The California spotted owl, a relative of the local northern spotted owl, isn’t going to be listed as an endangered species.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced in a news release last Thursday the owl doesn’t require protection under the Endangered Species Act because it continues to inhabit its historic range and isn’t in danger of extinction throughout all or a large part of that range.
California spotted owls live in older forests, feed on small mammals, and nest mostly in tree cavities instead of building nests of their own, according to the service. They’re one of three subspecies of spotted owl, the other two being the northern spotted owl and the Mexican spotted owl.
The California spotted owl’s range extends from Shasta County to Kern County along the western Sierra Nevada mountain range, transitioning into the range of the northern spotted owl, which is listed as threatened, the farther north one travels.
Meghan Snow, spokesperson with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said the service is “optimistic about the actions being taken to protect spotted owl habitat.”
The main threats to the spotted owl are “large-scale, high severity fire; increased tree mortality; drought; effects of climate change; and the invasion of the barred owls into the California spotted owl’s range,” according to the service’s 12-month finding for the spotted owl.
The finding states that some of those factors, such as drought, tree mortality and the effects of climate change, can’t be addressed through conservation efforts.
“For the California spotted owl, wildfire is the biggest threat to their population,” Snow said.
Mechanical thinning is being used to reduce catastrophic wildfire risk, according to the findings. Snow said logging company Sierra Pacific Industries and the U.S. Forest Service are working together to further reduce the risk.
Barred owls are being killed to keep them from competing with the California spotted owl, as well, according to the findings.
There is an experimental barred owl removal program happening in the Hoopa area for the benefit of the northern spotted owl. A similar barred owl removal program by Green Diamond Resource Company showed good results, said Tom Wheeler, director of the Environmental Protection Information Center in Arcata, though the results from Hoopa are inconsistent with those results.
“There is an interesting ethical angle or dilemma in this,” Wheeler said. “Are we playing God?”
Though Wheeler said he’s not personally opposed to barred owl removal because it’s a necessary step to undo previous mismanagement of the forest.
Without those efforts, Wheeler said the California spotted owl would “probably suffer the same fate (as the northern spotted owl) from barred owl encroachment.”
Sonia Waraich can be reached at 707-441-0506.