Jul 29 2013

Will They Kill 3,600 Barred Owls?

Published by at 7:30 am under Birds of Prey,Musings & News

Barred Owl (photo by Chuck Tague)

A troubling plan slipped under the radar of Easterners who care about barred owls and native birds.

In the Pacific Northwest, northern spotted owls have been listed as threatened since 1990 under the Endangered Species Act.  The number one cause for their decline is the logging of old-growth forest.  The logging stopped in the national forests in 1991 but the spotted owl continues to decline, especially in smaller forest tracts.

Barred owls are distant relatives of the northern spotted owl.  They formerly lived only east of the Great Plains but for 100 years they have slowly spread north and west and now inhabit the Pacific Northwest as well.

In recent years biologists studying spotted owls noticed the spotteds declined in zones where barreds increased, so U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed killing barred owls as an experiment to see if this helps the northern spotted owl.

The proposal, published in March 2012 as a Draft Environmental Impact Statement, included a public comment period.  We may not have noticed the proposal but westerners saw and commented.

The comments were overwhelmingly negative from “Don’t do it!” to “This is stupid!” to an excellent letter by biologist Elizabeth Ellis who has studied northern spotted owl populations and pointed out the flaws in the proposal including the lack of barred owl population studies (it is threatened in parts of its range!), unknown human contribution — if any — to the barred owl’s range movement, the fact that the proposal tracts where barred owls have gained a foothold are known to be too small to adequately protect the northern spotted owl, and the wisdom of using limited management funds to kill an unstudied species.

If I’d had a chance to comment I would have said…  (stepping up on my soapbox)…

Humans directly caused the disappearance of 90% of the Pacific Northwest old growth forest. When species are going extinct because of our actions we have a choice:  Do we cut down the last 10% of the forest or stop logging?  We can control the things that humans do, however…

We cannot control the rest of Nature.  Humans did not actively introduce the barred owl.  We don’t fully know why it arrived.  It is hubris to think we can control what’s happening by killing it.

The barred owl is so closely related to the northern spotted owl that the two can interbreed. The barred owl may be adding strong genes that the spotted owls need to survive.  Interbreeding is anathema to species purists but it’s how nature works.  Would we cull blue-winged warblers because they interbreed with and seem to out-compete the less abundant golden-winged warbler?  Culling native birds to protect a favorite species is a dangerous precedent.

The Pacific Northwest is not an isolated island so barred owls will continue to naturally arrive in the northern spotted owl’s territory.  If the proposed experiment works the culling will have to continue as long as humans have the stomach and the money to do it.

I could go on and on…

At this point it is up to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to decide whether to go forward with their plan.  I hope they drop it like a hot potato!

(stepping down from my soapbox…)

Thanks for listening.

Click here for information from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife website on their plan to kill 3,600 barred owls in the Pacific Northwest.

(barred owl in Florida, photo by Chuck Tague)

10 responses so far

10 Responses to “Will They Kill 3,600 Barred Owls?”

  1. Drewon 29 Jul 2013 at 8:19 am

    I think you are missing the important part of it. It is an experiment. This would then give them conclusive data on whether Barred Owl culls will or won’t help the Spotted Owls. What is another legitimate way to try to save the Spotted Owl?

    To do nothing is irresponsible and figuring out experimentally what the causes of Spotted Owl declines is crucial to saving them.

  2. William Parkeron 29 Jul 2013 at 8:52 am

    Is “wildlife management” an oxymoron?

  3. Steve-oon 29 Jul 2013 at 9:40 am

    From what I have read about this, the plan is to remove 3600 Barred Owls from the Spotted Owls’ range. Killing them was only one of the methods to remove the owls. And the Barred Owls aren’t native to the area, they are an invasive species. but as Drew said, this is only an experiment to see what will happen. Maybe nothing can save the Spotted Owls in the Pacific NW.

  4. bhanceyon 29 Jul 2013 at 10:21 am

    This photo reminded me — do we have any word on the Green Tree falcons yet? That is one group of humans helping nature, yes?

