Plan proposed to cull one owl species to preserve another


A plan to shoot hundreds of thousands of Barred Owls in order to safeguard Northern Spotted Owl has been proposed in the United States.

Northern Spotted Owl, a subspecies of Spotted Owl, is threatened across its small range in the American Northwest and is functionally extinct in the wild in Canada. It has declined by 80% in some areas. Habitat loss, chiefly driven by logging, has greatly reduced numbers – and now the increasing and spreading Barred Owl is providing a further problem.

The plans would see hundreds of thousands of Barred Owls culled over a 30-year period (Steve Bell).

Barred Owl is native to the east coast of America but, since the 1950s, has expanding its range to the north-west. The species is a relentless predator and is bigger, more aggressive and more territorial than Northern Spotted Owl.

As a result, the US Fish and Wildlife Service has suggested culling Barred Owls in Washington and Oregon (Northern Spotted Owl's core range) and to focus on heading off expansion of their range in parts of California where Northern Spotted Owl persists.

Assuming complete implementation of the proposal, an initial cull of 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.

The weapon of choice for the cull would be a large-bore shotgun and night scopes. 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.

Katherine Fitzgerald, Northern Spotted Owl recovery lead for the US Fish and Wildlife Service, said: "Everywhere the spotted owl can live and thrive, Barred Owls can thrive and do even better. They are still invading, and they are not done."