SocraticGadfly: When raptors collide, or ‘A Tale of Two Owls’

August 18, 2008

When raptors collide, or ‘A Tale of Two Owls’

The northern spotted owl, made famous by the ire of lumberjacks decades ago, has long been listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. Yet, its numbers continue to decline, now alarmingly so.

The reason why may put environmentalists, at least some, in a quandary, as well as government officials in a jam. It appears the barred owl has been moving in from the East and killing many spotted owls.

Could government officials designate hunters to take care of the problem? Well, the barred owl is itself protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Besides, as the story notes, it can interbreed with the northern spotted, which raises the whole issue of species vs. subspecies. Plus, unlike mules, some of these hybrids can themselves produce offspring.

And, while the invasion MAY be connected to climate change, barred owls have been moving into the Pacific Northwest for about a century.

On the flip side, U.S. Fish and Wildlife seems to want to use the barred owl as a scapegoat. So, this is a complex issue and worth a full read.

In the end, I can’t see shooting the barred owl. This is purely a natural issue. Besides, what if we kill too many barred owls and northern spotteds still don’t recover. What bird fills the gap?

Oh, and I have seen a northern spotted owl in the wild, in Oregon, so I know this is a difficult issue.

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