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Government now killing owls to protect owls

Dave Ross says if shown a picture, he wouldn't know the difference between a spotted owl (left) and a barred owl (right). (AP Photos)

Federal wildlife officials plan to dispatch armed bird specialists into Pacific Northwest forests starting this fall to shoot one species of owl in an effort to protect another that is threatened with extinction.

“The government, which during the 80s, basically stopped logging to protect owls, is now going out to shoot them,” explains confused Ross and Burbank Show host Dave Ross.

The Northwest Forest Plan, which cut logging by 90 percent, has done a good job of providing habitat for the spotted owl. But the owls’ numbers have continued to slide.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Tuesday released a final environmental review of an experiment to see if killing a species called barred owls will allow Northern spotted owls to reclaim territory they’ve been driven out of over the past half-century.

Barred owls are bigger, more aggressive, and less picky about food. They started working their way across the Great Plains in the early 1900s, and by 1959 were in British Columbia. Barred owls now cover the spotted owl’s range, in some places outnumbering them as much as 5-to-1.

After years and years of trying to increase spotted owl numbers, co-host Luke Burbank thinks maybe it’s just time to call this one.

“I don’t want to sound uncaring, but there’s a point at which we might have to say to the spotted owl, ‘You’re pretty bad at being alive, and we just can’t help you anymore,'” says Luke Burbank.

Ross agrees, saying perhaps the spotted owl is just one of those species at the wrong end of natural selection. Not being too familiar with bird species, he can’t see why wildlife officials would favor one species over the other.

“They’re both extremely owlish and they do owly things,” says Ross.

Also, how many of these battles do we plan to engage in with nature? In the case of the spotted owl, Dave points out we’ve already intervened and the species still can’t seem to get it together.

“We stopped the logging and now nature is taking its course and we don’t like the course that nature is taking. This is like us trying to interfere with every country that’s having a revolution. Now we’ve got to tell nature which owl it should save.”

The proposal calls for killing 3,603 barred owls in four study areas in Oregon, Washington, and Northern California over the next four years.

The plan is expected to cost about $3 million and requires a special permit under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which prohibits killing non-game birds.

The cost raises more questions for Dave. The way he sees it, this thing shouldn’t be costing any money, but could be a moneymaker.

“Three million to kill 3,600 owls, that’s $1,000 an owl. I bet there are hunters who would pay for a license to bag a few owls. Why don’t we just let hunters buy licenses and just make some money off it?”

Neither the timber industry nor the Audubon Society support the plan.

Bob Sallinger, conservation director for the Audubon Society of Portland, says saving the spotted owl is of paramount importance, but the focus must remain on protecting habitat.

“To move forward with killing barred owls without addressing the fundamental cause of spotted owl declines, from our perspective, is not acceptable,” he says.

The Department of Fish and Wildlife says unless barred owls are brought under control, the spotted owl, in coming decades, might disappear from Washington’s northern Cascade Range and Oregon’s Coast Range, where the barred owl incursion has been greatest.

Owl shootings are expected to begin in the Washington area in the Cascade Range in Cle Elum in the fall of 2014. Other hunting areas will be in the Oregon Coast Range, in the Klamath Mountains south of Roseburg, and at the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation in Northern California.

Scientists will monitor whether spotted owls move back into areas where barred owls have been killed. The four study areas add up to 1,207 square miles, which amounts to 0.05 percent of the northern spotted owl’s range.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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