Friends of Animals sues to stop plan to kill barred owls instead of protecting spotted owl habitat

From ANIMAL PEOPLE,  September 2013: (Actually published on October 8,  2013)

 SACRAMENTO––A U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service plan to kill federal protected barred owls to benefit endangered northern spotted owls violates the Migratory Bird Treaty Act,  Friends of Animals alleged in an October 1,  2013 lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Sacramento,  California.

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act,  in effect since 1918,   requires that killing  birds for research must benefit the species that is killed, whereas in this case the experiment benefits a different species,  FoA wildlife law director Michael Harris told media.  The Fish & Wildlife Service “did not respond to a call for comment due to the government shutdown,”  Associated Press said.

Elaborated FoA in a prepared statement,  “The northern spotted owl,”  added to the U.S. endangered species list in 1990,  “has been in decline for more than 40 years,  primarily due to logging of old growth forest in California,  Oregon and Washington.  In approving the barred owl removal plan,  the Federal defendants identified a new threat to the northern spotted owl:  the barred owl.  The barred owl removal plan does nothing to protect northern spotted owls, “  FoA charged,  “but instead attempts to divert the focus from protection of northern spotted owl habitat by scapegoating barred owls.”

FoA called the barred owl removal plan “immoral,  unethical and cruel,”  and said that it amounts to a plan “to allow indiscriminate killing” of barred owls.

The Fish & Wildlife Service has tested public response with occasional mentions of killing barred owls to help spotted owls since 2005.  A USFWS environmental impact statement published in July 2013 identified killing 3,603 barred owls over four years in four study areas in Oregon, Washington and Northern California,  at cost of $3 million,  as the “preferred course of action” to ensure spotted owl survival.

“To move forward with killing barred owls without addressing the fundamental cause of spotted owl declines,  from our perspective, is not acceptable,”  Portland Audubon Society conservation director Bob Sallinger told Jeff Barnard of Associated Press.

“Shooting barred owls in a few isolated areas is not going to help us as forest managers,  nor is it going to help protect the forest from wildfires,  and catastrophic wildfire is one of the big impediments to spotted owl recovery,”  agreed American Forest Resource Council president Tom Partin.

But American Bird Conservancy senior policy advisor Steve Holmer endorsed the scheme.  “The Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing a very carefully thought-out experiment to see whether removing hundreds of barred owls will benefit spotted owls,” Holmer said in February 2012.

NBC News staff writer M. Alex Johnson noted that the Fish & Wildlife Service seemed to be trying to conceal what it planned to do.  “The closest [the USFWS media release] comes to saying it plans to kill the birds is an oblique reference to ‘lethal and non-lethal methods of barred owl removal,’”  Johnson wrote.  “You have to read the 505-page environmental impact statement to learn that ‘the general approach involves attracting territorial barred owls with recorded calls and shooting birds who respond.’”

The British Columbia Forests & Lands Ministry from 2007 through 2012 had relocated 73 barred owls and authorized killing 39 to prevent them from competing for habitat with the 10 northern spotted owls left in southwestern B.C. province, Dene Moore of Canadian Press reported in January 2013.

“Relocation or elimination of barred owls is limited to a five-kilometer radius around areas where spotted owls have recently been confirmed,  or areas being considered for reintroduction from a captive breeding program,”  wrote Moore.  Northern spotted owns “were listed endangered by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in 1986 and red-listed in B.C. in 1989,”  Moore recalled.  “A provincial management plan was adopted in 1997.  The province designated special management areas under a 2006 management plan,”  beginning captive breeding after that.

The major claimed precedent for killing barred owls to benefit northern spotted owls is a project in northern California managed by wildlife biologist Lowell Diller for the Green Diamond Resource Company.  Diller since 2010 “has killed 48 barred owls on timberland owned by his employer,”  according to Matthew Daly and Jeff Barnard of Associated Press.  “In every instance when barred owls were removed from historic spotted owl territory,  spotted owls returned.”

But California Academy of Sciences curator Jack Dumbacher,  who initially worked with Diller,  questioned the wisdom of the killing.

“If the barred owls made it out here fair and square,”  Dumbacher told Daly and Barnard,  “then maybe it’s a natural event we should watch unfold.”

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