[Tweeters] Spotted Owl future - strategy to protect species and habitat

Stewart Wechsler ecostewart at quidnunc.net
Thu Aug 14 11:21:12 PDT 2008

Many of you may have seen yesterday's cover story in the Seattle Times on
Spotted Owls with the photo of cute babies, one with what looks like a young
rat in its mouth
("Hopes Fade for Spotted Owl"):
http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/ABPub/zoom/html/2008111566.html . It
suggests that the species is likely headed towards extinction before long,
at least in our area. One of the factors is that remaining small
populations have been isolated and genetic diversity is too low in isolated
populations to be adaptable to changing conditions. For this, how about an
egg exchange program - where some eggs from nests in one population are
exchanged for some eggs in another population? Of course we would need
someone willing to risk life and limb stealing eggs from nests and placing
eggs in nests.

On Barred Owl intrusion into remaining fragments of old growth forest, where
they eat the smaller Spotted Owls (and have also been recorded at least once
breeding with the smaller, cuter owl when the temptation to mate may have
trumped the temptation to eat): I had an impression that Barred Owls are
better adapted to smaller forest tracts and forest edges than sites 50 miles
into a continuous old growth forest. Do others know to what extent this may
be true. I have theorized that the range expansion of the Barred Owl from
east of the Rockies to western Canada, then the west coast may have been due
to cutting holes into the previously contiguous boreal forest habtiat
barrier that stretched across Canada north of the prairies. Any thoughts on
this? (I previously theorized it was the planting of trees around every
house in the great plains that created wooded stepping stones, forgetting
about the contiguous forest to the north.) If Barred Owls are indeed
especially adapted to forest edges, then it may be that the fragmenting of
remaining old growth here on the West Coast into smaller pieces, with the
center of remaining fragments may also have put most of our remaining
Spotted Owls too close to the edges to protect owls from dangers of Barred
Owls associated with the edges.

Other dangers are also likely to be associated with proximity to the edge.
For example, if Spotted Owls are close to the edge of the old growth it
could expose them to deadly poisonous rats dying from rat poison, poisoned
by humans living on the edge. If I'm not mistaken coyotes are also open
area and edge species and not particularly adapted to deep, contiguous old
growth. If a fledgeling Spotted Owl is on the ground it would be easy prey
for this species that may not have been likely to occur 50 miles into a
contiguous old growth forest. Countless other problems may have been
created by this fragmentation for both the owl, its prey species (notably
flying squirrels) and potentially other habitat elements.

Though it will be difficult and take a good deal of time to reconnect old
growth fragments, it may be possible to do things that effectively connect
them in some ways sooner than might happen if we didn't try. It also needs
to be emphasized more that we don't only need to protect remaining old
growth, but also need to protect contiguity of remaining old growth as
possible. Though they are sexy, we also would do well to not let the Barred
Owl be the only reason we give to promote the most contiguous old growth
possible. Whether or not the Spotted Owl is doomed, we may want to make a
list of other old growth community species that are threatened and
disappearing to help promote this community that dominated the whole Pacific
Northwest before Lewis and Clark helped open the door to the exploitation
and destruction of this habitat and its rich natural heritage. Maybe we
could rally America around saving the old growth adapted, cute and cuddly
jumping slugs - Genus Hemphillia. (I was thrilled to finally see 2 on a
recent trip to the Black Hills in the Capitol Forest SW of Olympia).
Hemphilia malonei, photo by William Leonard:
The following is a link to the best information I could find on all of our
terrestrial snails and slugs:

Stewart Wechsler
Ecological Consulting
West Seattle
206 932-7225
ecostewart at quidnunc.net

-Advice on the most site-appropriate native plants
and how to enhance habitat for the maximum diversity
of plants and animals
-Educational programs, nature walks and field trips
-Botanical Surveys

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