News Release

July 23, 2013

Service Announces Preferred Alternative for Barred Owl Removal Experiment

Media Contacts:
Brent Lawrence (FWS)  (503) 231-6211 Paul Henson (FWS)  (503) 231-6179

As part of the comprehensive effort to help recover the threatened northern spotted owl, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) is proposing to conduct limited experimental removal of barred owls from four test areas in the Pacific Northwest. 

The Service has identified habitat loss and competition from recently arrived barred owls as the most pressing threats to the northern spotted owl. Barred owls are larger than northern spotted owls, more aggressive and have a broader diet, which makes them more resilient to declines in habitat quality.

Today, the Service announced its plan in the Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and presented its preferred alternative from nine options. The test areas would remove barred owls from parts of the northern spotted owl’s range, and then monitor the effect of such removal on northern spotted owl population trends. It would include lethal and non-lethal methods of barred owl removal.

“We can’t ignore the mounting evidence that competition from barred owls is a major factor in the northern spotted owl’s decline, along with habitat loss,” said Service Director Dan Ashe. “We are working with our partners to improve forest health and support sustainable economic opportunities for local communities, and this experimental removal will help us determine whether managing the barred owl population also helps recover the northern spotted owl.”

The experiment would be conducted on four study areas spread across the range of the northern spotted owl, including the Cle Elum in Washington, half the combined Oregon Coast Ranges and Veneta in northern Oregon, the Union/Myrtle (Klamath) in southern Oregon, and the Hoopa (Willow Creek) in California.  Given the size and number of northern spotted owl sites in the combined study areas, this alternative would require an estimated four years of barred owl removal to detect significant results.

The Service listed the northern spotted owl as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1990. Northern spotted owls are currently declining at an average rate of 2.9 percent rangewide each year. 

Barred owls are native to eastern North America, but only recently arrived in the West.  They were first documented in the range of the northern spotted owl in Canada in 1959 and in western Washington in 1973.  The range of the barred owl in the western United States now completely overlaps with the range of the northern spotted owl.

“We observed that as the number of barred owls detected in historical spotted owl territories increases, the number of spotted owls decreases,” said Paul Henson, State Supervisor of the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Office. “In Washington, where barred owl populations have been present the longest, spotted owl populations have declined at the greatest rate.”

If the barred owl removal experiment proceeds, effects of removal are positive, and removal proves to be a feasible and effective method to increase spotted owls, the Service may consider using barred owl removal as part of a larger barred owl management strategy.  This management strategy would involve a separate National Environmental Policy Act process.  For more information about the barred owl Final EIS, visit http://www.fws.gov/oregonfwo/ or http://www.ofr.gov/OFRUpload/OFRData/2013-17620_PI.pdf.

The Service will announce its Record of Decision no sooner than 30 days after publication of this announcement in the Federal Register. The Final EIS includes a summary of public comments received on the Draft EIS and no additional comments will be taken.

The ESA provides a critical safety net for fish, wildlife and plants and has prevented the extinction of hundreds of imperiled species, as well as promoting the recovery of many others. The Service is actively engaged with conservation partners and the public in the search for improved and innovative ways to conserve and recover imperiled species. To learn more about the Service’s Endangered Species program, visit: http://www.fws.gov/endangered/.

Images of barred owls and northern spotted owls are available at www.flickr.com/photos/usfwspacific/sets/.