Friends of Animals has won an important appeals court victory in its efforts to protect barred owls from a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service experiment that was aimed at killing them to save spotted owls.

A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit appeals court this week overturned a district court dismissal of the case FoA brought against FWS concerning the killings, allowing it to continue. The case will now be sent back to the district court to rule on its merits.

While FWS claimed it was protecting spotted owls by killing barred owls, both species are being harmed.

“As more species move toward extinction it is critical to address the underlying causes, such as habitat destruction and climate change. This case challenges permits that do the opposite,’’ said Jennifer Best, assistant legal director of FoA’s Wildlife Law Program. “The challenged permits, approved under the guise of helping threatened spotted owls, allow timber companies to destroy northern spotted owl habitat in exchange for letting government officials kill barred owls on private and state lands as part of an experiment to see if killing one owl could impact the other. This is not only cruel, but also short-sighted and bad for both owl species.”

In 2013, FWS approved an experiment that entails killing barred owls to study the impact on northern spotted owls, although there is no evidence that killing barred owls could be a long-term management tool to protect spotted owls. The experiment was originally approved on federal lands, but later FWS claimed that it was important to the experiment to kill barred owls on nearby state and federal lands too. In exchange for permission to kill barred owls on private and state lands, FWS gave private timber companies permission to destroy habitat of northern spotted owls.

“While FWS has claimed the killings were necessary to protect spotted owls, it has been sticking its head in the sand about why northern spotted owls are really threatened—humans logging the forests they call home—to full-blown insanity when it also allowed timber companies to kill and harass northern spotted owls — the very same birds who it claims to be protecting when it started shooting barred owls in 2013 as part of its experiment,’’ said FoA President Priscilla Feral.

In a separate action to protect the barred owls, FoA in a submission to the Commission for Environmental Cooperation said that U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s issuance of permits that allow barred owls to be slaughtered is in direct conflict of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Read more here on FoA’s actions to protect both the barred and spotted owls and the dangers of federal actions that kill one species for the sake of another.