In Defense of Owls

            On Oct.1, Friends of Animals sued the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to stop their plan to kill more than 3,600 barred owls over four years in Northern California, Oregon and Washington under the guise of protecting the endangered northern spotted owl.

            The scheme, revealed last summer, would allow the agency to shoot barred owls with shot guns in the Pacific Northwest after they’re attracted to recorded owl calls.  We view this as an immoral, unethical and outrageous experiment based on flawed science, which also violates the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. And an increasing number of scientists and professors have contacted us in support of FoA’s legal intervention.

            Dr. Bob Zybach says barred owls, the most common owl in North America, is also called a “hoot owl,” looking and sounding like a spotted owl. He suggests barred owls and spotted owls may be the same species – meaning there’s no justification for “managing” the survival of either one. If they’re a different species, then we’re seeing natural selection.

            In short, leave them alone.

            Dr. Zybach advises:  “The barred owl occupies the same range, and has successfully bred and produced viable young with spotted owls.  Are spotted owls, therefore, just the western-most cousins of the brown-eyed hoot owl family?  Or did some committee of nameless scientists give them separate Latin names that somehow transformed them into separate species?”

            Spotted owls, added to the U.S. endangered species list in 1990, have declined for more than four decades, primarily due to logging of old growth forests in California, Oregon and Washington.  In approving the barred owl killing plan, the Interior Department scapegoated barred owls rather than doing something fundamental to protect spotted owls.

 Clearly, wildfires impede spotted owl recovery, and as Smokey the Bear long ago advised, only you can prevent wildfires.  Certainly, the federal government can discourage camp fires. The catastrophic August 2013 fire in Yosemite National Park was started by a hunter’s illegal camp fire.

Turning to other wildlife arenas, whenever there was an uproar over wolves, whether in Yellowstone or Denali National Park, Alaskan wolf scientist Gordon Haber, (whose research we sponsored for 17 years until the crash of his research plane ended his life in October 2009), said: “Keep the people out and let the wolves be.” There’s a new book, Among Wolves by Marybeth Holleman that I’ve reviewed inside Action Line about Gordon’s insights and how our principles aligned.

Whether we’re making observations about wolves or owls, we’ll do our best to defend animals from fatal human intrusions, which miscast communities and individuals who make admirable efforts to eke out their own lives.


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