By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News
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Federally managed land surrounding the Olympic Mountains had been on the short list of areas where barred owls will be killed and captured in order to study the effect on endangered northern spotted owl populations.
But U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials said this week that the removal study will take place on federally managed land in Northern California, in southern Oregon and along Oregon's coastal mountains, and in national forest land north of Cle Elum in Kittitas County.
“In the end, it came down to Cle Elum versus the Peninsula, and Cle Elum logistically was a little bit less challenging,” said Robin Bown, lead biologist on the four-year study.
Human action has pushed barred owls into spotted owl territory, according to Fish and Wildlife, making them the biggest threat to the federally endangered species.
The study seeks to find whether reducing their populations will help spotted owl numbers recover, Bown said by phone from Portland, Ore.
Spotted owl endangerment forced big changes in management of national forests when environmentalists won lawsuits to protect from logging the old-growth forests where the birds live.
Depending on the results of the study, Bown said, barred owl removal could become a management tool to protect spotted owls across their habitat, which includes the North Olympic Peninsula.
“It is possible that in the future, somebody may propose doing removal on the Olympic Peninsula,” Bown said.
Bown said the federally managed areas surrounding the Olympic Mountains were too “unroaded” to make accessing specific study areas feasible.
“There were fewer roads through this than many of the other study areas we looked at,” she said.
“The reason we didn't end up picking the Peninsula was primarily related to logistical challenges of that environment.”
In the areas that were chosen, trained Fish and Wildlife staff first will survey barred owl populations and begin catching or killing barred owls on roughly half of a given study area while leaving the other half's barred owl population intact, Bown explained.
Bown said barred owl removal could start as early as this fall in the Northern California study area, about 55 miles northeast of Eureka, while barred owl surveys in the other three study areas likely will begin next spring.
Researchers will use barred owl calls to attract birds to a specific area, Bown said.
Individual birds' identities must be confirmed before they are killed or caught, Bown said, meaning two separate researchers will have to identify them as barred owls, or one researcher will have to identify them by both sight and the bird's call.
Outside of the removal study, killing barred owls is not allowed, Bown added.
“It is illegal, and they are a protected bird,” she said.
Killing the birds is not something researchers are looking forward to, she said, though the point of the study is to see whether the death of individual barred owls can help save an entire species.
“We don't like the idea of having to go out and kill a beautiful animal like a barred owl,” Bown said.
“But we like less the possibility of the spotted owl going extinct.”
Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.