Killing One Owl To Save Another

owl.pngIn this month's issue of High Country News, journalist Kim Todd writes about northern spotted and barred owls. A new arrival to the Pacific Northwest, barred owls appear to be outcompeting the spotted owl. Managers are in a conundrum and are considering lethal control of barred owls in order to halt a decline of spotted owls. Killing one native species to save another? With on-coming climate change, such complex ecological situations were certainly be more common. In the same issue, Todd writes about a similar situation with golden eagles on the California Channel Islands.

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miss-guided. while species survival rates and population fluctuations are good indicators of ecosystem change, active management of one species by culling in order to promote survival of another seems terribly short sighted not to the mention "missing the forest for the trees".

By BlindRobin (not verified) on 10 Aug 2008 #permalink

Is this do to an increase in tree cover in the center of North America helped along by fire suppression and tree planting prompting the owl's move west?

i think that, despite the surface similarities, the big difference here is between an uninhabited island ecosystem and a continental, human-inhabited one. with the case of the foxes and the eagles, the problem is resolved by removing the introduced pigs and re-establishing fish-eating bald eagles in place of the newer, fox-eating golden ones.

the problem in the northwest u.s. is more one of patchy, human-friendly landscapes that favor the adaptable generalist over a more specialized type. this is not something that can be put aright simply by restoring one or two nodes in the food web; and it is only one small consequence of larger-scale, long-term changes that have an undeniable inertia, and that will undoubtedly shape the north american landscape (and indeed, the world) for the foreseeable future.

this owl "management" program smacks of a grasping at straws. are we to follow this up, then, by restoring periodic burns to great swathes of the great plains, and perhaps (re)introducing elephantids and other large browsers (as josh d. suggests) to beat back the encroaching woodlands? should we really be discouraging the successful adaptation of a vertebrate species to a human-changed environment?

biological scientists, otherwise stalwarts of neodarwinism, seem at times to conveniently forget that life continues to evolve here and now, whether we approve of it or not. maybe we should go ahead and ask time to stand still, while we're at it?