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Wildlife Officials Consider Killing Barred Owls to Save Spotted Owls

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Federal wildlife officials are exploring a plan to shoot thousands of barred owls in Northern California, Washington and Oregon in an effort to protect another species of owl: the threatened northern spotted owl.

Shane Jeffries/USFWS/Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/usfwsendsp/5038896657

Northern spotted owls are native to the old growth forests of the Pacific Northwest. (Shane Jeffries/USFWS/Flickr)

Spotted owls have been in decline for decades, mainly due to the logging of their old growth habitat. But even now with protections and programs to help restore them, they’re not bouncing back. Scientists say part of the problem is the barred owl.

KQED’s Lauren Sommer explained the conflict in a previous story:

Barred owls are an invasive species, originally from the Eastern US. They first arrived in spotted owl territory in Washington and have been moving south down the coast – which makes this owl the frontline of the invasion.

“The barred owl is a little larger. It’s a little more aggressive. And so in other areas where you have barred owls set up, the spotted owls aren’t there anymore,” says Merkle.

Barred owls take over spotted owl territory and in some cases, even attack them. In places like western Washington, the spotted owl population has been cut in half since the barred owl showed up.

Biologists at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service say they explored several plans to help the spotted owl population, but they decided the best plan was to try killing about 3,600 barred owls in four study areas.

Ray Bosch/USFWS/Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/52133016@N08/6780655554/in/photolist-bkbCEo-bkbCBo-bkbCKb-dqX7U4

Barred owls are originally from the East Coast, but have moved out West. (Ray Bosch/USFWS/Flickr)

“Every year we wait is another year the spotted owls are declining,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist Robin Bown. While the federal agency is understandably reluctant to pursue a strategy of hunting the barred owls, Bown says their proposal is the most effective plan.

The agency will make a final decision on the plan in a month, and owls hunts could begin this fall.

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Category: Biology, News

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About the Author ()

Mike Osborne is currently finishing his PhD at Stanford where he studies climate change in the tropical Pacific. In his research he uses coral-based records (similar to tree rings) to examine El Nino and La Nina cycles over the past few centuries. Mike also created and co-produces the Generation Anthropocene podcast which features interviews and stories covering a wide range of 21st Century global change issues. He loves travel and is always looking for a reason to be outside.
  • Maggie Rufo

    This made me ill when I heard it! First of all, the USFWS how can I count the ways they are NOT protecting our birds??? Second, I know that biologists look at populations and not individuals, BUT, the cause of the decline in Spotted Owls is all human-related! The Barred Owls are just exploiting our clear cuts to move westward! And third, birds can FLY people! Shooting the owls in a territory opens NEW territory for next set of Barred Owls to move into. Finally: CRUELTY TO ANIMALS! what the hell? How can a person who has pledged to protect animals and joined the USFWS sleep at night? Oh wait, I bet they will use the experts on animal cruelty: USDA Wildlife “Services.” Oh, I can’t even count all the ways this is wrong.

    There is an answer! Stop clear cutting old growth forests, and do more conservation of the Spotted Owls! They are doing well in Marin and Sonoma Counties! Barred Owls have invaded Muir Woods, but Spotted are being found in more and more places that aren’t even old growth forest!
    This is NOT good science and I wish you had presented some represention of other opinions on this and also a link for people to make public comments to the USFWS.