US advances plan to kill barred owls in Northwest

Jul 24, 2013 by Jeff Barnard

(AP)—Federal wildlife officials plan to dispatch armed bird specialists into forests of the Pacific Northwest starting this fall to shoot one species of owl to protect another that is threatened with extinction.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Tuesday released a final environmental review of an experiment to see if killing barred owls will allow northern spotted owls to reclaim territory they've been driven out of over the past half-century.

The agency has been evaluating the idea since 2009, gathering public comment and consulting ethicists, focus groups and scientific studies. It will issue a final decision on the plan in a month.

"If we don't manage barred owls, the probability of recovering the spotted owl goes down significantly," said Paul Henson, Oregon state supervisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department.

The agency's preferred course of action calls for killing 3,603 barred owls in four study areas in Oregon, Washington and Northern California over the next four years.

Neither the timber industry nor the Audubon Society was pleased with it.

"Shooting a few isolated areas of barred owl isn't going to help us as forest managers, nor is it going to help the forest be protected from wildfires, and catastrophic wildfire is one of the big impediments to spotted owl recovery," said Tom Partin, president of the American Forest Resource Council, a timber industry group.

Bob Sallinger, conservation director for the Audubon Society of Portland, said saving the spotted owl is of paramount importance, but the focus must remain on protecting habitat.

"To move forward with killing barred owls without addressing the fundamental cause of spotted owl declines, from our perspective, is not acceptable," he said.

Henson said the Northwest Forest Plan, which cut logging by 90 percent on national forests in the 1990s, has done a good job of providing habitat for the spotted owl. But the owls' numbers have continued to slide.

Henson said unless barred owls are brought under control, the spotted owl in coming decades might disappear from Washington's northern Cascade Range and Oregon's Coast Range, where the barred owl incursion has been greatest.

The idea of killing one type of owl to protect another underscores a fragile balance of nature that biologists have struggled with for years.

Between 2000 and 2006, wildlife officials captured and removed more than 40 golden eagles from the Channel Islands off Southern California to protect the island fox. They also hired a company to kill 5,000 feral pigs on Santa Cruz in a controversial program to restore the island's ecosystem.

In Oregon, officials have used lethal injections to kill selected California sea lions that feast on protected salmon in the Columbia River. And in Yosemite National Park, saving bighorn sheep has meant hunting protected mountain lions.

The northern spotted owl is an icon of bitter disputes between the timber industry and environmentalists over the use of Northwest forests. Because of its dwindling numbers, the little bird was listed as a threatened species in 1990, which resulted in logging cutbacks and lawsuits.

Barred owls are bigger, more aggressive and less picky about food. They started working their way across the Great Plains in the early 1900s, and by 1959 were in British Columbia. Barred owls now cover the spotted owl's range, in some places outnumbering them as much as 5-to-1.

The Fish and Wildlife Service's proposal calls for a combination of killing and capturing barred owls. But capturing owls is far more expensive and difficult. And the agency has found only five zoos or other facilities willing to take a barred owl if it's captured, said Robin Bown, the wildlife biologist in charge of the evaluation.

Henson said the service has yet to work out details of how barred owls will be killed, whether by government hunters from the U.S. Agriculture Department's Wildlife Services, or by contract hunters.

The favored method involves luring the birds with a recording of a barred owl call, then shooting them with a shotgun when they fly in to drive out the intruders.

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zorro6204
3.3 / 5 (13) Jul 24, 2013
This is about the dumbest thing I can imagine. One species of bird is doing better than another? Fine, that's called evolution. Why are we trying to freeze the clock? Sure, human activity has had a negative impact in the forests, but some animals apparently can adjust. Great, they win. End of story.
Eikka
3.2 / 5 (11) Jul 24, 2013
Why are we trying to freeze the clock?


It's the Gaia hypothesis speaking.

The idea of killing one type of owl to protect another underscores a fragile balance of nature that biologists have struggled with for years.


The idea that you have to preserve species is a result of the idea that nature has this balanced feedback system that specifically attempts to maintain homeostasis and actually succeeds in it. In this "religion", humans are seen as an exemption to the rule and we alone are not allowed to change anything in the fear of breaking Gaia.

Which is why we have to keep resucitating dead-end species as well as the ones that we kill.
krundoloss
2.8 / 5 (9) Jul 24, 2013
You are right, zorro. Natural selection at work, we should not play god and say "Well if we didnt cut down the forests the sweet little owls would be ok." Well there is a tougher owl that can handle it, and naturally, thats the one that will survive. How will owls get getter if we keep rescuing the weak ones!
ChuckG
2.6 / 5 (5) Jul 24, 2013
In balance, had some earlier official decided to eliminate introduced Himalayan blackberry and Scotch broom from the Pacific Northwest, we'd probably be better for it. Southerners could probably say the same thing about kudzu.

I can see the point of this. Barred owls are an introduced species, just like the English ivy that now plagues the Northwest.
ksh
2.7 / 5 (7) Jul 24, 2013
Killing much of the employment by banning logging to save the spotted owl obviously did nothing positive for man or beast. We can't cut trees but we can kill other birds. Why not install wind turbines so they can kill the barred owls. At least you have something green (electricity) in the end.
zaxxon451
2.2 / 5 (6) Jul 24, 2013


The idea that you have to preserve species is a result of the idea that nature has this balanced feedback system that specifically attempts to maintain homeostasis and actually succeeds in it. In this "religion", humans are seen as an exemption to the rule and we alone are not allowed to change anything in the fear of breaking Gaia.


