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One owl horning in on another

Scripps Howard News Service July 6, 2011
Bill Merkle presses a button on his remote control, and the “ooh ooh ahoo” of an adult barred owl spills out of a black speaker and ricochets through the canyon at the heart of Muir Woods in California. Moments later, three fluffy fledgling barred owls alight nearby and start screeching for food.

Visitors to the Marin County redwood grove stop to snap photos, awed at seeing the football-size raptors during daylight hours.

But Merkle, a wildlife ecologist for the National Park Service, isn’t quite as pleased. After elbowing native northern spotted owls out of Washington, Oregon and other parts of Northern California, invasive barred owls have gained a critical foothold in Muir Woods, the southernmost domain of its imperiled spotted cousin.

As in other cases where newcomers displace indigenous species, federal wildlife regulators on the West Coast are struggling with how to manage this new threat to ensure that the underdog doesn’t die out.

Not extirpating owls

“ We’re not talking about extirpating the barred owls,” said Robin Bown, biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Portland, Ore. “But our hope is that we can create a niche for the spotted owls that they can protect and that the barred owls don’t use.”

This fall, Bown’s agency will lay out a plan to eliminate barred owls from a handful of spotted owl territories to study whether the spotted owls rebound. But there’s a catch. One of the potential removal methods involves shooting the barred owls. In scientific parlance, it’s called “onsite lethal removal.”

The study sites and number of owls to be removed haven’t been decided yet, Bown said. The agency will also evaluate the “do nothing" option as well as a capture-and-release program.


Owl plan hinges on killing rival
Spotted owls not recovering; may be linked to barred owl

Herald and News July 1, 2011

PORTLAND (AP) — The federal government on Thursday unveiled the latest version of its plan to save the northern spotted owl, while acknowledging that the Pacific Northwest bird’s population is declining faster than scientists had previously thought.

T he plan g ingerly approaches the idea that government would experiment with shooting a rival bird, the barred owl. Some scientists say that species from the eastern U.S. has followed Americans westward over the decades and is now shoving the spotted owl aside.

The spotted owl is a smaller, meeker bird that was listed as threatened in 1990 because the old-growth forests it inhabits have been largely logged over.

Now the bird is losing out to the barred owl in remnant old-growth stands, federal officials said Thursday.

“This is the pressing short-term threat to the spotted owl,” said Robyn Thorson , northwest regional director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Although estimates of spotted owl numbers are considered inexact, ranging from a few thousand to 10,000, Thorson said studies of sample populations show them declining at an annual rate of 3 percent.

The barred owl is not in jeopardy and is instead expanding its range into California.

The plan that Thorson and other federal agency managers unveiled Thursday is the Obama administration’s attempt to find a lasting balance between saving the spotted owl from extinction and allowing logging on Northwest national forests — something neither the Clinton nor Bush administrations could do.

AP file photo

A spotted owl perches inside the Tahoe National Forest in California.


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