Wildlife officials plan to kill hundreds of thousands of barred owls to save spotted owls

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The federal government issued a plan Wednesday that could eliminate 400,000 barred owls, an invasive species, to protect threatened spotted owls in the western U.S.

Barred owls, those that will be killed if the plan is finalized, are native to the eastern U.S., but likely migrated west due to man-made changes to the Great Plains and northern boreal forest. In doing so, these striped birds displaced local spotted owls, interrupting their nesting and creating competition for food. 

Officials say that without a plan to address the more aggressive barred owl, the spotted owl could disappear from most of their habitat. 

“Barred owl management is not about one owl versus another,” Kessina Lee, supervisor of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Oregon office, said in a written statement. 

“Without actively managing barred owls, northern spotted owls will likely go extinct in all or the majority of their range,” Lee added. 

The Fish and Wildlife Service’s press release notes that the number of barred owls that will be killed amounts to less than 0.5 percent of their current North American population.

Nevertheless, the plan has received at least some pushback from those who say it’s cruel to the barred owl. 

“The Fish and Wildlife Service is turning from protector to persecutor of American wildlife,” Wayne Pacelle, president of Animal Wellness Action and the Center for a Humane Economy, said in a written statement. 

“Its plan is wildly expensive without protecting a single acre of forest habitat,” Pacelle wrote, adding that the plan “is doomed to fail because there’s no way for the agency to prevent surviving owls from recolonizing nest sites.”

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