Shoot an owl to save an owl.

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KimPossible's picture
Joined: 05/24/06
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Shoot an owl to save an owl.

Since we've been heavy on politics and social issues, lets do a science and nature related debate.

I posted on the General Discussion thread about the Barred Owl thats been hanging around my house these last few weeks. Its rekindled my old love for owls and I've been doing a lot of reading since we've first seen her in our backyard.

Essentially, barred owls are taking over territory out west where the endangered spotted owls live and experts fear the extinction of the spotted owl. As a solution, they are trying to control the population of barred owls by shooting them. Relocating them is not a possibility because it takes too long to catch them.

What do you think? Is this an acceptable way to manage wildilife and their habitats? Is it a reasonable thing to do or is the end of one species at the hands of another species (other than humans) something we should just learn to accept and stop meddling so much? Even if it means culturally beloved animals like the spotted owl may not exist anymore. Alternatively, have we messed up our natural habitats so much that we are obligated to try to 'fix' this whatever way possible. Is barred owls taking over this territory our fault for destroying so much of their original territory?

To Save Threatened Owl, Another Species Is Shot : NPR

In desperation to save the rare northern spotted owl, biologists are doing something that goes against their core ? shooting another owl that's rapidly taking over spotted owl territory across the northwest.

"If we don't do it, what we're essentially doing, in my view, is dooming the spotted owl to extinction," says Lowell Diller, senior biologist for Green Diamond, a timber company.

The decision to shoot the more aggressive barred owls has been wrenching for biologists and the federal government. But one of the biologists says the consequence of not stepping in would be so dire that it justifies what he calls this Sophie's Choice.

This barred owl was removed in October from California's Hoopa Valley reservation. The barred owl is a species that threatens spotted owl recovery.i
This barred owl was removed in October from California's Hoopa Valley reservation. The barred owl is a species that threatens spotted owl recovery.

Courtesy of Lowell V. Diller
A few decades ago, the plight of the spotted owl sparked an epic struggle between environmentalists and the timber industry. In 1990, the federal government put the spotted owl on the endangered species list, giving it a "threatened" designation. Protecting the bird, and the old growth forests where they nest, accelerated the decline of the logging industry in the northwest.

At the time, small numbers of the bigger barred owls, which are native to the east, had already made their way across the continent and into historic spotted owl turf. Now, they are outcompeting spotted owls ? disrupting their nesting and eating their food.

During the 1990s, a few barred owls showed up in an area of forest along Redwood Creek that was prime spotted owl territory. Barred owls, which reproduce much faster than spotted owls, now claim nearly all this territory. No spotted owls have nested in this stretch of forest in recent years.

"It's very upsetting and there's nothing that's going to stop this expansion of barred owls from continuing," says Diller, who has studied spotted owls for 25 years. The only feasible solution, Diller says, forces him to go against his nature.

"I Hate It Every Time I Go Out And Do It"

In the forest along Redwood Creek, Diller plays a recording of a barred owl, and soon a pair of real barred owls starts hooting. Barred owls are aggressively territorial ? the birds are trying to intimidate what they think is another owl intruding on their turf.

The female buzzes past. Then she perches in plain view, a tactic meant to ward off interlopers that puts the birds in shooting range.

"I think you can appreciate, standing here, how easy it would be ? and when I say easy, I mean technically easy or simple ? to lethally remove that bird," Diller says.

Diller's a hunter, but he was taught never to kill a bird of prey or anything you didn't plan to eat. At first, someone else did the shooting. But, he says, this felt hypocritical, so he started doing it himself.

Diller recalls the first time he took a shot. "I was so nervous about what I was doing, and emotional, that I had to steady myself against a tree."

Over the past five years, Diller has killed more than 70 barred owls with a shotgun. Each time, he says, it felt "totally wrong."

"I hate it every time I go out and do it," he says.

Removing barred owls without killing them is not feasible, he says. He calculates it takes more than 40 hours to catch a live barred owl ? compared to about two hours to shoot and collect one. Finding new homes for the barred owl would also be time-consuming and traumatic for the birds.

Guns, dogs and owl-calling decoys are used in efforts to remove barred owls. The dogs are valuable in recovering fallen owls, especially at night.i
Guns, dogs and owl-calling decoys are used in efforts to remove barred owls. The dogs are valuable in recovering fallen owls, especially at night.

