The barred owl is one tough bird. Unlike the federally protected northern spotted owl, which occupies the canopy of big old trees and prefers to eat flying squirrels, the more aggressive barred owl lives in woods as well as city parks and chows down on several rodents and even a few small mammals. For that and other factors likely including the settlement by humans of America's Great Plains, the barred owl expanded its numbers and reach from historic nesting rounds on the East Coast all the way into Western forests.
Throughout, the burly bird bumped off competitors and now, in Oregon and Washington, is suspected by wildlife biologists as responsible in part for the decline of the spotted owl. If this seems like so much wildlife inside baseball, consider that Endangered Species Act protection of the spotted owl remade the economies of Oregon and Washington by collapsing logging on federal lands over the past two-and-a-half decades.
The spotted owl remains a protected species and, despite the rollbacks in logging, declines in number at a rate estimated to exceed 4 percent annually. That's why the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, an agency better known for protecting wild creatures, wants to kill off more than 3,600 barred owls in West Coast forests, including woodlands in Oregon.
The action is not retributive. Neither would it be taken in the belief that thousands of other barred owls would magically beat it and live elsewhere. The culling, as they call it, would be a deliberate killing -- an experiment to see whether spotted owls displaced by barred owls returned to their perches and resumed a life that might include breeding. That's what happened in a private redwood forest setting in California, where spotted owls successfully reclaimed their places after the landowner's biologist killed intrusive barred owls over a three-year period. More....