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. Darwin

    One animal displacing another is the process nature put in place. Assisting the Spotted Owl due to man's (who is also a animal) affects on it is one thing, but to kill another animal to stop completely the natural selection process is beyond reason.

    March 1, 2012 at 8:57 am | Report abuse |
    • Phil in Oregon

      Typical govt foot-dragging. This has been a problem for 5 or 6 years now, and they need to put on some cajones and do what is needed. All 'wildlife' is being managed now anyway.

      March 1, 2012 at 9:22 am | Report abuse |
  2. Canadian Jack

    Can they cross bread? If they can hybridization of species insures their survival.

    March 1, 2012 at 8:57 am | Report abuse |
    • MikeAinFL

      Actually, interbreeding probably insures extinction.

      March 1, 2012 at 9:11 am | Report abuse |
  3. tara

    I think we should just let nature take its course. I'm not really against capturing and relocating some owls but shooting them just to save some others is wrong and sad.

    March 1, 2012 at 9:02 am | Report abuse |
  4. serdich

    Biggest BS Ive read in a long time...species come and go..we don't have to save them all..as a matter of fact 90% of the species who inhabited Earth are now extinct. it is time for the spotted owl to disappear..but no we humans are going to play god again and decide who lives and who dies.

    March 1, 2012 at 9:03 am | Report abuse |
  5. Karen C. Martin

    That seems to be the U.S. answer to everything . . . just kill it, dam it, frack it, you name it, if it's destructive to nature, we'll do it. Mother Nature is going to have the last laugh, though, no doubt about it . . .

    March 1, 2012 at 9:04 am | Report abuse |
  6. nutz

    It's obviously NOT about the owls. No spotted owls = nothing stopping logging companies from moving in. That appears to be the real reason. I bet Big Timber is thrilled at what the Barred Owls are doing while the naturalists who have jobs centered around spotted owls are freaking out.

    March 1, 2012 at 9:09 am | Report abuse |
  7. Tis

    ... I really do advise that the us gov. keep their noses out of nature's business for once. This is just... Pointless.

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

    @Lise: Definitely agree, but I can't really say whether this is a good idea or not without more information. The government should be funding research that test different models, sees what other influences both owls have on the ecosystem, before making a decision. Unfortunately, when do they really pay attention to research?

    It's kind of interesting that you mentioned Native Americans, haha... Europeans colonizing America really showed all the signs of destructive invasive species: strong dispersers, competing for space and resources, introducing disease. It's so funny how we think that ecology and population dynamics have nothing to do with us, while in fact we see the results all the time!

    March 1, 2012 at 9:12 am | Report abuse |
  9. dumbest animal-Human

    Yet another case of a complete disregard and disrespect for Nature's course. I wish that when the apes first started to turn bipeds and later turn to early humans, somebody had shot down the humans because they were encroaching on primate habitat. Would have been just one such case instead this nonsense every other day. Ironically, I read yesterday about scientists planning to recreate long extinct species such as the Mammoths! Come on humans just live YOUR lives.

    March 1, 2012 at 9:15 am | Report abuse |
  10. Jordan

    The Federal Government doing something against all reason in the name of "fairness"... same old song. Intentionally KILLING part of a species to artificially preserve another species that is weaker and "less adaptable" than the former: did anyone in the government actually take a biology or ecology course, or even watch NatGeo or Discovery?

    March 1, 2012 at 9:16 am | Report abuse |
  11. Shannon

    Please transfer and don't kill. I am all for doing out best to save species that are threatened. After all, our encroachment of their habitats has a lot to do with their struggle. However, I don't think killing animals that are simply trying to survive is the answer.

    March 1, 2012 at 9:18 am | Report abuse |
  12. Itreallydoesntmatterwhatwethink

    Let's see what happens if I push this button. Mmmmmm, and this one. Almost everything has unintended consequences.

    March 1, 2012 at 9:20 am | Report abuse |
  13. Jim

    Really?? Shooting and killing is listed as the first experiment option? The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has a destructive track record of killing first and studying the results later. Bravo with another great game plan.

    March 1, 2012 at 9:20 am | Report abuse |
  14. Chris HOnry

    I think we should let nature take it's course in Iraq, Afghanistan, between Iran and Israel too. Seriously.

    March 1, 2012 at 9:21 am | Report abuse |
  15. Ironhouse

    Somehow we still haven't learned that nature does what nature wants.

    March 1, 2012 at 9:22 am | Report abuse |
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