Courtesy of Lowell V. Diller
Shoot To Save, Or Leave It To Nature?

Barred owls are not rare. Still, shooting them has presented such a quandary to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that it has taken more than seven years come to this solution.

Although the agency made an exception for Diller, it's illegal to shoot barred owls, under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

On the other hand, the Fish and Wildlife Service can't ignore the invasion because it's legally required to help rare species under the Endangered Species Act. The agency even hired an ethicist, Clark University's Bill Lynn, to help wildlife experts resolve the dilemma.

"People recognized there's a crisis for the spotted owl, that barred owls are part of the cause of that crisis and, so, they reluctantly, essentially justified the experimental removal of barred owls," Lynn says.

The Fish and Wildlife Service is starting a four-year experiment to kill up to 3,600 barred owls in the northwest.

The birds will be removed from four different forests, two in Northern California, one in Oregon and one in Washington. Some birds will be captured but not killed.

The federal government says if spotted owls come back after barred owls are removed, it may decide to kill barred owls over a broader area.

An advocacy group, Friends of Animals, is suing to stop the experiment.

The group doesn't believe the government can make a moral argument for shooting an animal, even if it would benefit another animal.

"To go in and say we're going to kill thousands and thousands of barred owls, literally forever, I don't see that as being a solution. At some point you have to allow these species to either figure out a way to coexist or for nature to run its course," says Michael Harris, legal director of Friends of Animals.

But Diller argues this is an "absurd thing to say" after all the ways humans have altered nature. People cut down most of the forests that used to host barred owls. They made lots of changes to the Great Plains, which he believes helped the barred owl move across the continent.

So, he says, people should at least try to save the spotted owl. And nearly everywhere he shot barred owls, he says, spotted owls came back ? and had owlets too.

The Reward

Along the Mad River, Diller scrambles through a young redwood forest to track down a pair of spotted owls. He feeds them mice so he can see the bands on their legs. The polka dot markings tells him the owl settled here in 2009, after he shot barred owls nearby.

For Diller, seeing rare spotted owls thrive in this forest is success worth the agony of shooting barred owls.

"Probably what makes spotted owls so special is the fact that as you just witnessed, they fly right up to you," Diller says. "You get to interact with them. It's almost impossible as a biologist not to fall in love with these birds ? they're just the neatest animal."

Diller hopes the public also will see the value in saving this beautiful creature.

And just for fun. The owl came back yesterday too and I was able to get another great picture that I've added below, that again, all my FB friends have already seen. Sorry! I latch onto an interest and i just can't let go! I just love her! (him..her, don't really know) While i'm undecided about this controversy as a whole, i'm glad that this particular owl can live safely in my backyard!

GloriaInTX's picture
Joined: 07/29/08
Posts: 4114

From growing up in Montana I know that you absolutely have to manage the population of the wildlife. Every year they calculate how many tags to sell for hunters for antelope, deer, elk, mountain goats, sheep, etc. If they don't manage the numbers the land cannot support them and they starve to death, especially through the winter. I remember one year when the population was too high followed by a hard winter and record numbers of deer starved to death.

KimPossible's picture
Joined: 05/24/06
Posts: 3312

"GloriaInTX" wrote:

From growing up in Montana I know that you absolutely have to manage the population of the wildlife. Every year they calculate how many tags to sell for hunters for antelope, deer, elk, mountain goats, sheep, etc. If they don't manage the numbers the land cannot support them and they starve to death, especially through the winter. I remember one year when the population was too high followed by a hard winter and record numbers of deer starved to death.

But that is a different issue than this one. If left alone, this species would overtake the area and the other one would naturally die out. The are not shooting barred owls because they would otherwise starve to death. This is a matter of us choosing one species over another.

But as an aside, the matter of shooting animals vs. letting them starve to death for population control also doesn't seem open and closed to me. Starvation is mother nature's population control..and i think it could be argued that mother nature knows better than we do. I mean do we think that animals in places that are not so heavily monitored by humans dont' ever deal with over population? When they do...how does that population become manageable again, because many of them starve to death.

