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Killing Barred Owls To Save the Spotted Owl

The barred owl may be as much of a threat to spotted owls as the cutting of old growth forest.

Hoo, hoo is really the greatest threat to northern spotted owls? Loggers or barred owls?

Northern spotted owls' populations have plummeted 40 percent in the past 25 years, reported CNN. The owls (Strix occidentalis caurina) became the poster bird for protection of the Pacific Northwest's old growth forests in the 1980 and '90s.

The barred owl (Strix varia) may be as much of a threat to spotted owls as the cutting of old growth forest. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently proposed hunting down the barred owl bullies, but conservationists cried fowl, er, foul and worry the barred owls may be scapegoats.

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Barred owls started encroaching on spotted owls' territory in the 1950s as human activities created habitat corridors leading from their eastern homeland.

"Larger, more aggressive and more adaptable than the northern spotted owl, barred owls are known to displace spotted owls, disrupt their nesting and compete with them for food," according to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service fact sheet. "Researchers have also observed instances of barred owls interbreeding with or killing spotted owls."

The USFWS proposes killing or removing 257 to 8,960 barred owls at up to 11 experimental sites, according to the agency's environmental impact statement. That would be less than half of a percent of the North American population.

"We can't ignore the mounting evidence that competition from barred owls is a major factor in the spotted owl's decline, and we have a clear obligation to do all we can to prevent the spotted owl's extinction and help it rebound," Dan Ashe, director of the USFWS, said in a press release.

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Habitat destruction is a major threat to the spotted owl as well. Protecting and restoring old growth forests is also necessary to protect the owl.

"You can't use the barred owl as a scapegoat," Shawn Cantrell, the Seattle Audubon Society's executive director, told CNN.

"The barred owl has grown as a challenge in the last decade, so we need to figure out what is the level of challenge that the barred owl poses, and what are the appropriate actions we might take concurrent with other things, such as restoring the habitat of the northern spotted owls," Cantrell said.

The USFWS consulted with Cantrell's organization before making its proposal to cull the barred owls.

Photo: A barred owl. Credit: Terren, Wikimedia Commons.