Controversial Plan to Save Spotted Owls Involves Killing Barred Owls on the West Coast

Controversial Plan to Save Spotted Owls Involves Killing Barred Owls on the West Coast

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposes a plan to save the endangered spotted owl by killing nearly 450,000 barred owls over three decades. The strategy sparks debate among conservationists and wildlife advocates.

Bollywood Fever: To prevent the potential extinction of the imperiled spotted owl, U.S. wildlife officials have adopted a controversial plan to deploy trained shooters into dense West Coast forests to eliminate almost half a million barred owls. This strategy, released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Wednesday, aims to support declining spotted owl populations in Oregon, Washington state, and California.

The Plan and Its Details

According to documents obtained by the Associated Press, the plan involves shooting up to 450,000 barred owls over three decades. These birds, originally from the eastern U.S., have invaded the habitats of the northern and California spotted owls on the West Coast. The smaller spotted owls have struggled to compete with the larger broods and lower space requirements of the barred owls.

Previous Efforts and Current Challenges

Past conservation efforts focused on protecting the forests where spotted owls live, leading to disputes over logging but successfully slowing the birds’ decline. However, the recent proliferation of barred owls threatens to undo this progress.

“Without actively managing barred owls, northern spotted owls will likely go extinct in all or the majority of their range, despite decades of collaborative conservation efforts,” stated Kessina Lee, the Fish and Wildlife Service Oregon state supervisor.

Controversial Plan to Save Spotted Owls Involves Killing Barred Owls on the West Coast
AP Photo

Divided Opinions Among Conservationists

The plan to kill one bird species to save another has divided wildlife advocates and conservationists, drawing parallels to past government efforts to protect West Coast salmon and warblers by killing their predators.

Wayne Pacelle, founder of Animal Wellness Action, criticized the plan, saying, “The Fish and Wildlife Service is turning from protector of wildlife to persecutor of wildlife.” He doubted the program’s success, predicting that more barred owls would migrate into the vacated areas.

Implementation and Expected Impact

The shootings are expected to begin next spring. Barred owls would be lured using recorded owl calls and shot with shotguns, with their carcasses buried on-site. Approximately 4,500 barred owls have already been removed from some spotted owl habitats since 2009.

Steve Holmer, Vice President of the American Bird Conservancy, supports the plan, noting that reducing barred owl numbers could help spotted owls coexist with them in the long term. The killings would reduce North American barred owl numbers by less than 1% annually, compared to the potential extinction of spotted owls if no action is taken.

Broader Ecological Considerations

Removing barred owls could also benefit other West Coast species preyed upon by them, such as salamanders and crayfish, according to Tom Wheeler, director of the Environmental Protection Information Center.

Public hunting of barred owls will not be allowed. The wildlife service will designate government agencies, landowners, American Indian tribes, or companies to carry out the killings. Shooters must provide documentation of their training and experience in owl identification and firearm skills.

Public Input and Final Decision

A final environmental study on the proposal will be published soon, opening a 30-day comment period before a final decision is made. This plan follows decades of conflict between conservationists and the timber industry over the preservation of older forests where spotted owls reside.

The Bigger Picture

Spotted owl populations have continued to decline since barred owls began appearing on the West Coast several decades ago. At least half of the spotted owl population has been lost, with declines of 75% or more in some study areas. Opponents of the mass killing argue that it could disrupt forest ecosystems and lead to mistaken shootings of spotted owls.

Barred owls moved westward through either the Great Plains, where trees planted by settlers provided new habitats, or via Canada’s boreal forests, which have become more hospitable due to climate change.

Northern spotted owls are federally protected as a threatened species, and in 2020, their status was considered for an upgrade to “endangered.” However, the Fish and Wildlife Service deferred the upgrade, citing priorities for other species. California spotted owls were proposed for federal protection last year, with a decision pending.

Habitat protections for spotted owls, stripped under former President Donald Trump, were reinstated under President Joe Biden after it was determined that Trump’s appointees relied on faulty science to weaken protections.

Final Words

The proposed plan to save spotted owls by culling barred owls highlights the complexities and ethical dilemmas of wildlife conservation. As the public weighs in and the final decision approaches, the debate underscores the ongoing struggle to balance ecological preservation with practical intervention strategies.

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Pooja Chauhan

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