EPIC Projects

 

ACE EPIC Interns and Fellows work nationwide in variety of different program areas and agencies. On this page we will showcase some of the latest projects!

BLM Fisheries and Wildlife

BLM Fisheries and Wildlife intern, Corey Bower, through American Conservation Experience (ACE) has been working on a great number of surveying and monitoring projects of the Northern Spotted Owl.

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Spotted owls were listed in 1990 as a federally threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) due to the loss and adverse modification of its habitat, old-growth forests, as a result of timber harvesting. Since, the spotted owl population has continued to decline despite logging cutbacks of about 90% on federal lands in Northern California, Washing, and Oregon. This trend has been attributed to the owl’s aggressive east coast cousin, the barred owl, who is believed to have migrated their way across the Great Plains and invade spotted owl territory. The barred owl is larger and more aggressive, out-competing their cousins for resources and causing displacement. They will even kill if need be.

With the problem in scope, the fish and wildlife service have begun taking steps to deal with the barred owl. They are currently conducting experiments to see if killing barred owls in selected areas will allow spotted owls to move back into their old habitat. Through analysis, the USFWS has announced a record of decision for the final environmental impact statement (Final EIS) in 2013 for experimental removal of barred owls to benefit threatened northern spotted owls.

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As a biologist, killing one organism for the sake of another is counterintuitive. Although, losing one species to a thriving invader is not idealistic. Though some may say, “what’s so important about a little owl that can’t hold their own?” Firstly, the barred owl migration could have possibly been influence by humans paving way across the continental United States since this is a newly recognized phenomenon. Secondly, unless we are able to recreate an organism that took thousands to millions of years of evolution to create to be specialized in its’ specific habitat, we can’t afford (in time or money) to lose an essential link in our fragile ecosystem. Lastly, but most importantly, it is federal law under the ESA to provide a means whereby the ecosystems upon which threatened and endangered species depend may be conserved.

Spotted owl numbers are still in decline, with a population estimate of less than 4,000, so biologists have been performing surveys to detect their presence and occurrence in their once occupied habitat. As seen in the photos and videos, Corey is using the “mousing” technique to survey spotted owls. The purpose of mousing is to determine if spotted owls are nesting and reproducing. By offering mice, their nesting status can be determined based on the adult owl’s behavior. It is also used to locate nests and brooding females by inducing the male to lead the surveyor to the nest tree. Later in the nesting season, it can be used to locate, count, and collect data on young fledglings recently out of the nest. It is also used as a lure to capture and uniquely band each owl with and their fledglings.

The owl is currently being petitioned to be uplisted as endangered by many conservation groups, with a review to be completed by September 2017. Meanwhile both federal and private sector biologists have been working collaboratively in the survey and management efforts of these majestic creatures, optimistic for this species future outcome. It is an experience of a lifetime to observe these owls in their natural habitat and one Corey will never forget.