Environment
8:40 am
Fri July 1, 2011

Update: Shooting spotted owl's rival won't work, expert laments

A new plan released yesterday for saving the northern spotted owl is taking aim – maybe literally – at a rival bird.

Federal agency leaders said Thursday the spotted owl is losing out to a bigger, more aggressive invader from the eastern United States, the barred owl.

However, one biologist whose research led to the listing of the spotted owl believes shooting and other measures to control the barred owl are too little too late.  Because, he lamented, the spotted owl's population has shrunk over the last 15 years in spite of conservation efforts. (Interactive map inside)

Population decline mapped

A new population analysis estimates that the Northern Spotted Owl population is declining by an average of 3 percent every year. The study found apparent declining survival rates for Spotted Owls in 10 of 11 study areas across the Pacific Northwest.

Owl populations in Washington and Northwest Oregon appeared to decline 40% to 60% over the last 15 years. Slower population declines were also observed in parts of Northern California and the Central Oregon Cascades.

Data in this map was provided by Dr. Eric Forsman and excerpted from the manuscript “Population Demography of Northern Spotted Owls” which is in press at the California University Press.

To see the data, click on the map bubbles:

The barred owl dilemma

Competition from the barred owl is now considered the most pressing threat to the spotted owl, which relies on remnant old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest.

Federal officials have talked about shooting some of the barred owls, which are not in jeopardy of extinction. But the new plan doesn't settle on a specific way to control them.

Too little too late

Eric Forsman, a biologist with the U.S. Forest Service, says the invasion of the barred owl has thrown a monkey wrench into the owl recovery plan.

“It’s pretty frustrating.  You know, early on we thought if we just did a good job of managing habitat for the species, everything would work out.”

But, the barred owl’s rapid move from the east coast into the entire Pacific Northwest has made recovery of the spotted owl much more difficult. Forsman says the population boom is so big, he doesn’t think any kind of elimination program would be practical.

“I think in terms of the barred owl, the genie’s out of the bottle and there’ s not much we can do to put it back in.”

He thinks in the long term, the best they can do is to preserve as much forest as possible, and let the chips fall where they may.

Check out KPLU’s Bellamy Pailthorp’s story on the recovery plan the controversy surrounding it.