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Not a Hoot: Why U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Could Kill 500,000 Barred Owls

Federal Agency Proposes Shooting 500,000 Barred Owls
Source: MEGA

A spotted owl and a barred owl. The Fish and Wildlife Service proposes a kill of the barred ones to protect the spotted ones.

Jan. 7 2024, Published 11:01 a.m. ET

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A nationwide initiative targeting the reduction of a specific owl species to safeguard two other vulnerable owl populations may soon begin.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently announced they will be holding online discussions in regard to an extensive plan to eliminate over 500,000 barred owls over the next three decades.

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The primary concern behind the initiative is the threat barred owls pose to northern and California spotted owls. The FWS said that the population of the latter two spotted owl species is “rapidly declining due to habitat loss and competition” with barred owls.

The northern spotted owl populations in a variety of study areas have declined in a range of 35% to over 80% over the last two decades, the FWS noted. The California spotted owl faces a similar threat, with barred owls progressively moving southward.

Originally confined to eastern North America, barred owls infiltrated western states' forests in the 1950s, outnumbering northern spotted owls along the Pacific coast, estimated at around 100,000 from northern California to Washington, according to Newsweek.

Barred owls are aggressive birds, and they disrupt the nests of spotted owls and compete for food resources, such as insects, mammals, reptiles and crayfish. FWS Wildlife Biologist Katherine Fitzgerald emphasized that barred owls are still invading and are far from being eradicated.

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The proposed plan outlined in the draft environmental impact statement advocates for the killing of 20,000 barred owls in the initial year, with a subsequent reduction in the annual number thereafter.

The northern spotted owl, already classified as a threatened species, has been a longstanding political issue, with some conservatives accusing the government of prioritizing birds over jobs in the timber industry, according to the Forest History Society.

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However, in a noteworthy shift, the FWS proposed adding the California spotted owl to the endangered list in February. This move has prompted concerns from more liberal thinkers who worry about the government's approach to owl management.

Bob Sallinger of Bird Conservation Oregon acknowledges the scientific rationale behind the proposal but deems it a challenging situation with potentially negative consequences.

Sallinger particularly expressed concern over the suggested hunting strategy, emphasizing that the use of large-bore shotguns could lead to unintended harm. While the FWS recommends bird capture and euthanasia only in close-range encounters, critics argue that the overall strategy may be counterproductive.

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