Trump administration used ‘faulty’ science to cut spotted owl protections, wildlife officials say

That’s the title of an article in The Oregonian today. “Faulty” can be debated, but so can the reporting.

“A large-scale barred owl removal program is not in place and officials said the best science shows protecting older forests is critical.”

Protecting older forests from logging? Most of the high-quality older forest is already off limits to harvesting.  But what about protecting them from wildfire?

“The logging industry says the larger, non-native barred owl is a much greater threat than logging.”

Not only the “logging industry,” but the US F&WS and a range of scientists say that the barred owl and wildfire are the main threats.


9 thoughts on “Trump administration used ‘faulty’ science to cut spotted owl protections, wildlife officials say”

  1. When I hear “non-native”, I imagine an animal that people moved from one location to another. That didn’t happen with the barred owl did it? Why does it become our mission as humans to prevent a bird from expanding its range because they are infringing on another birds territory? Meanwhile, the barred owl and the spotted owl are interbreeding. Of the 50% decline in spotted owl population since 1995, how much of that is due to being outcompeted by a more successful species of owl? Is there a growing population of hybrid owls out there due to interbreeding?

    I saw a neat poster a few years ago that someone hung up in the mid 90s that said something like “It takes the spotted owl 2000 acres of old-growth forest to breed while it only takes two teenagers the back seat of a Buick”. How can we protect a species that can’t protect itself?

    Many years in the future when the bird is extinct and the tens of thousands of acres of old growth forest is the new home of a large population spotted bar owls, what will our plan be then?

  2. This reminds me of making a comment to my then-teenaged daughter: this Earth would be a wonderful place if it was not for humans. My point to her is that human choices over the centuries have challenged what we humans want from this world. Here is the Midwest, humans are employing extraordinary measures to keep Asian carpet from invading the Great Lakes system. Should we allow they non-native species (which has ravaged the Mississippi River system) to be allowed unfettered access to the Great Lakes in the name of expanding its range?

    The emotional emphasis that we humans place on certain values has intrigued me for decades…and our emphasis is not consistent when presented with similar conflicts in other locations. Perhaps the answer is as simple as we humans just do not like change.

  3. The arrogance of humans is beyond belief. Who are the individuals that decided that Spotted Owls are “better” that Barred Owls and proceeded to interfere with a natural and unstoppable evolutionary process having no apparent impact on the human species?

  4. The spotted owl “critical habitat” anti-logging strategy got way out of hand decades ago, in my opinion. Here is what I wrote about this problem for this blog more than eight years ago (with lots of Comments):

    Two questions I have been unable to get satisfactory answers to: 1) When spotted owls and barred owls interbreed, do they produce viable young? And 2) How many acres of forest zoned as “critical habitat” for spotted owls and marbled murrelets have burned in wildfires the past 30 years?

    I gave a couple of presentations to OSU forestry grads and staff and to OSU wildlife biology grads and staff a few years ago that were very poorly received. When I declared that barred owl hunting efforts were based on theories of “racial purity” and used Pygmies and Swedes for comparisons of preferred habit, diet, colorization, vocalization and size I was accused of being a “racist.” Which was my exact point.

  5. This is mostly an issue involving state and private lands (and more about the law than the science):

    “You can’t remove over a third of an endangered species’ habitat and not expect it to go extinct,” Henson said in an interview. “There wasn’t much disagreement about the science. The disagreement was how much that risk constrains the secretary’s authority” to remove habitat protections.

    Everyone agrees that existing habitat must be protected, from both logging and fire. The question is whether in a particular circumstance that means logging is better than not.

    Logging is less of an issue than fire where logging is restricted or precluded (duh), which is true for 2/3 of the habitat. I doubt this is true where unregulated logging still occurs.

    It is not known whether barred owls would have gotten here without man-made tree cover providing stepping stones across the plains, so it is incorrect to assert that its occurrence in the northwest is “natural.”

    The Endangered Species Act says that spotted owls are “better,” in the sense that, as a listed species, they need to be protected from the more common barred owls.

    • Jon: Of course it is pure speculation that “man-made tree cover provid[ed] stepping stones” for barred owls and their migration westward. The exact same argument can be made for spotted owls moving northward from Arizona and California — they were first noted in Washington in the 1880s and in Oregon not until around WW I, at the time my four adult grandparents were being married. Three were from families documented in the region from the early 1850s, more than a generation before the first spotted owls.

      The question is why you think it is important to use this speculation to claim that barred owls in the PNW are any more “unnatural” than their kissing cousins.

      “Everyone” probably doesn’t agree that someone else’s definition of “critical habitat” of a designated species “must be protected from logging and fire.” Same problem. I’m pretty sure a lot of this habitat — however defined — would be far better “protected” and even enhanced by common sense applications of logging and fire.

      When I was a kid, spotted owls were known as “hoot owls.” Same for barred owls. They constitute the most common brown-eyed owls in North America.

      • Facts from the Fish and Wildlife Service spotted owl listing decision in 1990:

        “The first record of the spotted owl was made in 1858 in the western portion of the Tehachapi Mountains in southern California (Xantus 1859) and it was first documented in the Pacific Northwest in 1892 (Bent 1938).” I don’t think the “exact same argument” – man-made tree cover – was very applicable on the forested west coast in the 1800s. If the apparent owl “migration” was more than just people starting to notice them as human populations expanded, there is no reason to think it wasn’t natural.

        • Hi Jon: I think the 1892 date was Washington and around WW I in Oregon. Birdwatching and feathers were huge in the 1890s and early 1900s, so it is possible that spotted owls were endemic all along — although absent from any scientific reports, archaeological records, or oral histories — or that they migrated here, as the barred owls have done. The “forested west coast” of Oregon in the 1800s was mostly dominated by vast expanses of even-aged snags, reprod, saplings, and 2nd-growth. Most all of the “old-growth” was less than 400 years old and also existed in even-aged stands. Historical marbled murrelet and spotted owl habitat. It appears there was little, if any, old-growth on the Coast Range between 1500 and 1700.

  6. That some life on Earth survived the Trump White House at all is no minor miracle since faulty conclusions made many in that administration very rich.


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