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. Charles Darwin

    Owl bail-outs?!?! Textbooks must now be re-written "Survival of the fittest" applies only if your getting bullied.

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

      Are you sure that's what you meant chief? sweet logic

      March 1, 2012 at 8:21 am | Report abuse |
  2. ah292801

    Is it really our plan to manage every species we encounter? We teach evolution and survival of the fittest in school and then subvert it at every chance we get. Species go extinct. Maybe this is evolutions way of telling us the spotted owl's day is over.

    March 1, 2012 at 8:02 am | Report abuse |
    • jim

      Why not? We spend half our GNP fighting the evolution of our own species.

      March 1, 2012 at 8:30 am | Report abuse |
  3. rats live on no evil star

    If the feds are behind this we should (in fact) do the complete and total opposite...however...if the feds want to exterminate or relocate an ILLEGAL invasive species hurting OUR natural enviroment i would be just fine to support that cause. just ranting my appologies...

    March 1, 2012 at 8:04 am | Report abuse |
    • crabman

      why wont the feds start with the invasive illegal species crossing from mexico ????

      March 1, 2012 at 8:24 am | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      First, it's not ILLEGAL. It's from the east coast of the US. It's not like the snakes they're trying to exterminate in the everglades which are from another continent, and even those should be left alone now that they're there.

      Second, if a species goes extinct for reasons not due to man, it's called natural selection, and we as a species shouldn't just assume in our arrogance they we know better than nature.

      Every time we try to eliminate some species or another for the good of all, (the grey wolf) or try to protect one, we usually end up messing it up one way or another and doing more harm than good. We should just leave nature to take care of her own business. If they're meant to go extinct, they will. After all, 99.99 % of all plants and animals that have ever existed on this planet are extinct, and yet the world is still spinning. Imagine that. All those changes, millions of years, with no input from us, and it still works.

      March 1, 2012 at 8:38 am | Report abuse |
  4. HRPufnstuf

    I think they are really the same owl. The barred owl is just a spotted owl whose spots got wet and ran down.

    As for government involvement: a FOUR HUNDRED PAGE environmental impact statement? That says it all, as to the idiocy of this project.

    March 1, 2012 at 8:07 am | Report abuse |
    • Sophie

      Wow, you really have no idea what you're talking about do you? The extinction of one species is huge and takes a huge toll on many other species, you honestly have no idea.

      March 1, 2012 at 8:30 am | Report abuse |
  5. Steve

    I believe Darwin would have something to say about this. you know, the whole natural selection thing....

    March 1, 2012 at 8:08 am | Report abuse |
    • David

      seeing as these owls are not naturally occurring in the west, but migrated there...I fail to see your natural selection.

      March 1, 2012 at 8:31 am | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      They migrated.
      Birds migrate.
      It's natural.

      March 1, 2012 at 8:52 am | Report abuse |
  6. Free Man

    The "Fed's" are now God ??? Tampering with "evolution" ??? Is there ANY LIMIT to where the will poke their nose ???

    March 1, 2012 at 8:09 am | Report abuse |
    • JAANC

      no there isn't, this is crazy.. evolution happens.. something like over 90% of all earth species have gone extinct over the course of the world why do we always feel like we have to get involved, nature can take care of itself, it's sad to see these animals go through this but agree, we need to stand back....

      March 1, 2012 at 8:44 am | Report abuse |
  7. ModVoice

    Stop skrewing with evolution. If the barred owl is the fittest, it should survive.....millions of year of natural selection should not be pushed aside because of misguided and short-sighted "naturalists".

    March 1, 2012 at 8:09 am | Report abuse |
    • Sophie

      Do you understand the impact that one species can have on many others? If one species becomes extinct, it is possible that there will be a huge impact on many other species. Please do not comment if you do not know what you are talking about.

      March 1, 2012 at 8:31 am | Report abuse |
  8. girlfriend

    Seriously!!!! The government is going to kill one so the other can live......kinda scary when you think about it!

    March 1, 2012 at 8:11 am | Report abuse |
  9. GoldFinger

    Can we have the Federal government do this with illegal aliens? After all, they invade territory, interbreed, and kill the native species. Sounds like a perfect comparison?!!

    March 1, 2012 at 8:11 am | Report abuse |
    • Ummmm.....

      Nice touch.

      March 1, 2012 at 8:15 am | Report abuse |
    • Caruso0

      oddly, I am guessing there are a bunch of native Americans out there thinking this legislation is about 150 years too late...

      March 1, 2012 at 8:23 am | Report abuse |
    • hmmm

      Native "species" meaning native americans??? So I guess you are saying the feds should kill everyone else that's here, whites, blacks, asians, etc etc since technically thoses were the 1st illegals.

      March 1, 2012 at 8:30 am | Report abuse |
  10. Annette

    What ever happened to the law of the fittest? I can't believe we (US Government) once again thinks it knows better than nature. The hoot owl has adapted and is clearly the fittest of the owl species. Clearly, the government has gotten too big in this arena.

    March 1, 2012 at 8:12 am | Report abuse |
  11. lehler

    What the? Kill one to save the other? What happened to survival of the fittest? Don't get me wrong, I love critters. Shouldn't the feds me more concerned with illegals from other countries or terrorism or housing for the homeless or food for the hungry?

    March 1, 2012 at 8:12 am | Report abuse |
    • Ummmm.....

      One would think.....

      March 1, 2012 at 8:17 am | Report abuse |
  12. Chuck D

    This is the rampant pseudo-religion of environmentalism/eco-terrorism at its best, not to mention government idiocracy. MORE SPECIES ARE EXTINCT THAN ARE ALIVE TODAY. THIS IS NORMAL. LET THE OWLS LIVE THEIR FRIGGIN LIVES!!! TOO BAD FOR THE SPOTTED ONES!!! We ARROGANT humans think we control everything, OH WHAT AN ILLUSION.

    March 1, 2012 at 8:15 am | Report abuse |
  13. Canopy

    It will likely end up having the reverse effect of what they intend.

    March 1, 2012 at 8:19 am | Report abuse |
  14. Caruso0

    Hmmm...I bet the are some indigenous people all around the world that wish the Feds would have done this when the Europeans were expanding their breeding grounds...perhaps they can legislate some controls in .... Haha....can't say that you would think I am a racist, eliminating one species to protect another, seriously, ...oh wait...owl racisim...nice...

    March 1, 2012 at 8:21 am | Report abuse |
  15. crabman

    this is a real brain fart

    March 1, 2012 at 8:26 am | Report abuse |
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