SNOQUALMIE, Wash. — U.S. Fish & Wildlife biologists are proposing a plan to kill one species of owl to save another. That’s raising questions about how much involvement is appropriate when it comes to wildlife.
Residents say the Snoqualmie Valley is not what it used to be. Twenty-five years ago, the major industry in the area was timber.
“They still do some logging here. I still see them running trucks through but not like it was in the past,” says Michael Olson, a resident of North Bend.
Federal restrictions on logging went into effect in the early 1990s, in part to protect the threatened northern spotted owl.
“It was a big blow; people considered it basically the closing blow to the logging industry,” says Dara Ballard, a longtime Snoqualmie resident.
But saving the owl’s habitat has not saved the owls. U.S. Fish and Wildlife says the bird’s population in Western Washington is continuing to decrease at a fairly steep rate. Now they’re blaming the non-native barred owl.
“We have been dealing with the issue of habitat now for 20 or 30 years. We’re now looking at this new threat that reared its head in the last 10 or 12,” says Robin Bown, a biologist with U.S. Fish & Wildlife.
She says barred owls are pushing spotted owls out, because they’re larger and more aggressive. But isn’t that just a case of survival of the fittest.
“It’s possible, but that’s the assumption that this is a natural event,” says Bown. “To do that, you’d have to assume that the barred owl got here on their own.”
She believes people had a part in moving the barred owls in, so Fish & Wildlife is trying to play a part in moving them out.
On Tuesday, they proposed a plan to capture or kill barred owls in four study areas in the Northwest. They want to see if that will help spotted owls re-populate.
“In this case, we’re only proposing an experiment. A fairly small-scale experiment to test if this will even work,” she says. “Our only other alternative is really to sit back and watch the spotted owl go extinct.”
Fish & Wildlife is expected to make a final decision about whether to move forward with the plan in about a month. If it is approved, the experiment would begin in the fall and continue for the next three or four years.