There are three other birds quite similar to the northern spotted, whose numbers continue to decline. The California spotted owl has a stable population. The Mexican spotted owl probably is in decline: about five years ago, a federal judge placed land-use restrictions on areas of Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico to protect the Mexican spotted. The barred owl, the third bird similar to northern spotted, doesn't need special protection as it is population is expanding, based on natural competition.
So the plan is to start shooting barred owls. Excuse me, "culling" them. The Fish and Wildlife Service wants to kill at least 3,000 barred owls, which are so similar to spotted owls that a trained eye is needed to distinguish the types. Spotted owls are federally protected, by the Endangered Species Act. Barred owls are not protected. So let's kill the disfavored owls in order to help the politically correct owls!
As recently as two generations ago, barred owls mainly were found east of the Mississippi, where they are commonly called hoot owls, for their whoot-woo-who territorial marking sound. The recovery of forests across the United States -- total forested acres have been increasing for a quarter century -- created a migratory pathway for barred owls to spread west. This development was unexpected; the literature of owl protection depicts such birds as so habitat-dependent they are vulnerable to any change. It turns out the barred owl is not fragile, able to adapt to many habitats. Barred owls are also more aggressive than spotted owls; the worry among defenders of the latter is that barred owls will out-compete spotted owls and take their territory in the Pacific Northwest.
So open fire on barred owls! Excuse me, employ " barred owl removal as a management tool."
This situation has a kind of daffy logic. Laws and court rulings have instructed federal officials to go to almost any length to protect the northern spotted. This policy may be wise or foolish, but is the policy federal wildlife officials are instructed to enforce. Many voters in the Pacific Northwest oppose logging, perhaps not caring if it is ridiculous to kill owls to protect owls. The voters' views may also be wise or foolish, since trees are a renewable resource. Well-regulated logging with replanting and erosion protection can be what everyone claims to want, sustainable economics.
Having thrown loggers out of work in order advance a contention there is something super-ultra-important about the northern spotted owl as opposed to other owls, federal officials painted themselves into a corner. They must either admit that the previous owl-protection initiatives were overdone, or kill barred owls. Government agencies do not excel at admitting error. If the "cull" begins, it won't be long until a northern spotted is mistaken for a barred and shot. We had to destroy the owl in order to save it!