Washington state lands commissioner wary of federal plan to kill thousands of owls


Washington’s public lands commissioner, Hilary Franz, is voicing skepticism about a federal proposal to kill thousands of barred owls in the Pacific Northwest to help the threatened northern spotted owl.

Franz wrote in a letter sent this week to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland that she’s concerned about “unintended consequences” and that the plan “could be unworkable given the scale of the overlapping habitat for barred owls and spotted owls.” 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife is proposing to kill about 500,000 barred owls, living on millions of acres of land between California and Washington, over three decades. 

Hunters would shoot the owls with shotguns in most cases, according to a draft environmental impact statement released in November.

“The Commissioner doesn’t oppose the plan but has concerns about the cost, the scope, and potential impacts to habitat,” Franz spokesman Michael Kelly said in an email on Thursday. 

He also said Franz isn’t convinced the plan represents a solution to reducing threats to the spotted owl that’s “viable, affordable, or achievable.”

Franz, who is also running for a U.S. House seat in western Washington, asked to meet with Department of Interior staff but had not received a response from Haaland as of Thursday.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in November sought public comment on its draft barred owl management plan, noting that the owls are prolific hunters that decades ago moved beyond their traditional range in the eastern U.S., into western forests.

This leaves them competing against northern spotted owls, the species known for its central role in the battles in the 1980s and 1990s over logging Northwest forests. The Fish and Wildlife Service plan also aims to prevent barred owl incursions into California spotted owl habitat.

Washington state designated the spotted owl as endangered in 1988 and the federal government listed the bird as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1990.