part of nature too it seems to be working just fine.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:15 am | Report abuse |
    • Rick

      Exactly! The solution may require a bit more thought than is required to poop.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:44 am | Report abuse |
  4. Greg

    Survival of the fittest......let them fight it out!

    March 1, 2012 at 4:57 am | Report abuse |
  5. Katie

    Since when do the feds know what's best for nature. They haven't really set an example, or any for that matter, suggesting they even have a clue!!!! Butt out and let nature do its thing–it's been around much longer than we have.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:21 am | Report abuse |
    • Kay

      I agree with you to a certain extent, what if the barred Owl moved west because of human activities in the east?

      March 1, 2012 at 6:53 am | Report abuse |
    • Lisa

      You are right Katie. The absurdity of the Feds making this decision is laughable were it not for the cruel barbarity of it. I feel for the spotted owl, but there must be another way than shooting or forcing the Barred owls to live in captivity (and you know that's never gonna be the choice when they let a bunch of Feds out there with guns–it'll be a sport to them!). And they say the two types of owls are "in some cases interbreeding" god forbid–this is nature! These things are NORMAL. Mother Nature (like most females frankly) know better how to handle life than a bunch of men with guns and stupid ideas. Can you imagine if the government decided that white people were disappearing because they were interbreeding with too many people of color and the solution was to shoot or jail one of the groups???? Really, is this decision all that different at its root? This country is going down the tubes FAST. I'm moving to New Zealand...
      Can you imagine

      March 1, 2012 at 6:56 am | Report abuse |
    • jboo10141

      Don't talk about topics you don't know anything about. It isn't nature when it is US that causes a species downfall or disappearance. We build the roads, we brought the owl to the West coast. I guess we should also let poachers kill all the whales, elephants, tigers, etc. because hey, we wouldn't want to interfere with "NATURE" now would we?

      March 1, 2012 at 7:02 am | Report abuse |
    • ah292801

      Nature doesn't exist anymore. Can't you read above, all we have is managed wildlife.

      March 1, 2012 at 8:05 am | Report abuse |
  6. Charlie

    Here we go again trying to fix nature when it isn't broke. Let it go, what happens happens. Next thing you know they will be trying to prevent they next ice age.

    March 1, 2012 at 6:20 am | Report abuse |
  7. longtooth

    I've been trying to get a barred owl to nest in my woods in Maine for two years with no luck. Send me one, and I'll give him a house with a view and all the chipmunks he can eat.

    March 1, 2012 at 6:50 am | Report abuse |
    • Lisa

      Can I send my husband to you??? I really don't want him messing up my habitat anymore...

      March 1, 2012 at 6:59 am | Report abuse |
  8. Lisa

    My son and I go on owl prowls to hear the hoot of the barred owl all the time–how will I explain to him the hooting has stopped because the government shot them all.... that'll turn him into a hard line republican years before he's even allowed to vote–and honestly, that would be a tragedy far greater than the barred owl situation...

    March 1, 2012 at 7:02 am | Report abuse |
  9. deb

    We worry about some owls? We are killing millions of babies of abortion a year and that's ok. Get our priorities straight in this country!!!!!

    March 1, 2012 at 7:04 am | Report abuse |
    • evo

      Thank you deb for bringing "PRO LIFE" propoganda to a disscusion about barred owls... I needed my daily dose of crazy today...

      March 1, 2012 at 7:54 am | Report abuse |
    • ah292801

      Thank you evo for calling people who think differently than you "crazy". You are a shining example of diversity and acceptance.

      March 1, 2012 at 8:06 am | Report abuse |
  10. jboo10141

    Wow. 99% of the people in these posts are ignorant morons who talk as though they are experts who know what they're saying. Stop trying to use the "Let nature take its course" excuse. It isn't nature when it is US that build the homes and roads which destroy the habitat. Nor is it nature when WE are they ones who brought the other owl to the West coast, and started destroying its habitat on the East in the first place. You guys talk about Government intrusion, maybe the gov. should round up all the uneducated, uninformed "experts" and have them "removed" for the sake of the future survival of our species.

    March 1, 2012 at 7:09 am | Report abuse |
    • Lisa

      not a good idea. then we would be left with a bunch of gun-toting inbreeder like you....

      March 1, 2012 at 7:10 am | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      Your post was just added to that 99%.
      I'd be willing to bet that's not where you intended it to end up.

      March 1, 2012 at 8:00 am | Report abuse |
  11. Lisa

    how is letting poachers kill anything with human made guns in any way nature? Of course they should be stopped. If it the building of our roads that has forced the barred owl to move west, then it is still nature that must sort this out between the two types of owls. It is just arrogant of us, as usual, to think we know the best way to handle this. Maybe the two owls interbreeding will create a third type that is just spectacular as a species. Owls are wise–maybe they can make some of these decisions instead of us...

    March 1, 2012 at 7:09 am | Report abuse |
    • jboo10141

      Humans are the only animals on the planet capable of completely destroying another species. It is our duty to use that power for good when it comes to the preservation of our planets creatures and resources.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:12 am | Report abuse |
    • jboo10141

      Right... so us building roads which lead to the extinction of a species is nature, but us building guns and using those is not? You're right, that makes perfect sense. I mean in one we are pulling the literal trigger where as in the other its metaphorical... only problem is that ITS STILL A TRIGGER.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:19 am | Report abuse |
  12. mark

    lets move the fish and wildlife service off shore

    March 1, 2012 at 7:11 am | Report abuse |
  13. Houseof4cards

    Has the human race not already demonstrated what a lack of respect for nature already. Since when do we as a society make the right choices for ourselves let alone nature. We need to repair our own race and let nature take its course. Are there not more pressing issues that the government should be looking at?

    March 1, 2012 at 7:18 am | Report abuse |
  14. Al

    The hubris of the human race is astounding. We are part of nature, we are not outsdide it. For the folks who whine and wail over human intrusion into nature, remember that. Natural selection holds for all species, even humans. Can't have it both ways folks. I believe we have a responsibility to care for and use the world around us responsibly, but my definition of 'responsibly' may not be the same, and it appears isnt the same, as many in these posts who would be happier if humans just went away, except for them of course...

    March 1, 2012 at 7:36 am | Report abuse |
  15. MarcSK

    Hopefully this stays as an experiment.

    Funny thing is, if they don't go through it, enviromentalists will still complain.

    March 1, 2012 at 7:46 am | Report abuse |
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