Humans are the only species capable of destroying the entire planet. And our economic policies are doing a good job of it so far. So yes, we should be the exception.
ryggesogn2
1.9 / 5 (17) Jul 24, 2013
'Preserving the earth' is a secular humanist commandment. The reason SHs assert there is no God is because THEY want to be god.
nowhere
5 / 5 (5) Jul 25, 2013
'Preserving the earth' is a secular humanist commandment.

Preserving one's "life boat" is more about common sense than commandment. Unfortunately SH don't have the luxury of passing their responsibilities onto magical beings/beliefs.

The reason SHs assert there is no God is because THEY want to be god.

So the lack of evidence of God(s) is just a coincidence?
Eikka
1.8 / 5 (5) Jul 26, 2013
Humans are the only species capable of destroying the entire planet.


Define "destroying".

E.g. the oxygen crisis caused by the evolution of cyanobacteria was in a sense a planet-killing event. Most life got wiped out by a few dickhead species of bacteria who decided to photosynthesize for their energy and make a byproduct gas that was poisonous to everyone else and caused global cooling.

Nothing we can actually do will destroy this planet in any meaningful sense.
zaxxon451
3 / 5 (2) Jul 26, 2013

Define "destroying".


Your example falls under my definition, but I don't think the bacteria "decided" anything. A small group of wealthy humans have decided to plunder the planet at the expense of other humans and other species. This is an unnatural process that evolution cannot keep up with. But perhaps human "intelligence" is being selected against. It's certainly not obvious that it is an advantage to survival in the long run.
ryggesogn2
1.7 / 5 (12) Jul 26, 2013
This is an unnatural process

What is unnatural about it?
Humans are not outside of nature.
zaxxon451
3 / 5 (2) Jul 27, 2013
Humans are not outside of nature.


No, but I consider many of our inventions and applications of those inventions very unnatural.
Sinister1811
1.9 / 5 (17) Jul 27, 2013
Nothing we can actually do will destroy this planet in any meaningful sense.


Are you serious? And what if they decided to drop a giant atomic bomb in the pacific tomorrow? That wouldn't destroy the planet in any meaningful sense, would it? Ridiculous.
Sinister1811
2.3 / 5 (16) Jul 27, 2013
The idea that you have to preserve species is a result of the idea that nature has this balanced feedback system that specifically attempts to maintain homeostasis and actually succeeds in it.


And nature does have a balanced feedback system. If it didn't, it wouldn't exist in the first place. After the K-T extinction and the Great Dying, it took evolution millions of years to replace extinct species. It didn't just happen overnight.
Kiwini
1 / 5 (8) Jul 27, 2013
Nothing we can actually do will destroy this planet in any meaningful sense.


Are you serious? And what if they decided to drop a giant atomic bomb in the pacific tomorrow? That wouldn't destroy the planet in any meaningful sense, would it? Ridiculous.


Yes, and along with serious, it's a demonstrably true statement.

Remember this?... http://en.wikiped...b_crater That event was far greater than anything we can do, yet by the earth's standards it was about as troubling as a stubbed toe.

Dropping "a giant atomic bomb in the middle of the Pacific" would be a real problem for the entire Pacific rim, but a few centuries later there'd no longer be any easily visible evidence.

Just because an event results in problems for people, don't think that the earth cares one bit about us. We can neither "destroy" nor "save" the planet, but we can choose to not make things worse than they already are, and that means using facts instead of emotions.
Sinister1811
2.3 / 5 (12) Jul 27, 2013
This is less about emotion and more about today's attitudes of apathy and ignorance. Lets throw rubbish in the ocean, lets chop down acres of forest, lets kill off rhinos for their ivory etc. The k-t extinction wasnt preventable. Humans have nuclear weapons today that rival that asteroid and could sterilise the Earth for thousands of years. Also, I don't know about you, but concrete, smog and oil soaked beaches doesn't seem like paradise.
Captain Stumpy
1.5 / 5 (12) Jul 28, 2013
I am not sure I can trust U.S. Fish and Wildlife.... in my neck of the woods, they decided to "control" the outbreak of rodents (of all types) by dropping almost 500,000 poisonous snakes, some being a rattle snake that is NOT indigenous to the area. within eight months, they then went ahead with their previously scheduled controlled burns.
now, I know snakes eat rodents, but the black, king and hognose is better than dropping a snot-load of poisonous rattle-snakes! then the burn drove them out into the surrounding countryside, and most did not return! our local hospitals were inundated with snake bites and our deaths rocketed! most were children and elderly.
in my neck of the woods, we had roundups and large bar-b-que's of rattlesnake. we've been threatened with fines or imprisonment if we are caught killing these poisonous snakes.
logic, huh? now they want to hunt owls.... WTF?!? is there Anyone else that can do a better job? actually, ANYONE else will do!
ink boy
5 / 5 (1) Jul 28, 2013
The question I'd like answered is: How are the spotted owls more important to the ecology than the barred owl? From a non-expert on the subject, it seems to me that one type of owl plays a very similar role in a given ecology as another owl. There are of course some differences but how much of a difference is there between the two owls to constitute killing one to save the other?