The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to enlist shooters to kill more than 500,000 barred owls over the next 30 years in the Pacific Northwest to preserve habitat for northern spotted owls, a protected species.
Barred owls are native to the East Coast but since the 1950s have been expanding their range in the Northwest. They are relentless predators who eat anything that moves. They will yank worms from the ground and salamanders out from under rocks. Nail birds on the wing and anything in the water, from fish to snails to crayfish and frogs. Even slugs are on the menu.
They are also bigger, more aggressive and more territorial than the northern spotted owl, posing a threat to their survival as a species, which is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
Now the federal government is detailing a rescue plan.
The goal of a draft environmental impact statement for the agency's barred owl reduction program is to take out the owls in the northern spotted owl's range in Washington and Oregon and to focus on heading off expansion of the barred owl into the range of the California spotted owl.
Assuming complete implementation of the proposal, an initial cull of about 20,000 barred owls would occur in the first year. Then, an annual reduction of 13,397 birds a year in the first decade of the program; 16,303 a year in the second decade and 17,390 birds each year in the third decade, in parts of Washington, Oregon and California — 11 to 14 million acres in all.
The weapon of choice would be a large-bore shotgun and night scopes as needed for work in darkness or low light. When gunfire is too dangerous near people, capture and euthanasia would be substituted.
Any landowner or land manager may ask the agency to let them remove the owls under the agency's protocol, training specifications and permit.
The removal season is recommended during late spring through midsummer and fall. Shooters are directed to lure the owls with a recording of another owl's call. When a barred owl comes within 30 yards and is stationary, they would shoot to kill.
There is not much time left for the northern spotted owl, the agency concluded. Populations in study areas throughout the owl's range have declined from 35% to more than 80% over the past two decades. California spotted owls, which the service proposed for endangered species listing earlier this year, face a similar risk from barred owl competition as it expands southward.
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