The Sophie’s Choice of the Owl World Means Killing One Species to Save Another

Hunting and killing one owl to save another? This harrowing moral dilemma is playing out right now in the British Columbia hinterlands.

The Vancouver Sun reported on January 27 that northern spotted owls are on “the brink of extinction” in Canada, and to alleviate the problem, the government has begun to eliminate or relocate barred owls, which are dominating the spotted owl’s habitat in British Columbia.

According to some estimates, there may only be ten spotted owls left in the wild. The owls, which reside in southwestern British Columbia, compete with barred owls for prey and space. Barred owls, which are more aggressive, suppress spotted owls from vocalizing and mate with them to create hybrid offspring, according to the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.

To combat the situation, British Columbia is pursuing a three-prong recovery plan, which includes eliminating barred owls, preserving enough habitat for spotted owls, and captive-breeding spotted owls to create a population that can be released back into the wild.

“Removing barred owls should benefit spotted owls by increasing the availability of prey, habitat and potential nest sites, as well as their reproductive success,” wrote Ian Blackburn, spotted owl recovery coordinator for B.C.’s Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, in an email to TakePart.

Already, 72 barred owls have been captured and relocated, while 39 have been killed. “Preliminary results suggest that up to 13 new spotted owls...were discovered at nine of the 17 sites that barred owls were removed from,” wrote Blackburn.

Additionally, there are 13 endangered spotted owls in a captive breeding program in Langley, British Columbia, along with two more at a zoo in Seattle. About 741,000 acres have been dedicated as protected spotted owl habitat, as part of B.C.’s plan to develop a strong captive population to release into the wild.

Are you holding out hope for the endangered spotted owl’s survival? Let us know in the COMMENTS below.

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Kelly Zhou hails from the Bay Area and is currently a student in Los Angeles. She has written on a variety of topics, predominantly focusing on politics and education. Email Kelly | @kelllyzhou |