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Endangered Species: The spotted owl

Creative commons photo courtesy of USFWS - Pacific Region/Flickr

Creative commons photo courtesy of USFWS - Pacific Region/Flickr

By Cheryl Santa Maria
Digital Reporter
Wednesday, October 9, 2013, 7:46 PM

The northern spotted owl population is in drastic decline in Canada and the U.S., despite significant efforts to save it.

In the past, experts estimate there were 500 spotted owl pairs living in southwestern B.C.

Today, only about a dozen remain in the province, largely due to loss of habitat.

Governments have made changes to logging zones, protecting hundreds of thousands of hectares of the old-growth forests that spotted owls prefer. The government of B.C. has safe-gaurded nearly 200,000 hectares of habitat space, but some say the plan isn't perfect.

For example, logging in the Fraser Valley -- a key spotted owl habitat -- is still permitted.

With a habitat that ranges from northern California to British Columbia, the spotted owl population is also being wiped out through competition with the barred owl -- a bigger, meaner and more adaptable relative.

These two threats have reduced the spotted owl population by about forty percent in the past four decades.

Spotted owl chicks. Creative commons photo courtesy of USFWS Headquarters/Flickr

Spotted owl chicks. Creative commons photo courtesy of USFWS Headquarters/Flickr

The barred owl is native to North America, so it isn't an invasive species per se. But its relentless pursuit of the spotted owl has prompted officials on both sides of the border to intervene.

Last year, Canadian and U.S. governments proposed a controversial plan to remove or kill barred owl from spotted owl habitats.

In September 2013, The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service green-lit a $3 million project to remove 3,600 barred owls from four dedicated habitat sites in Washington, Oregon and northern California. Some will be relocated, but most will be killed.

British Columbia has permitted a similar program, authorizing the shooting of 39 barred owls and the relocation of 73 others back in January.

The decision has sparked criticism from animal activists. Some say it's best to let nature take its course. After all, the barred owl breeds faster, has a more varied diet, is able to defend itself and can thrive in a variety of habitat spaces, unlike the spotted owl.

Still, officials say they're following through on what many call a "last ditch", albeit unfortunate, effort to save the northern spotted owl.

Despite the controversy, the situation appears to be slowly improving: According to the CBC, new spotted owls have been documented in sites where barred owls had been removed.

As governments race to protect old-growth woodlands and the ethical debate rages on, the spotted owl continues to struggle.

Time will only tell if conservation efforts prove successful.


Next week, we'll be paying another visit to the Royal Botanical Gardens to learn about endangered plant species in Canada.

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