To save the spotted owl, wildlife officials want to kill hundreds of thousands of competing owls

To save the Spotted Owls in the Pacific Northwest, U.S. officials are planning to kill hundreds of thousands of another owl species.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) released its final environmental impact statement Wednesday on how it would save Spotted Owls, a native species in the Pacific Northwest.

In some studies, the global population of Spotted Owls is as low as 15,000.

The bird population has declined sharply over the years due to habitat loss and its cousin, the Barred Owl.

Barred Owls are native to the east coast but have expanded their range, now outcompeting, and pushing the Spotted Owl out of their natural environment.

To save the native owl, which is on the verge of extinction, the USFWS said trained shooters would use shotguns to kill up to nearly 500,000 Barred Owls over the next three decades.

The shooters would be trained to identify Barred Owls in the environment.

Officials told KIRO 7 News that they understand the significance of restoring natural habitats and the loss of life.

“We identified both the importance of habitat as well as the concerns about the threats of the Barred Owl,” said Bridget Moran, deputy state supervisor of Oregon Fish and Wildlife Office and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“While those effort have been successful in restoring a lot of habitats, the invasion of the Barred Owl has increased significantly. And we’re at a point now where we have the science to support that without doing something for the Barred Owl, the Spotted Owl will likely go extinct,” she added.

Barred Owls have been pushing Spotted Owls out of their natural environment since as early as the mid-1980s.

While both owls look similar to the naked eye, Barred Owls are slightly larger and more aggressive.

They eat a wider range of animals, which could affect the natural food chain in the wild.

“There are scientists who are very concerned that this could cause a collapse in our food web in some areas of our west coast,” said Robin Bown, lead biologist on development of Barred Owl management strategy.

She added, “We looked at capture. We looked at translocation. We looked at sterilization. There’s just no method that actually works.”

KIRO 7 News also spoke with Claire Catania, executive director of Birds Connect Seattle, a non-profit that advocates for birds and forests across Washington.

“We don’t have a significant population of Northern Spotted Owls in King County at all,” she described the current environment.

“We need to protect the Northern Spotted Owls. This is a species in crisis. This is a species on the brink,” she said. “Drastic measures are now needed to protect it. To save it because of our failure to protect old growth forest habitats that these owls need.”

Catania said the federal program’s plan is stirring up a lot of mixed reactions from animal and environmental advocates.

“Not just a number of Northern Spotted Owls, but the entirety of a species. Trying to quantity what that is worth in terms of the value of the individual lives of another species,” she shared. “The Barred Owls, which are in fact innocent in this whole equation, would be made to suffer the consequences for our poor forestry management decisions.”

“This is something we are going to be facing more and more if we don’t act more seriously and urgently around climate change and continued habitat loss. We are going to be left with two bad choices, in this case, the extinction of the Northern Spotted Owl or this violent management plan,” Catania added.

A final decision on the USFWS’s new plan is expected to be made in about a month.

If it passes, the plan will take effect as early as next spring.

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