Protecting habitat hasn't stopped the spotted owl's decline

Shooting Owls to Save Other Owls

Protecting habitat hasn’t stopped the spotted owl’s decline. Will shooting its rivals help?

 By Isabelle Groc, for National Geographic

At dusk in a forest along Redwood Creek in northern California, Lowell Diller switches on his digital wildlife caller. The eight-note call of a barred owl breaks the silence. Diller and Riley, his Brittany spaniel, listen for a response. Almost immediately the woods are filled with the deafening, cackling duet of a pair of barred owls, hooting to defend their territory against what they think is a rival.

At this point Diller, a wildlife biologist, usually ends the duet with a blast from his shotgun.

“When I went out to do it the first time, I was shaking, I had to steady myself,” he remembers. “I wasn’t sure I could actually do it. It was so wrong to be shooting a beautiful raptor like this. It continues to be awkward to this day.”

As part of an experiment approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), Diller has killed 92 barred owls in the past five years on lands owned by Green Diamond, the timber company he works for. He’s doing it in the hope of saving a closely related species that’s an icon for environmentalists: the northern spotted owl. Read more.