The Obama Administration’s New Plan to Protect Spotted Owls

The Obama administration has established a plan to shoot barred owls in an attempt to promote the survival of spotted owls, whose population has been on the decline for the past 25 years. The controversial plan also involves allowing logging in areas designated as critical habitat for the spotted owl in an attempt to reduce wildfire and create job opportunities.

The spotted owl is a passive, nocturnal, woodland owl found in the Pacific Northwest including northern California and parts of southern British Columbia.  Spotted owls range in height from 18 to 19 inches on average and are known to hunt flying squirrels, wood rats, mice, and other small rodents.  Spotted owls prefer to reside in old-growth coniferous forests with high tree canopies that allow the owls to openly fly between and underneath the trees. 

The spotted owl is considered to be a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and “near threatened” under the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.  Threats to the spotted owl population include habitat destruction, climate change, and competition by the barred owl.  Logging and forest fragmentation of large tracts of old-growth coniferous forests have caused habitat loss for the Spotted Owl and has also garnered the owl much publicity due to the loss of tens of thousands of jobs.  Climate change could also affect the spotted owl by creating unfavorable weather conditions that could cause an increase in forest fire and insect outbreaks in the old-growth coniferous forests the spotted owl calls its home.  In addition, there has been an increase of barred owl populations which has resulted in the competition for habitat.  Given the barred owl’s more aggressive nature, the spotted owl has a decreased chance of survival in its fight to maintain its habitat.  Furthermore, barred owls are known to breed with spotted owls resulting in hybridisation.

President Obama and his administration have set forth a plan to remove hundreds of selected barred owls using both lethal and nonlethal methods in order to protect the spotted owl’s forest habitat.  These methods include shooting the targeted barred owls or capturing and relocating them, and/or placing them in captivity.  The new plan will affect millions of acres of national, state, and private forest land in Washington, Oregon, and California.  Fish and Wildlife Service director Dan Ashe believes that targeting barred owls will help to save spotted owls from extinction given evidence that barred owls are causing the decline in spotted owl populations.  However, Eric Forsman, a scientist for the U.S. Forest Service, believes that killing barred owls would make little difference, stating, “there are not enough shotguns,” and that it would be similar to trying to wipe-out coyotes.

However, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service state that the plan will be carefully directed and will rely heavily on science.  They also stated that their approach will focus on increasing food sources for the spotted owl and managing forest fires that lead to the destruction of their habitats.  In addition, an experiment reducing the population of barred owls on private land in northern California has proven to show desired results.  Furthermore, because logging will now be permitted in areas designated as critical habitat, there will be an increase in jobs. 

For 90 days, the Interior Department will be accepting comments on the new plan. To learn more about spotted owls and to see how you can help, please visit http://www.conservationnw.org/wildlife-habitat/northern-spotted-owl.

Photo credit: votefordavid.blogspot.com/2009_08_01_archive.html

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