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Feds plan to kill barred owl in the Northwest

U.S. Fish & Wildlife biologists are proposing a plan to kill the non-native barred owl in the Pacific Northwest to try to save the native and diminishing northern spotted owl. That’s raising questions about how much involvement is appropriate when it comes to wildlife.

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owlSEATTLE — It’s a case of killing one forest creature to save another.

Federal agents with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service say they’ll kill and capture barred owls in the forests around Cle Elum so they can study how that will affect the spotted owl population.  According to Robin Bown, lead biologist for the project, Cle Elum was chosen over the Olympic Mountains, due to the lack of forest roads on the Olympic Peninsula.

“Any removal on the Cle Elum study area would not occur until fall of 2014,” Bown says.  “All removal will be done by highly trained biologists hired for the study.”

In northern California, the removal of barred owls could start as early as this fall, about 55 miles northeast of Eureka.  Killing a barred owl is illegal outside of the study, since they are federally-protected birds.

The Fish and Wildlife Service says people building homes deeper and deeper into the wilderness has pushed barred owls into spotted owl territory, making them the biggest threat to the federally endangered species.  Researchers hope their work will help them know if reducing barred owl populations will help spotted owl numbers recover.

More details about the study will likely be released sometime next summer.


Feds’ plan: Killing one owl species to try to save another

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.


Photo of northern spotted owl, courtesy of USFWS

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.