WDFW Seeks Comment On Status Review For Northern Spotted Owl; Likelihood Of Extinction Has Increased

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is seeking public input on a draft periodic status review for northern spotted owl that includes a recommendation to keep the owl on the state’s endangered species list. The public comment period is open from Aug. 1 through Oct. 29.

“Despite management and conservation actions that have reduced the rate of northern spotted owl habitat loss, the Washington sub-population of spotted owls is still facing challenges that threaten population recovery, including competition by non-native barred owls,” said Taylor Cotten, WDFW conservation assessment section manager. “Since the species’ state listing, the likelihood of northern spotted owls becoming extinct in Washington has only increased.”

The draft periodic status review for northern spotted owl is now available on WDFW’s website.

“Following the public comment period, we will brief the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission on the periodic status review and recommendation,” said Cotten. The Commission is tentatively scheduled to consider this topic in November 2023.

The northern spotted owl averages 17 inches in length with white spotting across their brown bodies. They can be distinguished from barred owls by the latter’s dark vertical barring on their light-colored breast. The northern spotted owl is now rare throughout Washington, with populations continuing to decline. About 1,200 territories have been documented in Washington and trend data suggests that fewer than 25 percent of these territories remain occupied.

Despite more than 30 years of protection, spotted owl populations have continued to decline, with steepest declines observed in the past 10 years. Long-term monitoring of spotted owl populations across the species’ range identified rapid increases in the population of invasive barred owls as a primary reason for those declines, the researchers said.

As a species native to eastern North America, barred owls began expanding their populations westward in the early 1900s. The newly extended range now completely overlaps that of the northern spotted owl.

While barred owls look similar to spotted owls, they are larger, have a stronger ecological impact and outcompete spotted owls for habitat and food. This competition exacerbated spotted owl population declines, which were historically triggered by loss of old-forest habitat.

Mounting concerns about the threat of barred owls prompted a barred owl removal pilot project from 2009 to 2013 in California that concluded removal of barred owls, coupled with conservation of old forest, could slow or reverse population declines of spotted owls.

Also see:

— CBB, July 22, 2021, LONG-TERM STUDY SHOWS REMOVAL OF LARGER, INVASIVE BARRED OWLS SLOWS DECLINE OF ESA-LISTED SPOTTED OWLS https://columbiabasinbulletin.org/long-term-study-shows-removal-of-larger-invasive-barred-owls-slows-decline-of-esa-listed-spotted-owls/

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