  5. Kate St. Johnon 29 Jul 2013 at 10:22 am

    bhancey, I’ll put that answer on the Green Tree blog post here

  6. George Bercikon 29 Jul 2013 at 11:11 am

    Yes Bill, it is. Nature is,and has never been, a snapshot in time. It has always been a dynamic enterprise,subject to countless altering influences. When does wildlife cease to be truly wildlife after “management” ?

  7. Kate St. Johnon 29 Jul 2013 at 11:53 am

    Some responses to Drew & Steve-o. This is understandably a controversial topic. I am answering from my own perspective, my personal opinion.

    Lethal/Non-lethal: In the final plan killing is the preferred method because it is impractical to trap 3,600 owls and there’s not enough habitat to absorb them elsewhere.

    Experiment: Yes it’s an experiment but it is irresponsible to conduct a *lethal* experiment when that animal has not been studied. From what I’ve read, that work has not been done. The barred owl population has not been studied. The cause for their arrival in spotted owl territory has not been determined. Without this knowledge we cannot hope to understand and truly manage what’s going on.

    Further questions:

    * Is there something *we* are doing indirectly (such as logging nearby or allowing hikers, camping & roads) that makes the spotted owl reserves less effective for the spotted owl and appealing to the barred owl? We should find that out & change our own behavior before killing others.

    * What if female barred owls are disproportionately killed? (Very likely, as only the females incubate.) Will lonely male barred owls mate with female northern spotted owls and increase the ratio of interbreeding? (probably.) Now who do you kill?

    * Ethical: If the experiment is successful barred owls will have to be killed forever until the forest becomes old-growth or the spotted owl changes habitats. If the experiment is unsuccessful, or if we manage-by-death and end the management strategy some time later so that nature ultimately takes its course (very likely on our part), thousands of barred owls will have died unnecessarily.

    It is one thing to change our own actions to end harm to the spotted owl. It is a completely different thing to kill a native species because we screwed up. The price to “save” the spotted owl is too high if we systematically kill its cousin to save it.

  8. Steve-oon 29 Jul 2013 at 11:59 am

    What if they just collected Barred Owl eggs for a few years without having any hatch?

  9. Kate St. Johnon 29 Jul 2013 at 12:07 pm

    Steve-o, too late for that. The final EIS at http://www.fws.gov/oregonfwo/species/data/northernspottedowl/BarredOwl/Documents/Final_EIS.pdf wants to remove adult owls. It also says:

    “All action alternatives include the same experimental approach. Each study area is divided into two comparable portions; barred owls are removed from the treatment area and left in the control area. All areas are surveyed for spotted and barred owls. Spotted owl population data is compared between the control and treatment areas to determine if removal of barred owls in the treatment area resulted in a significant change in spotted owl population dynamics.

    “The experiment will run until sufficient information is gathered to determine the effects of the removal of barred owls on spotted owl population trends. The experiment will begin as soon as possible, and results will be reviewed annually to determine when data are sufficient to answer the research questions. Removal activities will end when data are sufficient to meet the purpose and need. We set a maximum duration of 10 years of barred owl removal for the experiment. If the experiment has not provided enough information to reach a conclusion within 10 years,it is likely that removal of barred owls is not achieving the desired goal, thus other avenues should be considered and the experiment ended. “

  10. CarrolltonOhon 29 Jul 2013 at 6:04 pm

    Well, why not experiment on this:

    Use the wild Barred owls as foster for Spotted owls…Perhaps some of the fostered Spotted would adopt the habits (habitats of the Barred parents..no one is killed and yet the same monies to remove Barred in a lethal manor, would be spent on a breeding/fostering program.

    Oh…but maybe that “could” be too easy…. Like Kate Said…it’s too late…

    Gee… I wonder how nature survived… before being “managed”!!
    Now cows…pigs… and other domestic critters…That is management!! LOL..

    Off my soapbox too Now…!!

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