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. johnny57

    Save the spotted Owls!! We need to preserve the species!

    March 1, 2012 at 8:32 am | Report abuse |
    • MacdaddyOH

      Would it be easier to relocate the spotted owl if their numbers are fewer? Their territory is pretty large. Killing the owl and reducing the numbers is a poor idea. It's hard to understand the people who come up with these suggestions. All their doing is preserving their employment, justifying their existance at the cost of such an amazing creature.

      March 1, 2012 at 9:20 am | Report abuse |
  2. factface

    America, World and Animal Kingdom Police... Unbelievable, but then again, not really.

    March 1, 2012 at 8:37 am | Report abuse |
  3. Pia

    Why do I hate scientists when all they can do is destroy nature? You are not saving jack sh. You are killing perfectly healthy animals.

    March 1, 2012 at 8:40 am | Report abuse |
    • Just!ne

      Exactly! I don't see the sense in committing genocide like this. Let nature takes its course!

      March 1, 2012 at 8:42 am | Report abuse |
  4. tom landry

    This will be another failed test and we will end up losing all the barred owls. Because the feds are !diots

    March 1, 2012 at 8:40 am | Report abuse |
    • Josh

      Haha, not a chance. Barred owls are everywhere.

      March 1, 2012 at 8:57 am | Report abuse |
  5. wth?

    Just how much tax payer money, time and effort was spent on studying how one specie with a strong instinct to adapt and survive is muscling out another? This is the natural order of things. We've meddled here before (does the timber wolf come to mind?). Killing one specie to save the other should NOT be an option. I don't want to deprive any Fish & Wildlife person from a job but lets get serious... given the state of the economy, infrastructure, etc. not to mention the number of people living at or below the poverty level in our country, various diseases, and on & on... couldn't these resources (millions+) be spent in a way that would have a more positive impact on the lives of ummm people?

    March 1, 2012 at 8:41 am | Report abuse |
    • Lybilly

      Exactly – this is ridiculous. When will we realize we cannot control everything. How absurd to kill one species over another. Perhaps mother nature has a different plan in mind. I am tired of my tax money goig to these types of "studies". Look how mismanaged the BLM mustang fiasco is. The government herds hundreds of wild horses using helicopters and other inhumane methods to "thin" out the herd for the ranchers......

      March 1, 2012 at 8:51 am | Report abuse |
    • POWMIA

      Every study alternative costs more than $1,100/ bird and the most expensive one costs more than $6,000/ bird

      March 1, 2012 at 9:39 am | Report abuse |
  6. Yenots11

    What happened to natural selection? Let the stronger species win. We just can't leave well enough alone. Have to always be meddling in nature. These stupid birds are interbreeding anyway....evolution anyone? How do you think it happens?

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

    Every Race. We ALL originated in Africa and migrated from there. Everyone on the American continent is an immigrant. The only true natives are Africans living in Africa.

    March 1, 2012 at 8:47 am | Report abuse |
  8. MJ36

    Humans can be so stupid! let life follow its curse! everytime we get in the middle, we always end up making things worse. I wonder who had this great idea! MAybe they should try the same experiment with humans??? there are many people out there that do not serve any purpose in society that should be removed from out habitat!

    March 1, 2012 at 8:47 am | Report abuse |
  9. Rangehound

    Ridiculous. Nature has always been about survival of the fittest. Leave natural order alone and spend our taxpayer money on people.

    March 1, 2012 at 8:50 am | Report abuse |
  10. MBurke

    Give's Sarah Palin something else to shoot.
    Killing healthy owls is NOT the answer.

    March 1, 2012 at 8:52 am | Report abuse |
  11. YourTaxMoneyAtWork

    THIS IS WHAT OUR TAX MONEY IS BEING SPENT FOR: Interfering with natural evolution, survival of the fittest. No wonder the federal budget is so screwed up.

    March 1, 2012 at 8:54 am | Report abuse |
  12. sithmaster

    Feds screw up everything they touch.

    March 1, 2012 at 8:55 am | Report abuse |
  13. AviTrap(dot)com

    Why don't they humanely trap and release them with my trap? It would totally work.

    March 1, 2012 at 8:55 am | Report abuse |
  14. RoundThemUp

    Too bad we don't use the same tactics on illegal immigrants. We're already attracting them with free education for their children, free health care, free welfare. We should collect them with nets and other trapping devices and transfer them back to their natural habitat.

    March 1, 2012 at 8:56 am | Report abuse |
  15. humtake

    Why can't anyone ever let nature happen? Heck, all we need to do now is put one of these owls in a vegetative state and keep it alive and all of the people who try to be God would have a heart attack.

    March 1, 2012 at 8:56 am | Report abuse |
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