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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.
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 Northern Spotted Owl is getting a new level of protection across hundreds of miles of its range. The new Critical Habitat map is drawing praise from environmentalists and condemnation from the timber industry.
Wildlife officials are taking a new look at the status of the threatened northern spotted owl. Despite decades of efforts to save the species, it could soon be considered endangered.
**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.
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?