When it comes to animals like deer however, over population in havily enough populated areas becomes a safety issue. Its bad enough trying to avoid hitting deer around here as it is, with an over population it would be even worse. I hit one just a few months ago. I would not think its appropriate to manage ALL populations of animals by humans deciding how many to kill.

GloriaInTX's picture
Joined: 07/29/08
Posts: 4114

Aren't we part of mother nature too? Why should an animal starve to death if we could be eating it? They don't just shoot them and leave them laying there.

KimPossible's picture
Joined: 05/24/06
Posts: 3312

"GloriaInTX" wrote:

Aren't we part of mother nature too? Why should an animal starve to death if we could be eating it? They don't just shoot them and leave them laying there.

Well for one, because we like to think we know whats best or what the right amount is....but like i said, i think mother nature knows better. Really i don't have an issue with it for animals we would naturally hunt anyway and will be used for food, or can cause serious safety problems.

Also killing animals with the specific purpose of trying to control their population is artificial population control, not natural....so we shouldn't pretend that us trying to decided how many should exist in any given area is anyting natural or has anything to do with mother nature's ways.

But again, this isn't even the issue the article is about anyway.

GloriaInTX's picture
Joined: 07/29/08
Posts: 4114

Well I guess if mother nature knows best then let the spotted owls die out. But it is impossible for man not to have an effect on nature, look at the Africanized bees and Fire Ants that are doing pretty much the same thing as these owls. Whether we do something or don't do something, either way it is going to have an effect on what happens.

mom3girls's picture
Joined: 01/09/07
Posts: 1535

This is an issue near and dear to me, as I have seen almost all industry die off around me due to the spotted owl. It has been 20+ years of trying to save the species. Unfortunately at every turn something has threatened the species. At first logging all "old growth" timber was banned when it was learned that the owls would not adapt and live in younger trees. Then the bark beetle came in a decimated the old growth timber, and the owls did adapt somewhat. Now the bark beetle is killing off younger trees as well, so the spotted owl population took a hit again. Then the trees that had died due to the beetle set up a record breaking fire season, causing the spotted owl numbers to drop again. Now they are threatened by the Barred owl.

In speaking to my brother who's degree is in forestry management, and my friends husband who is a fish and wildlife biologist, I really think they need to stop killing owls and take a more hands off approach. The 2 guys really feel like the human management of the spotted owl issue all those years ago when it started caused a lot of unforeseen consequences that may have done more harm to the owl population.

GloriaInTX's picture
Joined: 07/29/08
Posts: 4114

It completely destroyed the industry in the town where my brother lives too. Between that and the environmentalists trying to save trees the lumber mill where he worked eventually just gave up and shut down for good. It's sad that they pushed plastic for so long to save trees, and now they have decided that it is better to use paper than plastic.

AlyssaEimers's picture
Joined: 08/22/06
Posts: 6560

While I think they are beautiful, I do not think they are so important that they should supersede everything else. It is important to make sure that there is a good balance and to make sure the things they eat (such as bugs and small animals) are not over run by their absence.

I do think with deer it is important to keep the population under control. My parents have 180 acres. In the begining they limited the hunting to only themselves because they did not want any hunting accidents on their property. Now they let more people come in (still only people they know) because the deer population is so high. The people that give out hunting tags have given them extra special tags that they can give out to people that will hunt on their property to work on how over populated it is.

Spacers's picture
Joined: 12/29/03
Posts: 4100

The barred owl is moving west because of humans. That's the only reason. We're moving into its territory so it's moving out. So I do think we should be responsible for trying to protect the native species of the areas it moves into, or at least try to maintain a balance between the two, because it's 100% our fault the native species is in this danger. OTOH, while the barred owl is thriving in the new places it's found, the spotted owl is NOT thriving here even though it's not only the native species, it has also been protected in many, many ways for many, many years prior to the barred owl's arrival -- and it's STILL barely hanging on. Is the spotted owl just doomed, or does it just need more time? At this point, I'm open to giving the spotted owl more time by keeping the barred owls under control, but I'm also open to changing my mind about it in a few years' time.

"mom3girls" wrote:

At first logging all "old growth" timber was banned when it was learned that the owls would not adapt and live in younger trees.

The old growth forests were protected because they are a precious, historical, and spectacular natural resource that can never be replaced, and that effort began over a hundred years ago -- long before the spotted owl became endangered. Spotted owls can, and do, live in younger trees if there isn't an older tree available.

