A shot in the dark?

Plan to kill barred owls seems unlikely to work any better than previous tries

Is it just us, or is there a tinge of desperation surrounding the federal plan to give the northern spotted owl one more shot at survival?

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this week released a final environmental review of an experiment to see if killing barred owls will allow the spotted owl to reclaim territory it's been driven out of over the last 50 years.

As Jeff Barnard of The Associated Press reported, the agency's preferred course of action calls for killing 3,603 barred owls in four study areas in Oregon, Washington and Northern California over the next four years.

The idea is to give the spotted owls, a threatened species, a chance to hold their own against the larger and more aggressive barred owls. The bigger birds have been displacing spotted owls from their preferred habitat for more than half a century.

Former timber communities across western Oregon must have greeted news of the plan with a grim smile: These are the same communities that were devastated by logging cutbacks in federal forests — cutbacks that were triggered, in part, by a desire to save the particular habitat spotted owls prefer.

Some of those communities still haven't recovered from the loss of their economic backbone. In many ways, the spotted owl became the poster child for those economic woes — although, truthfully, it's unfair to pin the entire blame for that on the small birds.

Federal officials said this week that the Northwest Forest Plan, which cut logging by 90 percent on national forests in the 1990s, has done a good job of providing habitat for the spotted owl.

But the numbers of spotted owls in northwest forests have continued to slide.

Details of how the plan will work have yet to be worked out. The favored method involves luring the birds with a recording of a barred owl call, then shooting them with a shotgun.

Well, at least that could get some people back to work in our federal forests.

But it doesn't seem it would be an effective way to give the spotted owl a leg up in its competition with the barred owl. And, frankly, it doesn't seem that anything has worked.

Maybe nothing will. Maybe it's time to recognize that humans sometimes are powerless to intervene in the workings of nature. This might be one of those cases in which nature will run its course, regardless of our intentions.

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