The decision to try to save one owl species in B.C. by killing another is almost certain to ruffle the feathers of some, especially those who have long fought to protect the habitat that supports the now-rare bird. Let's hope the lethal decision was soundly made.
The sad plight of B.C.'s spotted owls has been known for years. Dependent on old-growth forest, spotted owls have declined as the majestic trees that sustained their needs have been cut from the landscape.
Today, spotted owls are on the brink of extirpation with only 10 to 12 birds remaining in the wild in B.C., according to some estimates.
And it's feared the larger more aggressive barred owl will push the remaining spotted owls from their homes.
Barred owls prey on spotted owls, compete with them for habitat and food and at times breed with them, creating a hybrid species. Over the past five years, the government killed 39 barred owls that were found encroaching on spotted owl habitat.
Perhaps there is now no other means to save spotted owls but to kill off competitors. With less than 12 birds remaining in B.C.'s wilds, the picture looks bleak for the future of the northern spotted owl in this province's remaining old-growth forests.
We hope, however, that this lethal intervention is, in fact, an absolutely critical measure, one required because no others means will do the task. Most importantly, we hope the decision is not cost-based. In other words, we hope the government is not killing barred owls because it's the cheapest option in the tool kit.
If there is a slim hope the deadly effort will achieve results and keep spotted owls clinging tenaciously in B.C.'s forests as biologists strive to preserve precious habitat (which is the only way to save the species in the long-term), than so be it. History will judge whether such "desperation biology" will prove effective.
If the decision to kill individual birds to save other owls is nothing more than a wild, last-gasp attempt to stave off the inevitable, however, or even worse, a decision made with cost efficiency in mind, than it's time to put the guns away and let nature balance its own books.
There is little to be gained by showing in such a public and unsettling manner how incapable we have been of protecting environmental interests.
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