The survival of one owl species hinges on the demise of another.
That’s what the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service argues in its proposal to allow the agency to shoot hundreds of thousands of barred owls over the next 30 years in West Coast forests. The service says the barred owl, which is not native to the region, is crowding out the spotted owl, a close genetic relative.
Without action against the barred owls, service biologists say the spotted owl could disappear from parts of Washington and Oregon within a few years and eventually go extinct.
The proposal is the latest in a series of efforts to save the spotted owl, whose decline became a rallying point for environmentalists opposed to logging in the Pacific Northwest in the 1980s.
Human influence — as European settlers spread west — likely caused the barred owl to colonize the Pacific Northwest. Now, the proposal raises questions about how far people should go to save a species and the costs of righting a historic ecological wrong.
Some animal rights groups disagree.
Friends of Animals, a Connecticut-based animal advocacy nonprofit, unsuccessfully challenged the USFWS’ permit to conduct the 2021 study.
“We don’t think it’s ethical to be going out and calling for barred owls and shooting them with a shotgun because they are currently doing better in the existing environment and outcompeting other species,” said Jennifer Best, who directs the organization’s wildlife law program.
Best said species are perpetually adapting to different pressures and moving to new environments due to threats like climate change.
“How to approach that needs to be addressed and considered. Killing the species that are thriving is not a good solution,” she said.