US Wildlife Agency To Kill 3603 Barred Owls In Pacific Northwest; Bird Competes For Resources With Threatened Northern Spotted Owl

By iScienceTimes Staff on July 24, 2013 11:57 AM EDT

Barred owl
3,603 barred owls will be killed or removed from four areas of the Pacific Northwest, if the US Fish and Wildlife Agency goes ahead with its proposed plan. (Photo: Flickr: ralphandjenny)

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to slaughter or capture 3,603 barred owls this fall, the agency announced in a press release yesterday.  

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The reason for the killing of the barred owls is that they compete for food and habitat with northern spotted owls, a threatened species. Barred owls are larger and more aggressive than northern spotted owls, and are "the most pressing threats to the northern spotted owl," according to the USFWS.

"We can't ignore the mounting evidence that competition from barred owls is a major factor in the northern spotted owl's decline, along with habitat loss," said Service Director Dan Ashe in the USFSW press release. "We are working with our partners to improve forest health and support sustainable economic opportunities for local communities, and this experimental removal will help us determine whether managing the barred owl population also helps."

Unsurprisingly, animal activists aren't happy with the owl-killing plan, not only because it plans for killing cute owls, but because they say nature should dictate which owl thrives in the environment.

The USFWS, though, is more interested in seeing both barred owls and northern spotted owls flourish, even if that means drastic action like reducing the barred owl population somewhat.

"We observed that as the number of barred owls detected in historical spotted owl territories increases, the number of spotted owls decreases," said Paul Henson, State Supervisor of the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Office, in the USFSW press release. "In Washington, where barred owl populations have been present the longest, spotted owl populations have declined at the greatest rate."

The USFWS, realizing the touchiness of the issue, even brought in an environmental ethicist to help them make their decision. The head of the barred owl project, Robin Bown, a wildlife service biologist, isn't surprised that not everyone will agree with the decision the USFWS arrived at, but says it's the only way.

"Some people will tell us it's OK to let them go extinct; we don't feel we can do that," Bown said. "We feel very strongly we have to deal with issues driving the northern spotted owl to extinction."

The USFWS's "limited experimental removal" of the barred owls is planned for the areas of Cle Elum in Washington; part of the combined Oregon Coast Ranges and Veneta, in northern Oregon; the Union/Myrtle area of southern Oregon; and in Hoopa, or Willow Creek, in northern California.

The USFWS will issue its final decision on whether to go ahead with the barred owl removal plan in 30 days. 

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