From: Lauren Sommer, NPR
Published June 12, 2011 08:25 AM

Spotted Owls in turf battle with Barred Owls

Spotted owls are on the decline despite two decades of work to bring them back. So, later this month, wildlife officials are releasing a new plan to protect the owls, and it includes a controversial new approach: eliminating their cousins.

In a dense forest near Muir Woods, just north of San Francisco, National Park Service ecologist Bill Merkle plays a recording of a spotted owl in hopes of hearing from a real one.


"I think they're just probably 50 or 60 feet up there," he says.  Northern spotted owls became famous in the 1990s, when the federal government set aside millions of acres of forest to protect them. That stoked an epic battle between loggers and wildlife groups over their habitat. Since then, spotted owls haven't come back. Biologists believe that's due to an invasion of barred owls.

Barred owls take over spotted owl territory and in some cases even attack them. They have an advantage because they eat a wider variety of prey. In places like western Washington, the spotted owl population has been cut in half since the barred owl showed up. "It's a troubling picture for the spotted owls," Merkle says.

Originally from the eastern U.S., barred owls invaded spotted owl territory in Washington state decades ago and, Merkle says, they've moved down the coast ever since. "The barred owl is a little larger," he says. "It's a little more aggressive."

The Fish and Wildlife Service hopes to deal with this by "permanent removal," says Robin Bown, a biologist with the agency. "We're going to look at all potential opportunities, but the most humane way to do it is to shoot them."

Spotted owl photograph credit:  USGS

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