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The Northern Spotted Owl Remains on the Road to Extinction

The Northern Spotted Owl Remains on the Road to Extinction

Northern Spotted Owls have been the butt of anti-environmentalist jokes and arguments for years now. In an attempt to save the species from extinction, the government halted construction projects, which led to job losses. Opponents decried and mocked the Canadian government’s choice to prioritize the big-eyed, bashful birds’ survival over jobs. Bumper stickers appeared reading “Kill a Spotted Owl–Save a Logger” and “I Like Spotted Owls–Fried.” “The listing of the spotted owl as a threatened species led to a virtual ban on logging in many older federal forests, inspiring angry lawsuits and threats of violence by rural loggers against owl advocates,” reports The New York Times.

So after all the hue and cry and sacrifice, today the species should be thriving, right?

Quite the opposite. As few as 10 birds may remain in the wild in southwestern British Columbia, the northern part of the birds’ range. The range extends south to Marin County in northern California.

Public environmental officials blame the failure on another species: the barred owl. Barred owls are bigger than spotted owls, have a broader diet, and are taking over their territory. “‘Barred owls have invaded all spotted owl habitat,’ said Ian Blackburn, the provincial government’s spotted owl recovery co-ordinator.”

The barred owls don’t just take over habitat. They also kill male spotted owls and breed with females, which is rather troubling. So is a keystone of the Canadian government’s grand plan for addressing the problem: to shoot some barred owls dead and relocate others. The government has relocated 73 birds already and authorized the killing of 39 more. And here I thought Canada didn’t have the death penalty.

Shooting one species to save another is not a good long-term plan, some biologists say. More barred owls will move in or be born to take advantage of the favorable habitat. “You would have to shoot barred owls forever” if that were the strategy for saving spotted owls, said a Forest Service biologist.

The other possibility is that the plan will work, and the reduction in the barred owls’ numbers will cascade down through their food chain, affecting their prey as well as other fauna and flora. “The spotted owl is the icon,”¯ the Forest Service biologist said, “but there are a lot of other players in terms of species and protecting biodiversity in these forests.”¯

The government has another trick up its sleeve: a captive-breeding program for spotted owls. Sadly, it is doing less breeding and more killing.

Gwen Barlee of the Wilderness Committee says the program is futile. Of ten spotted owls captured from the wild for the breeding program, seven died. Of three eggs incubated at a breeding facility, two didn’t make it. These are not promising signs for captive breeding, which brings us back to habitat.

The Wilderness Committee managed to obtain government documents about the owls. They reveal what to me is the most shocking part of this sad story: much of the land that the government worked so hard to preserve wasn’t even appropriate habitat for spotted owls.

The biggest problem is that despite government efforts, the spotted owls’ habitat of old-growth trees has continued to shrink. If the spotted owls have nowhere to live, it doesn’t much matter how many barred owls there are hanging around keen on rape and murder or how many captive-bred owls are introduced. The spotted owls will go homeless and hungry. Decades of attempted conservation in Canada will come to naught if the spotted owl dies, as will our confidence that if we just do something, if we raise the money and shout loud enough, we can save an endangered species.

Sometimes there may be nothing we can do.

Related Stories:

Save the Spotted Owl, Shoot a Barred Owl?

Owl Rescue on Peace River: Video

Owl Beats Santa Down the Chimney

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101 comments

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11:31AM PST on Feb 16, 2013

Very sad.

5:21AM PST on Feb 14, 2013

How could this take place?

10:19AM PST on Feb 13, 2013

thanks for sharing

7:39AM PST on Feb 10, 2013

If the logging continues at the same pace,then it will not be long before the barred owl is in the same situation as the northern spotted owl is in now.
Yet another case of $$$ before wildlife.

9:05PM PST on Feb 7, 2013

Hey folks - these are "educated" Canadians making these decisions!! BC is the true "Wild West" and they love shooting animals - even with Municipal support.

Their reputation goes from bad to worse ... only a few days ago they were cutting down numerous trees in an area where eagles nest. One tree which locals attempted to protect actually had a huge nest in it.

Thanks for the article - I will look for the petitions....

10:54AM PST on Feb 7, 2013

Is it impossible to give these loggers some other, less harmful job, or unemployment allowances long enoug to find a new career?
Why do people want to consume so much? If people in cities do so, this makes these loggers want it too: to have more and more.
There is not only a need for new strategies to save the owls and species in danger, but also to change mans so called "needs" which are all too big in societies where advertisements have furnished the minds of people...

3:15AM PST on Feb 6, 2013

Hope someone comes up with an unselfish idea to help the spotted owl, because there will be one.

10:59AM PST on Feb 5, 2013

How sad.......yet another species on the brink of extinction. Once they're gone that's it folks.

6:20AM PST on Feb 5, 2013

Could some wildlife advocacy organization experiment with fake old trees with nesting holes for spotted owls? There must be some way to make up to spotted owls for the damage done to their habitat. And barred owls should be live-trapped and released somewhere else far away rather than killed outright.

2:36PM PST on Feb 4, 2013

Thanks. I don't believe that "nothing can be done." There is always a solution.

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Julie M. Rodriguez Julie M. Rodriguez is an arts, green living, and political writer based in San Mateo, CA. Her work... more
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