The Student Conservation Association's Online Community
I thought we could try something a little different in 2014 and take a look at articles instead of books. Here's a link to a piece I heard on NPR about efforts to save the rare northern spotted owl in the northwest.
What do you think? Would you be willing to participate in this management practice? Do you have any experience with protecting endangered species by managing their competition?
When I was an undergraduate at Humboldt State, the Northern spotted owl dilemma often showed up as an example in management and ecology classes. It definitely sparked some heated discussions in our classrooms. Lowell Diller was actually one of my instructors at HSU, and I have to say he is one of the most level-headed biologists I've ever met. He makes a practical argument that the conditions that influenced the barred owls to move west are human-caused, so it is our responsibility to mitigate the consequences. As nice as it sounds to let nature take its course, it's just not responsible management at this point, especially since this involves a federally endangered species. It's pretty remarkable how quickly the spotted owls start coming back to areas where barred owls were removed. I'm not sure if it mentions this in the NPR article, but in another article, he found that spotted owls had started nesting in those areas as early as 13 days later. I feel that he has made the right decision in removing barred owls.
I am not sure how I would feel about personally having to shoot the animals. I know it would not be easy to bring myself to do it, but perhaps if I could see the positive results with my own eyes, I might eventually come around. I've done invasive species removal and have euthanized a few animals before, and since these were cases where it was necessary to perform these tasks, I wasn't particularly bothered by it.
I have heard of similar issues in managing endangered species, involving removing the predatory species which is state listed as threatened in order to "help out" a federally threatened species. There has been quite a bit of controversy over "how do you choose one species over the other?", and it is definitely hard to pick a side. From what I gathered, though, it came down to the fact that the ESA trumps all.
I agree with Anna's post that Diller made the right decision in removing the barred owls. As much as I hate to see animals killed, we have to look at the big picture. Barred owls have a much wider geographic range than spotted owls. As the article mentions, barred owls also reproduce faster. Killing barred owls in the limited areas where they are outcompeting the spotted owls will not endanger the species as a whole -- and it seems to be having a fast positive impact on the threatened spotted owl population. I think the possible benefits of this experiment outweigh the unpleasantness of the killings. Biologists may come up with a better management plan in the future, but we cannot learn if we do not try things. And I think we are obligated to try! As Anna and the article mention, this problem, and so many others, have roots in human actions. I read an article that said our actions have sped up the rate of extictions 100-1000 times! It is definitely our responsibility to try and make amends.
It would be challenging for me to participate in this particular management practice. I agree with it from a biological standpoint, but I do not think I could handle it emotionally -- at least not initially. Like Anna, I'd have to see the results for myself and see the good that is coming from it to be able to overcome my emotional reservations.