The outlook appears bleak for America's most controversial bird, reports the Seattle Times. Despite logging bans in huge swathes of old-growth forests initiated 14 years ago to protect the northern spotted owl, researchers have discovered its numbers have dropped by nearly half. The decline is blamed on pre-1994 habitat loss and the invasion of a tougher owl species.
Scientists warn that the spotted owl's shrinking gene pool could be leading to an "extinction vortex." Various plans to help the bird survive are being considered, including culling the more aggressive barred owls that have moved into the habitat. The decline in owl numbers is likely to revive the debate on old-growth logging in the West. Conservationists slammed plans announced earlier this week to reduce protected owl areas by a quarter.