Will killing Barred Owls help Spotted Owls?

10/22/2013 | 0

Northern Spotted Owl. Photo by Shane Jeffries/U.S. Forest Service (Creative Commons)

Northern Spotted Owl. Photo by Shane Jeffries/U.S. Forest Service (Creative Commons)

In an experimental effort to stem the decline of the Northern Spotted Owl in the Pacific Northwest, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will kill as many as 3,600 Barred Owls over the next four years. A handful may also be trapped and placed in permanent captivity with zoos or other facilities.

As we reported in the cover story of our October 2012 issue (“A Time to Kill?”), Barred Owl is native to eastern North America and moved into Spotted Owl’s range about 50 years ago. Barred is larger, more aggressive, and more adaptable than Spotted and is one reason for the decades-long drop in Spotted populations.

Because Northern Spotted Owl is listed as federally threatened, FWS studied several alternatives for dealing with Barred Owl. Options ranged from doing nothing to removing a few hundred to nearly 9,000 Barred Owls.

This summer, FWS officials announced a plan to remove Barred Owls on federally managed land in four areas: northeast of Eureka, California; in southern Oregon; along Oregon’s coastal mountains; and east of Seattle, Washington. Removals should begin next year.

FWS says each of the four areas has different patterns of use by the two species.

“The Cle Elum Study Area in Washington,” the service writes, “has a long history of Barred Owl presence, high Barred Owl density, low Spotted Owl site occupancy, and a declining Spotted Owl population trend. The combined Oregon Coast Ranges and Veneta Study Area has some of the highest known densities of Barred Owls, but a shorter history of high Barred Owl populations and greater Spotted Owl site occupancy. Spotted Owl population trends have been declining on this area, though not as steeply as on the Cle Elum Study Area.

“The Union/Myrtle (Klamath) Study Area (in southern Oregon) has a more recent and lower Barred Owl population. This area is also the northernmost portion of the Klamath Physiographic Province range where dusky-footed woodrats become a major component of the Spotted Owl’s diet. This may result in different habitat use patterns for Spotted Owls. The Hoopa (Willow Creek) Study Area (in California) is the most recently invaded, has lower Barred Owl densities, and higher Spotted Owl site occupancy, yet has shown recent declines in Spotted Owl nesting and site occupancy coincident with a rapidly increasing Barred Owl population.”

In addition, the Hoopa (Willow Creek) Study Area includes the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation as an area where Barred Owls could be removed. FWS said the Hoopa Valley Tribe supports the experimental removal of Barred Owls due to the cultural significance of the Spotted Owl on its lands.

The agency’s 505-page environmental impact statement establishes a detailed protocol for killing Barred Owls. Among the requirements: Adult owls with dependent young cannot be removed so that juveniles are not orphaned, and Barred Owls cannot be targeted within 300 yards of an active Spotted Owl nest.

FWS also said it would capture owls when feasible for placement in zoos or other facilities. “Our initial overtures to zoos and zoological parks resulted in interest in placing only five individual Barred Owls,” FWS said. “However, we will continue to pursue opportunities to place Barred Owls, but given the expense, difficulty, and type of facility needed, we do not anticipate being able to place a large number of individuals.”

Biologists plan to study whether Spotted Owls rebound in the four areas; if so, Barred Owl removal could become a management tool across the Pacific Northwest.

 

A version of this article appeared in our December 2013 issue.