Conservationist work is often unrewarding and full of hard choices. Knowing what animal to save and when it’s ideal to save it can be a heavy burden to bear, but not as big as knowing when to kill in order to save. In one of the strangest conservationist moves in recent history, California biologists kill owls in order to save owls.
Ever since the barred owl has come over from the Eastern United States and invaded California, they’ve been constantly bullying the smaller and threatened northern spotted owl. The attacks have been getting increasingly worse, with the latter species becoming increasingly rare in the area.
A symbol for the timber conservation move in the area, the northern spotted owl numbers have been decreasing by as much as 12% every year since the barred owl moved in. This happened despite the fact that efforts have been enacted in 1990 to protect them and their environment.
After learning that California Academy of Sciences ornithology curator Jack Dumbacher had a permit to collect a few barred owl specimens, biologist and contractor Lowell Diller was tasked by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to kill a number of barred owls in order to protect the more endangered spotted owls.
This was done as part of an experiment, in order to see whether removing the bully owls would lead to the bullied owls return. For this, Diller divided the timberland into patches and started killing the barred owls in some patches, while in others he left them there. After for years of this, the spotted owls started returning.
Of course, other conservationist movements are kind of distraught by the morality of the situation. Andrea Jones, director of bird conservation for the National Audubon Society had the following to say about the situation:
It’s sort of a no-win situation. We’re not advocating for the killing or against the killing.
Of course, most conservationist organizations are blaming the destruction of the old habitat for turning the two owl species into enemies. Had the timberland habitat been maintained, the barred owls would have never come to California, and the spotted owls would still be here.
Meanwhile, Diller isn’t happy about the experiment either, but he’s just doing his job. He doesn’t like killing the animals, but says that he can get through it by focusing on the lives he’s saving. Sadly, the situation is more than a little bit relatable. The morality choice is no simple matter, as going for one option could lead to a species being wiped out entirely, while the second option involves killing hundreds of animals.
Image source: Wikimedia