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Killing Barred Owls - Who Are The Players?

Guest Author - Carrie McLaughlin

Lowell Diller is a recreational hunter. Lowell Diller is an employee of the timber enterprise, Green Diamond Resources Company. Lowell Diller is a company biologist who has monitored spotted owls on Green Diamond’s forest lands for nearly the past 25 years. And, Diller has been the primary shooter of Barred Owls on Green Diamond land under the California Academy of Science (CAS) museum’s collection permit. Diller lobbied hard for the privilege of killing one of our most beautiful raptors. His repeated testimony before, inclusion in and support of the USFWS/SEI collaboration on “experimenting” (an insider euphemism for “killing”) with the Barred Owl resulted in his company and his shotgun being recruited for the deed. As he is quoted in The Oregonian as saying: “This is almost like a redneck sport - you do it from the tail of your pickup.” At last count, Diller was approaching 100 Barred Owl kills under his hunting belt.

Jack Dumbacher is the chairman and curator of the CAS Department of Ornithology. The CAS is a natural science museum in northern California. It was Dumbacher’s desire to fill his museum’s taxidermy cabinets with the bodies of Barred Owls that kicked off the government-sanctioned killing spree. According to Diller, Jack Dumbacher was the guy who showed him how easy it was to pump a shotgun blast into a federally-protected raptor. Dumbacher is also the researcher who directed a study on blood parasites in Spotted Owls (Ishak et al 2008) which proved, in spite of his very best efforts, that SOs have weakened immunology due to a heavy parasite load, and that Barred Owls (BO) could not be connected to the avian malaria and other ill health concerns of the Spotted Owl. To whit: “Spotted Owls have a fragile immune health due to the high numbers of multiple parasite infections.” That same study states that Northern Spotted Owls “recently experienced a population bottleneck resulting in a loss of genetic variation.” Ishak et al go on to say that the Barred Owl and the Spotted Owl have “dissimilar micro-habitat preferences.” Yet Dumbacher avows publicly and privately that BOs are the primary threat to SOs and the cause of their population diminution.

Green Diamond Resources Co. (GRDC) is a division of Simpson Investment Co. GDRC owns nearly half a million acres of forest in California, Washington and Oregon (the 3 states conveniently proposed by the USFWS as killing grounds for the Barred Owl). Green Diamond has a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) with the federal government that allows them to conduct timber business as usual if they meet certain requirements for SO habitats. But the SO numbers continue to decrease on GRDC land. And the HCP mandates that if the SO population declines to a certain point, then the HCP will be declared a failure and onerous government regulations on their lumbering practices will automatically take effect. Could that be why GRDC reportedly assisted the CAS and Dumbacher in getting a “collecting” permit from the USFWS and the California Dept. of Fish and Game? And why the killing took place on their lands almost exclusively? And why GRDC has been so generous in lending out their company man, Lowell Diller, to all the parties involved as this monolithic, inexorable concept of killing a naturally-occurring species grinds its way to the foregone conclusion? Was it Diller’s job to keep all the players en pointe?

It is reported that Green Diamond intends, through lumbering, to destroy active Spotted Owl sites - while at the same time they are beating their corporate chests through their company proxy, Lowell Diller, about that bully owl - the Barred. This is not mere cynicism, but point of fact, for the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) has already filed suit and successfully halted an attempt by GDRC and Sierra Pacific to do just that.

Brian Woodbridge, a USFWS biologist who claims to specialize in the ecology and management of forest raptors, has been involved with the Critical Habitat Rule for the Northern Spotted Owl and its Recovery Plan for the last four years. However, in the book, Predicting Species Occurrence (2002), Woodbridge and his colleagues write “...owl surveys are no longer conducted in most areas, resulting in a greater dependence on analysis of habitat rather than on evaluations of known owl nest locations.” I.e., they don’t really know how many SOs and BOs are out there - or where they are! And that was then - eleven years ago! Woodbridge is the guy who blew his own horn repeatedly about being the genius who cooked up the plan to kill Barred Owls without an environmental impact statement by teaming with his two buddies, Lowell Diller and Jack Dumbacher, under cover of a local science museum.

