The British Columbia government has approved the shooting of one species of owl in a last-ditch effort to save their endangered cousins, as the number of northern spotted owls continues to decline decades after they became the mascot of the "War in the Woods" over old-growth logging.
Northern spotted owls are on the brink of extinction in Canada, with only 10 birds remaining in the wild in southwestern B.C., according to some estimates.
The situation is so grave that over the past five years the provincial Forests and Lands Ministry has relocated 73 and authorized the shooting of 39 barred owls, the larger and more aggressive bird encroaching on the spotted owls' limited habitat.
"Barred owls have invaded all spotted owl habitat," said Ian Blackburn, the provincial government's spotted owl recovery co-ordinator.
Relocation or elimination of barred owls is limited to a five-kilometre radius around areas where spotted owls have recently been confirmed, or areas being considered for reintroduction from a captive breeding program.
"Without this, it is likely that the wild population would be extirpated before we have sufficient captive-bred young to release, which would significantly hurt the chances of survival for the released birds," Blackburn said in an email.
Preliminary results show that new spotted owls were discovered within nine of 17 sites where barred owl removals occurred, he said.
"While none of us like the idea of killing (barred owls), we all agreed that if the goal continues to be the recovery of the (spotted owl), then it is a necessary and potentially effective tool," says a 2011 internal email between members of the provincial spotted owls recovery team, obtained by the conservation group the Wilderness Committee using freedom of information legislation.