The Ghosts of Spotted Owls Yet to Come

Bird is still declining.. have we learned anything?  (original caption on TSW file photo)

This is what has happened to northern spotted owls north of the Canadian border without an Endangered Species Act.  Could this happen here?

Spotted owls have all but vanished from B.C., the only place they were found in Canada. Biologists estimate there were once 1,000 spotted owls in southwestern B.C.’s old-growth forests of Douglas fir, western hemlock and western red cedar.

Today, following the destruction and fragmentation of much of their habitat, only three spotted owls are known to exist in the province’s wild. Until the breeding pair was discovered in the Spuzzum Valley, the three were thought to be individuals with no offspring.

“The northern spotted owl is back from the dead in Canada — where once there was a flat line there is now a shimmer of hope,” Foy said. “What Canada does next in the way of protecting habitat may just tip the balance in favour of life.”

The B.C. government has repeatedly said captive-bred spotted owls will be re-introduced to the wild. But not a single captive-bred owl has been released since the breeding program began more than a decade ago.

Pepper-Smith said the Spuzzum Valley spotted owl pair represents the only proven option for maintaining the wild population, given there is no evidence that owls raised at the breeding facility can be successfully introduced to the wild.

“This is the last known breeding pair — and I think it’s hard to over emphasize how important it is that they continue to survive and breed,” Pepper-Smith said in an interview.

In June, The Narwhal reported that the B.C. forests ministry issued more than 300 logging approvals — totalling almost 2,000 hectares — in the spotted owl’s range between October 2018 and May 2020.

That was last fall.  And now, this spring …

An agreement to delay logging of an old-growth stand of British Columbia forest has given a one-year reprieve to one of Canada’s most endangered species.

But governments now have to come up with a permanent way to protect the vanishing spotted owl and other endangered species in the province, said Kegan Pepper-Smith of Ecojustice, which has been pushing the federal government on the issue.

B.C. claims about 281,000 hectares of protected spotted owl habitat. Pepper-Smith disputes that, saying much of that land is subject to logging.

8 thoughts on “The Ghosts of Spotted Owls Yet to Come”

  1. There are too many naive people in the “environmental” activist field.

    Could this happen here? referring to the US. Good god. Really, Who the hell would even ask that question. the reasons it hasn’t should – repeat, should – be clear. No need for dripping, eco justice questions!

    And the guy that says “they’re back from the dead”? Wow. No wonders they are functionally dead, and down to 3. These are people that have always played the govt, let’s collaborate, play politics game. They’ve always ignored, or distorted, the science and laws and regulations, as the foundation for conservation and democracy. Pathetic.

    Ha. and you thought Canada was way out front! Shame on your ignorance. Theres no room for “pansy” thinking in the battle for ecological survival.

    • I did look at this information, but I would have had to go on a tangent to point out that this (official looking government document) appears to have been written in 2016. Five years ago they said, “Preliminary results suggest the removal of Barred Owls enabled new Spotted Owl territories to be established and improved the overall breeding success. Where Barred Owls were removed, 10 new adult Spotted Owls were discovered and 12 juvenile Spotted Owls were produced.” What this really demonstrates is the failure of what they have done since (despite killing barred owls), and how quickly things have deteriorated to reach the point where they are today with one breeding pair. Could it be the logging?

      • The 2 articles in the original post also didn’t mention the impact of wildfires on NSO habitat, though I don’t know if wildfires have been a significant factor.

        This December 2020 article in USA Today addresses wildfires and NSP habitat in Oregon. It cites USFS findings that 194,000 acres are no longer considered viable for NSO in Oregon due to the 2020 fires alone. It’s fine to protest logging on owl habitat, but protesters ought to consider more than logging. Anyhow, I’d protest, too, if 194,000 acres were clearcut in a single year in one state.

        The Northern Spotted Owl was already struggling before 2020.

        But this year’s Labor Day wildfires brought another major blow to the iconic but fragile population of birds, pushing them closer to the “extinction vortex,” according to top researcher Damon Lesmeister.

        Wildfires kicked up on powerful east winds Sept. 7 and burned across almost a million acres (about 1,560 square miles) of forest in Western Oregon.

        All totaled, the fires burned 360,000 acres (over 560 square miles) of suitable nesting and roosting spotted owl habitat in Oregon. Of that, about 194,000 acres (over 300 square miles) are no longer considered viable for the birds, according to U.S. Forest Service data.

  2. “Could” it happen here? Yes, and it already is. Demography data for the northern spotted owl indicates that the bird is doing worse than ever before, and in some study areas, researchers have found that extant owls are failing to produce any young. This, and other factors including the barred owl, compelled FWS to recognize (in response to litigation) that the owl should be uplisted to Endangered but for higher priority listing actions.

    This, while at the same time BLM continues to liquidate suitable spotted owl habitat under its 2016 revised forest plan (no longer under the Northwest Forest Plan), and both the BLM and Forest Service are aggressively targeting spotted owl habitat for logging in the wake of the 2020 wildfire season. Oh, and FWS eliminated 3.4 million acres of spotted owl critical habitat too, as a result of a sweetheart settlement agreement with the timber industry.

    So, yeah, I think we can look to Canada for what the future holds for northern spotted owls this side of the border.

  3. For those who are curious enough to take a really deep dive into why the answer is clearly “yes,” here’s a site to explore, appropriately enough by someone who resides in SW British Columbia (on Vancouver Island):


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