These three men, together as a team, presented a PowerPoint at a Barred Owl workshop hosted by the SEI. No hard facts or evidence were provided about any transgressions on the part of Barred Owls. Only circumstantial evidence and computer modeling “projections” were provided to reinforce their clear agenda - killing Barred Owls. Nice slides of Diller’s hunting dog, shotgun, and a blasted Barred Owl dangled by its dead, spread wings, though. Through computer analysis of no known population variables (demographic studies of the Barred Owl in the Pacific Northwest have never been done, remember? So where did the numbers come from?), these men projected that at an annual killing rate of 50% for 10 years, and then for every year after that into infinity, Barred Owls would be effectively flat-lined in the Pacific Northwest.

And finally, there is SEI. The Sustainable Ecosystems Institute touts itself as “a think and do tank” dedicated “to science for society”. They were asked by the USFWS to coordinate the scientists and government institutions in putting together the USFWS’s environmental impact statement (EIS). Sounds good. Until you review the highly questionable results.

Jack Dumbacher was part of the gang that kicked off the offensive against the Barred Owl at the first SEI gathering in 2004. He was there ostensibly to present the genetics and systematics of the Northern Spotted Owl, but was lauded in the report for subsequently having a much broader role. SEI ultimately issued a paper entitled “Scientific Evaluation of the Status of the NSO”. The USFWS had asked them to compile all the scientific facts about the NSO together for the agency to use in determining listing status for the spotted owl under the Endangered Species Act.

From the beginning to the end, the convenors did their best to work the Barred Owl into the mix at every turn. Importantly, in spite of much speculation, there was only one incident of admittedly circumstantial evidence offered that the Barred Owl predated Spotted Owls. Rocky Gutierrez (now at the University of Minnesota) reported that in 1998 he found a freshly killed spotted owl on the ground, and after spending some time calling for it, a Barred Owl flew in to his vicinity to investigate. While an examination of the carcass concluded that it was a raptor kill, and although the BO had owl feathers clinging to its feet, there was no way to determine if the BO had actually made the kill, or had chanced upon it, or had driven another owl or hawk away from it.

Of the utmost importance in light of this circumstantial evidence, and of equal value, is this case: Eric Forsman, the noted spotted owl biologist, reports (Forsman et al 2004) a single occurrence of finding a Northern Spotted Owl pellet containing the remains of - a Northern Spotted Owl! Just like the Barred Owl incident: a spotted owl death, a predator involved, flesh eaten - but no eyewitness account of the kill.

The SEI 2004 report flatly states “Predation on Spotted Owls has not been directly observed...” and goes on to list Goshawks, Great Horned Owls, Cooper’s Hawks, Red-tailed Hawks and fishers as “potential avian predators”. They are “presumed major predator(s)”. These scientists go on to say “... the consensus... was that Great Horned Owls were responsible for most predation events on SOs... ” and their report is rife with the words “surmised” and “anecdotal” in reference to the Barred Owl. In fact, the report asserts “... it is impossible to infer whether BOs are the preeminent cause of SO decline... or whether some other factors are also contributing... ” and “... SOs could have also been declining independent of BO colonization.”

Why do they not know that? Because scientific evidence is lacking. To quote: “The problem is that we simply do not have reliable estimates of BO numbers, density or population trends.” “... most BO population data are largely incidental encounters made during Spotted Owl surveys...”

At the conclusion of the report, all the panel scientists “saw the data [on BOs] as of mixed quality, with several regarding the data as poor”.

Yet, incredibly, the SEI, this self-proclaimed purveyor of science for society, concluded its report by perversely stating that NSOs are at risk by BOs - although the evidence was non-existent, circumstantial and weak at best. Such is politics, and such is the way of hidden agendas pushing their way into the fore.

The SEI was quick to follow up this major effort by hosting the Barred Owl workshop afore-mentioned, at which only 7 scientists signed a recommendation to kill Barred Owls.

But amazingly, when the SEI once again spearheaded the USFWS convocation in 2008 (resultant paper entitled “Scientific Review of the Draft Northern Spotted Owl Recovery Plan), the SEI leadership refused to review or include a letter submitted as testimony and signed by 112 scientists who took issue with the lack of due process and true science being accorded the Barred Owl. And such is the way of arrogance.

That report, used as the basis for the USFWS’s 2012 EIS currently under review, repeatedly used the word “experimentation” as a euphemism for shotgunning Barred Owls.

You be the judge. Good science? Good sense? What will you do about it? Martin Luther King, Jr. said “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Will you then be silent?

For more information about this issue and on actions you can take, please see “Killing Barred Owls” and “Barred Owl Debacle” at www.bellaonline.com/birding.





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