BARRED OWLS IN WASHINGTON

Bob Pearson rpearson at i-link-2.net
Tue Jun 26 09:58:57 PDT 2001


I've been tracking spotted owls and documenting the increase in barred owls
in the northern Gifford Pinchot NF for the last 10 years. The barred owl
population has increased and is still increasing dramatically throughout the
area. There are probably at least as many, if not more, barred owls than
spotted owls here now.

The barred owl appears to have a larger range of habitat types that are
acceptable than the spotted owl, which DOES include large expanses of
unfragmented old-growth conifer forest. Two of the higher concemtrations of
barred owls here are within wilderness old-growth forest, and Mt. Rainier NP
has its share of barred owls. As Kelly points out, many spotted owls are
within fragmented areas of old-growth and clearcuts, and some spotted owls
are within areas of younger forest when certain features are present, such
as remnant old-growth trees that offer a nesting opportunity. The barred owl
is also found in these areas and also areas that are not acceptable to
spotted owls. What is still not known is whether or not there are certain
habitat types or locations that spotted owls use that barred owls will not.

Unfortunately, research into this most interesting event is lagging well
behind its occurrence. There is no research that I know of that addresses
this directly, although there are a number of spotted owl studies that are
also documenting the barred owl incursion. It would appear that in certain
areas the barred owl has displaced spotted owls from historical activity
centers, but no one knows to what extent it is an active, rather than
passive, displacement.

The Northwest Forest Plan, which attempts to retain a viable spotted owl
population through protecting large areas on Federal land from habitat
removal within Late-Successional Reserves, doesn't even mention the barred
owl. Yet, in one of those reserves here, only three of eight spotted owl
locations are still active (and those three are in question) while the area
is now full of barred owls. At the same time, there is one area with 11
spotted owl pairs and no barred owls that has no protection and is open to
logging. The sad part is that no one has officially assessed the impact of
the barred owl with respect to the Northwest Forest Plan to see if it is
still working as it was intended.

No one knows what the end result will be, whether there will be a balance
attained between the two species or the barred owl will fully replace the
spotted owl. This is the uncertainty. The certainty is that the barred owl
is here in large number, is everywhere the spotted owl is at, and is here to
stay. Personally, I think that the Plan to retain the spotted owl is now
outdated and places the spotted owl at risk. It needs to be re-evaluated and
revised to better protect all the remaining spotted owl locations, at least
on Federal land. This would, at the very least, give the spotted owl a
better chance to naturally compete with the barred owl (as opposed to barred
owl AND continued loss of spotted owls through habitat removal. On the
northern GP, only one-third of the spotted owls are protected). It seems
silly to proceed as if everything is okay when dramatic changes are taking
place.

Side note - I think the barred owl is a pretty neat owl. It's vocalizations
are sometimes a real treat when it gets excited. Although not as tame as the
spotted owl, it can still be easily observed in the wild. Be careful,
though - I've been whacked several times by barred owls that thought I was a
competitor!

Bob Pearson
Packwood, WA
rpearson at i-link-2.net












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