Latest Recovery Attempt for The Northern Spotted Owl

by Dale Herter

For the past few years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has been developing a plan to test the assumption that the recent invasion of barred owls from eastern North America is depleting the northern spotted owl population in the Pacific Northwest. The barred owl is a close cousin of the spotted owl and has reached the Pacific Northwest on its own via gradual range expansion westward through forest habitat north of the prairies in Canada. It then expanded its range southward into Washington, Oregon, and California.

The USFWS will soon study the effects of eliminating barred owls (by shooting) on specific study areas in Washington, Oregon, and northern California. As many barred owls as possible will be eliminated from portions of each study area. Spotted owl occupancy and productivity will be monitored in areas where barred owls were eliminated and in adjacent areas where they have been retained.

While depletion of old forest habitat initially put the spotted owl on the federal threatened species list, most biologists who study the species agree that barred owls are now the major threat, and that a study of this type should take place. Whether or not the control of barred owls will be used as a long-term management technique over larger portions of its range will be decided once the results of the study are in. Smaller studies that are ongoing in Canada and on private lands in northern California suggest that the elimination of barred owls greatly increases spotted owl occupancy of historic territories and production of young.