Feds Want Migratory Bird Treaty Exemption to Call in and Eradicate American Owl Populations

A federal agency is seeking an exemption to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act to lure and eradicate owl populations.

The proposed strategy from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is part of an effort to reverse the decline of northern and California spotted owls. These threatened birds’ West Coast habitat, stretching from California to Washington state, is currently being invaded by a feathered cousin — the North American barred owl.

The barred owl is common in the eastern half of the United States and southeastern Canada, but its range has expanded into the far west. where the government considers it invasive.

The FWS released a final impact statement Wednesday, outlining the agency’s proposed strategy to lure and kill the “invasive” owls in these areas.

According to the news release, the cull “would result in the annual removal of less than one-half of 1 percent of the current North American barred owl population.”


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“If the proposed strategy is adopted and fully implemented,” the release later continues, “lethal removal of barred owls by trained professionals would occur in less than half of the areas where spotted and invasive barred owls co-exist within the northern spotted owl’s range; and would limit their invasion into the California spotted owl’s range.”

The proposal listed the ways this great American bird may be killed.

“Barred owls will be lured to the removal specialist using an amplified megaphone, or similar device, to broadcast digitally recorded barred owl calls, alternating with listening for responses,” the FWS proposal states.

Shotguns of 20 gauge or larger are permitted for this cull, with the FWS suggesting the guns be fitted with night sights or other low-light optics. Shots must be taken to ensure a certain kill.

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“All shots must be directed at barred owls which are stationary on an unobstructed perch and present a full, frontal and unobstructed view,” the proposal reads. “On-the-wing shots are not authorized under this protocol.”

According to the FWS, the barred owl’s westward movement began in the early 20th century.

The agency blamed human-induced changes as the likely catalyst forcing barred owls to expand their native range. The birds now outnumber the threatened spotted owls in many areas where the ranges overlap.

“Barred owl management is not about one owl versus another,” FWS Oregon Office supervisor Kessina Lee said.

“Without actively managing barred owls, northern spotted owls will likely go extinct in all or the majority of their range, despite decades of collaborative conservation efforts.”


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Lee said the cull is not being taken lightly, but is a legitimate measure to safeguard other birds.

“The service has a legal responsibility to do all it can to prevent the extinction of the federally listed northern spotted owl and support its recovery, while also addressing significant threats to California spotted owls,” Lee said.

A decision is expected at least 30 days after the impact study’s publication in the Federal Register.

Barred owls are among the many bird species protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

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