A problematic plan by federal wildlife officials to kill 3,603 barred owls over the next four years in an attempt to boost Northwest populations of the spotted owl raises more questions than the one it attempts to solve.
Is it justifiable to kill thousands of one type of owl to save a smaller number of another type? Why is the spotted owl more important than the barred owl? Who should decide that, and by what authority? Does the Endangered Species Act override the law of natural selection?
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was so troubled that it hired an ethicist to assuage its collective conscience while formulating a plan to send hunters armed with shotguns into four study areas in the three West Coast states to shoot the larger owls that have migrated westward over the past 50 years.
But there’s no guarantee this plan will work, and it’s not as if the barred owl was an invasive species, like the New Zealand mud snail.
To put it another way, man is playing with forces he doesn’t understand when trying to intervene in the complicated links between species — and outcomes, therefore, are unpredictable.