Sempervirens Fund | Preserving Redwood Forests Since 1900 since 1900
Mission and History | Save the Redwoods League since 1918
About the Sierra Club since 1892

mom3girls's picture
Joined: 01/09/07
Posts: 1535

"Spacers" wrote:

The barred owl is moving west because of humans. That's the only reason. We're moving into its territory so it's moving out. So I do think we should be responsible for trying to protect the native species of the areas it moves into, or at least try to maintain a balance between the two, because it's 100% our fault the native species is in this danger. OTOH, while the barred owl is thriving in the new places it's found, the spotted owl is NOT thriving here even though it's not only the native species, it has also been protected in many, many ways for many, many years prior to the barred owl's arrival -- and it's STILL barely hanging on. Is the spotted owl just doomed, or does it just need more time? At this point, I'm open to giving the spotted owl more time by keeping the barred owls under control, but I'm also open to changing my mind about it in a few years' time.

The old growth forests were protected because they are a precious, historical, and spectacular natural resource that can never be replaced, and that effort began over a hundred years ago -- long before the spotted owl became endangered. Spotted owls can, and do, live in younger trees if there isn't an older tree available.

Sempervirens Fund | Preserving Redwood Forests Since 1900 since 1900
Mission and History | Save the Redwoods League since 1918
About the Sierra Club since 1892

I am not talking about the giant redwoods. I am talking about trees that are a lot more local to me

AlyssaEimers's picture
Joined: 08/22/06
Posts: 6560

"Spacers" wrote:

The barred owl is moving west because of humans. That's the only reason. We're moving into its territory so it's moving out. So I do think we should be responsible for trying to protect the native species of the areas it moves into, or at least try to maintain a balance between the two, because it's 100% our fault the native species is in this danger. OTOH, while the barred owl is thriving in the new places it's found, the spotted owl is NOT thriving here even though it's not only the native species, it has also been protected in many, many ways for many, many years prior to the barred owl's arrival -- and it's STILL barely hanging on. Is the spotted owl just doomed, or does it just need more time? At this point, I'm open to giving the spotted owl more time by keeping the barred owls under control, but I'm also open to changing my mind about it in a few years' time.

It seems to me that in a survival of the fittest situation, that the week will die out and the strong will replace it. Now as I said if their absence is causing problems we should intervene, but saving the original owls should not in my opinion be the end all importance.

Spacers's picture
Joined: 12/29/03
Posts: 4100

I don't think the "survival of the fittest" argument should apply when humans created the situation. If the barred owls had been moving slowly westward for the last 100 years and just now finally got to spotted owl territory, it would be a completely different situation. It's not. They are moving because humans have destroyed their homes. Everyone wants a big house on a big lot in the suburbs so we plow under more trees to build them, and then we wonder where all the owls went, or complain when the mountain lions are still there. If humans had practiced more restraint (ha!) and more careful suburban planning, we wouldn't be having this debate because the barred owls seemed very happy where they were. We know that because they hadn't begun migrating until very recently.

Spacers's picture
Joined: 12/29/03
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"mom3girls" wrote:

I am not talking about the giant redwoods. I am talking about trees that are a lot more local to me

Well, since the spotted owl's range is the Pacific Coast and into mainland Mexico, I figured you were talking about either redwoods or sequoias, both of which are covered in that list. I'm not aware of any old growth forests in Arizona or New Mexico.

AlyssaEimers's picture
Joined: 08/22/06
Posts: 6560

"Spacers" wrote:

I don't think the "survival of the fittest" argument should apply when humans created the situation. If the barred owls had been moving slowly westward for the last 100 years and just now finally got to spotted owl territory, it would be a completely different situation. It's not. They are moving because humans have destroyed their homes. Everyone wants a big house on a big lot in the suburbs so we plow under more trees to build them, and then we wonder where all the owls went, or complain when the mountain lions are still there. If humans had practiced more restraint (ha!) and more careful suburban planning, we wouldn't be having this debate because the barred owls seemed very happy where they were. We know that because they hadn't begun migrating until very recently.

