As he stood amid the thick old-growth forests in the coastal range of Oregon, Dave Wiens was nervous. Before he trained to shoot his first barred owl, he had never fired a gun. He eyed the big female owl, her feathers streaked brown and white, perched on a branch at just the right distance. Then he squeezed the trigger and the owl fell to the forest floor, its carcass adding to a running tally of more than 2,400 barred owls killed so far in a controversial experiment by the US government to test whether the northern spotted owl's rapid decline in the Pacific Northwest can be stopped by killing its aggressive East Coast cousin. Wiens is the son of a well-known ornithologist and grew up fascinated by birds, and his graduate research in owl interactions helped lay the groundwork for this tense moment, per the AP.
"It's a little distasteful, I think, to go out killing owls to save another owl species," said Wiens, a biologist. "Nonetheless, I also feel like from a conservation standpoint, our back was up against the wall. We knew that barred owls were outcompeting spotted owls and their populations were going haywire." The federal government has been trying for decades to save the northern spotted owl, a bird that sparked an intense battle over logging across Washington, Oregon, and California decades ago. Even after logging was halted on millions of acres, the birds' population continued to decline, so federal officials are resorting to killing hundreds of federally protected barred owls—the spotted owl's worst enemy. But the US Fish and Wildlife Service experiment that began in 2015 has raised thorny questions; read more here.
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