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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announces that it will experiment with killing barred owls in Northwest forests to keep these aggressive birds from crowding out their more genteel cousins, the federally protected northern spotted owls.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Wednesday gingerly announced the outlines of an experiment its scientists want to try. They would kill some barred owls to see if that improves survival of threatened spotted owls.
A researcher who conducted one of the first thorough surveys of both invasive barred owls and native spotted owls found this: barred owls outnumbered spotted owls 5-to-1. Diet and lots of fledglings are helping the barred owl take over.
**UPDATED:** The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has a new plan to dramatically increase protected habitat for the Northwest's dwindling number of spotted owls. The feds are also moving ahead on safeguarding the mild birds by shooting barred owls, their invasive competitors. The agency Wednesday morning released details, including a proposal to set aside almost 14 million acres as critical habitat for the owl.
20 years ago Saturday, the Northern Spotted Owl was put on the Endangered Species list. Scientists at the time were worried the Northern Spotted Owl was on the brink of extinction. But loggers feared those protections would mean the end of their industry. Twenty years later, both the owl and the timber industry are hanging on.
It's been hard to be a spotted owl for a long time. In the decades-long effort to bring spotted owls back from the edge of extinction caused by habitat loss, barred owls have become another threat to their smaller cousins. Now, in four areas in Washington, Oregon and California, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife will be killing barred owls in an effort to protect spotted owls. Barred owls are neither native to Oregon or invasive species like, say, nutria or starlings. Instead, they fit a strange, in-between status as native to North America but very new to the West Coast — arriving in Washington in 1973. The barred and spotted owl are closely related, but barred owls are slightly bigger, much more aggressive and far less picky about both habitat and diet. Now, barred owls occupy all of the spotted owl territory. After four years of study (PDF), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife decided to begin an experimental cull. To look at the ethics of the plan, the agency brought in Bill Lynn, an ethicist and research scientist at the George Perkin Marsh Institute at Clark University in Massachusetts. He says there is no simple solution to this problem. Killing barred owls has ethical problems, but so does not killing them and letting spotted owls be forced out. Whether to cull, how to do it, what lethal ways are ethically best, and what happens to the owl carcasses were just some of the quandaries Lynn raised with the study's barred owl stakeholder group, made up of conservationists, logging employees and government scientists. And the ethical algebra doesn't end here. If the experiment is a success, does that justify expanding the cull and killing thousands more owls to save a smaller number of owls?
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Broken Bells, LCD Soundsystem, Caribou, Bobby Bare Jr., The Long Winters, Vetiver, Local Natives, Patrick Watson and Why? are but a few of the names playing Portland dates this week-- a week that also includes new releases from Peter Wolf Crier, Damien Jurado, Bettye LaVette and Karen Elson, among others. Plus, on the air tonight we're in-studio with Breathe Owl Breathe as the Michigan trio plays new songs from their upcoming album. Join the conversation...