Recently we were at the TN Aquarium. There was a diving demonstration with the sharks. The audience was able to ask the divers questions through a microphone. One of the questions asked was what were the sharks predators. The diver answered that only humans were. In the natural scheme of things, humans are going to be some animals predators. I am not going to feel bad about hunting to eat or cutting down trees to build houses. Because an owl is pretty to look at, but it is not going to be enough of a reason for me to want someone sleeping out on the street because there are not enough houses for people to sleep in.

Spacers's picture
Joined: 12/29/03
Posts: 4100

Oh come on, Bonita, you're making a too-broad leap from "the natural scheme of things" to equate homeless on the streets with the spotted owls. There are currently enough empty houses in the U.S. to shelter the entire population of Great Britain. And I'm guessing most of those homeless probably couldn't afford a suburban home in barred owl's range anyway. And there are a lot of better things, environmentally speaking, to build a house from than trees, and there are better ways to build communities that preserve green flyways and provide nesting areas. Those things just need to become important to us as a society. They haven't been, and that's why the barred owl has headed west.

There is a situation in the Farallon Islands, which is a protected marine sanctuary, where some mice got onto the island from someone's boat, and they are now devastating the native wildlife that have no natural protection against them. Are you saying we should just let all those beautiful sea birds and the other island animals die to extinction because the mice are the "stronger" species? The mice are only there because of humans. We absolutely should be protecting the native species even though it is weaker in this given situation, because WE MADE the situation. The mice couldn't have swum out there! I see the barred owl vs. spotted owl the same way right now. We made the problem, we need to fix it. As I said, maybe in a few more years, I'll change my mind because the spotted owl doesn't seem to be taking all the chances it's being given.

mom3girls's picture
Joined: 01/09/07
Posts: 1535

"Spacers" wrote:

Well, since the spotted owl's range is the Pacific Coast and into mainland Mexico, I figured you were talking about either redwoods or sequoias, both of which are covered in that list. I'm not aware of any old growth forests in Arizona or New Mexico.

The owl is actually a lot farther inland, about 3 hours off the coast, they like a lot drier climate.

AlyssaEimers's picture
Joined: 08/22/06
Posts: 6560

"Spacers" wrote:

Oh come on, Bonita, you're making a too-broad leap from "the natural scheme of things" to equate homeless on the streets with the spotted owls. There are currently enough empty houses in the U.S. to shelter the entire population of Great Britain. And I'm guessing most of those homeless probably couldn't afford a suburban home in barred owl's range anyway. And there are a lot of better things, environmentally speaking, to build a house from than trees, and there are better ways to build communities that preserve green flyways and provide nesting areas. Those things just need to become important to us as a society. They haven't been, and that's why the barred owl has headed west.

There is a situation in the Farallon Islands, which is a protected marine sanctuary, where some mice got onto the island from someone's boat, and they are now devastating the native wildlife that have no natural protection against them. Are you saying we should just let all those beautiful sea birds and the other island animals die to extinction because the mice are the "stronger" species? The mice are only there because of humans. We absolutely should be protecting the native species even though it is weaker in this given situation, because WE MADE the situation. The mice couldn't have swum out there! I see the barred owl vs. spotted owl the same way right now. We made the problem, we need to fix it. As I said, maybe in a few more years, I'll change my mind because the spotted owl doesn't seem to be taking all the chances it's being given.

Priorities I guess. One kind of Owl is not worth the losses to me to go that far out of the way to protect it.

As I said before, if it is upsetting the balance too much than it should be fixed. I do not see in this situation however that it is upsetting the balance to much.

To boil it down, if an attempt to fix the problem is not successful, that I do not see it reasonable to try to "move heaven and earth" to try to fix the problem unless there are major consequence. I do not see having one kind of Owl and not the other as a major consequence. Now if we were all of the sudden over run with mice because their natural predator was gone, and the mice were causing problems, then I can see trying to go to farther lengths to fix them problem.

Joined: 08/17/04
Posts: 2226

I a bit torn. I hate the idea of killing one animal to save another but I think it's something that needs to be done here. This is totally the fault of humans and is not "survival of the fittest".

I'm not worried about a housing shortage in the US currently because we don't have a shortage. The reason for the move, is that people want bigger and bigger. That is a huge drain on our resources. They also want new vs. renovating an existing space. Crazy to me.