The US Fish and Wildlife Service announced on Tuesday their plan to remove 3,600 barred owls. The experimental plan will be carried out to protect northern spotted owl populations in the Pacific Northwest.
According to the final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) submitted by the Fish and Wildlife Service, a combination of lethal and non-lethal techniques will be used to “remove” the barred owl from four specific locations in California, Oregon and Washington. The service also says they’ll consider the continuation of these removal procedures should they prove effective in pushing the barred owl out of the Pacific Northwest. The service expects to continue removing the barred owls for a minimum of four years before they begin to see any significant results.
“We can’t ignore the mounting evidence that competition from barred owls is a major factor in the northern spotted owl’s decline, along with habitat loss,” said Service Director Dan Ashe in a press statement.
“We are working with our partners to improve forest health and support sustainable economic opportunities for local communities, and this experimental removal will help us determine whether managing the barred owl population also helps recover the northern spotted owl.”
In a 505-page long environmental impact statement, the US Fish and Wildlife Service explains how this lethal and nonlethal removal may look on the ground.
Trained hunters will approach the specific areas where the barred owls have been found to live. Here, the hunters will begin attracting the birds with a recorded call. If the owls respond positively and approach the hunters, they’re instructed to shoot the birds.
“All lethal removal should be done by shotgun of 20 gauge or larger bore, using non-toxic lead substitute (e.g., Hevi-shot) shot,” explains the service in their EIS.
“Lead shot should not be used. Rifles, pistols, or other firearms or methods are not authorized under this protocol. We recommend using a shotgun with a full choke,” according to NBC News.
The barred owls have been encroaching on the territory of the northern spotted owl for nearly 40 years, and according to State Supervisor of the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Office Paul Henson, the two species do not live well together.
“In Washington, where barred owl populations have been present the longest, spotted owl populations have declined at the greatest rate,” said Henson in a statement.
The barred owl is much more aggressive than the spotted owl and eats a wider diet. This means that while food may become scarce for the spotted owl, the barred owl may still have plenty of options. The Fish and Wildlife Service cite studies which have shown strong evidence of barred owls negatively affecting the population of their spotted cousins.
Not everyone is pleased with the plan to kill some 3,600 owls, of course. In a statement to Fox News, Portland, Oregon’s Audubon Society conservation director Bob Sallinger said, “To move forward with killing barred owls without addressing the fundamental cause of spotted owl declines, from our perspective, is not acceptable.”