As part of a new management plan for barred owls in the Pacific Northwest, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has drafted a plan for a 500,000 bird cull. The cull would take place over the next 30 years with the end goal of eliminating half a million barred owls from places like northern California, Oregon, and Washington state.
Barred owls have lived in the Pacific Northwest since the 1950s. Over the past 70 years, they have slowly displaced the native northern spotted owl, causing spotted owls to be listed under the Endangered Species Act. In just the past 20 years, northern spotted owl populations have declined between 35 to 80 percent.
“Everywhere the spotted owl can live and thrive, barred owls can thrive and do even better,” says Katherine Fitzgerald with the USFWS in a recent Seattle Times story. Barred owls are bigger and more aggressive than northern spotted owls. They also are better at finding food and have a more varied diet that includes insects, reptiles, and small mammals. Barred owls will also displace spotted owls and attack them when they get too close to their nests.
Currently, there are over 100,000 barred owls living in the Pacific Northwest. The USFWS plan would have trained specialists start culling them in 2025 with an initial goal of killing 20,000 birds for the year. For the next decade, they plan to cull over 13,000 owls per year. The following decade would increase the number to over 16,000 birds a year, and in the decade after that, managers want to eliminate over 17,000 birds per year. If finalized, the plan will eliminate 30 percent of the barred owl population, which should be enough to give spotted owls another chance.
Correction: A previous version of this story claimed that the USFWS draft plan to remove barred owls had been finalized and suggested that the plan would encouraging hunters to participate in the owl cull. In fact, the USFWS plan would employ trained specialists to cull barred owls, and no final decision has been made on the removal of barred owls under this plan. The issue is still open to public comment.