Northern spotted owls

Forest Nymph

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I had an amazing opportunity today to see a Northern Spotted Owl. They're "Threatened" status in the U.S. under The Endangered Species Act and are considered "Endangered" by Canada (some people in the U.S. want the NSO to have endangered status).

[GALLERY=media, 309]Spottedowls_fws by Forest Nymph posted Sep 11, 2018 at 7:17 PM[/GALLERY]

I was on a field trip and a wildlife biologist took us into an old growth forest, where she was able to attract an owl. She fed him a mouse (this gave me pause, but this is the only way they can conduct research to conserve the NSO, and I'd rather see an owl eat a mouse than have the mouse tortured and experimented upon in a lab).

Through conservation efforts, NSOs have increased in Northern California, thanks to protection of habitat but also due to an experiment where they...wait for it...kill barred owls.

This isn't like wildlife rehabilitation zoos where the animals are rehabilitated and released, which is something I tacitly accept without hesitation, because I realize it's in the animal's best interest. It's not even like euthanasia, where a suffering animal is released from its misery as humanely as possible.

This is shooting barred owls in order to protect the northern spotted owl. Apparently all sorts of consultation went into this plan, where other options were considered, such as moving the birds to another location (where they'd likely just starve to death) or forcing them to live in captivity (um, no). It was decided that it was ultimately most humane to kill the barred owl, and unfortunately, this method was very successful and showed promise of restoring numbers of NSO.

Barred owls are common and plentiful, there's no lack of them. And if humans don't do something to help the Northern Spotted Owl, they could go extinct. Barred owls are a threat to NSOs and drive their numbers down, which compounds the already existing problem with limited old growth forest for habitat.

I find this to be a difficult situation. I would never be one of the people shooting a barred owl, obviously (I'm not even in wildlife biology so no one will ever be asking me to) YET I feel complicit because I understand its usefulness for conservation of the northern spotted owl.

You know, none of this would even be happening if humans hadn't decimated all of those old growth forests in the 20th century. Humans have to "fix" what they have broken and this is a scenario where I don't know if there are easy answers.
 

Sax

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Interesting. Perfect IRL example of the trolley problem.

Do the NSOs have a unique contribution to their ecosystems? Is there any reason, besides their threatened status, that wildlife biologists value their lives over those of barred owls?

Look at the mess we've gotten into playing god!
 
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Forest Nymph

Forest Nymph

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Interesting. Perfect IRL example of the trolley problem.

Do the NSOs have a unique contribution to their ecosystems? Is there any reason, besides their threatened status, that wildlife biologists value their lives over those of barred owls?

Look at the mess we've gotten into playing god!

Yes, NSOs are a keystone species, like mountain lions. They play a vital role in the Pacific Northwest, in redwood forests, and especially old growth forest ecosystems. Barred owls are considered an invasive species, they were transported artificially by humans from the east coast, where they're even more common.

Thanks for the reference to the Trolley Problem. I'd heard of it before but it's something to think about.