NCW — A planned logging operation is within the 10-square-mile range of the one remaining pair of nesting spotted owls in Chelan County.
The Weyerhaeuser Company submitted and was approved a Forest Practice Application on Sept. 18, 2019, to log near the owls on Blewett Pass, according to a state Department of Natural Resources document. The logging shouldn’t impact the owls too much, but it is within the 10-square-mile range of habitat the owls need, said Don Youkey, Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest wildlife biologist.
“It depends to the extent (the logging occurs),” Youkey said. “So a little bit is probably not going to affect them; and if it’s away from their core use area, it’s going to affect them less than if it is near their nest site.”
Northern spotted owls live in a mix of big and old trees, including Douglas fir and sometimes hemlock, he said. The species can be found in British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and into Northern California.
A nesting pair of owls is one that produce eggs. The nesting pair in Chelan County have been fairly productive, but they didn’t produce eggs this year or last and they’re getting older, Youkey said.
At this point, the spotted owl appears to be on the cusp of extinction in central and northern Washington, he said. It is also only a matter of time in southern Washington, Oregon and northern California, unless something is done.
The spotted owl in Chelan County has seen a marked decline since the 1990s, he said. In the 1990s there were a couple hundred spotted owls in Chelan County, now it is down to one breeding pair and two single owls.
While the owls need a 10-square mile range of habitat, they use only 40% for foraging, nesting and roosting, Youkey said. A little bit of logging outside of that 40% area shouldn’t impact the owls too much.
Eastern Washington’s ponderosa pine forests are not actually the best habitat for the owls, Youkey said. But the owls moved into Eastern Washington in the 20th century, due to a combination of factors including:
- The removal of old growth forests in Western Washington through logging
- The disappearance of fire on the landscape in Eastern Washington leading to more owl habitat
In 1994, the Forest Service planned to shelter spotted owls in Eastern Washington until some of the old growth forests in Western Washington regrew, Youkey said. But fire returned to the landscape in Eastern Washington and an invasive species, the barred owl, took up residence.
“So, wildfire has taken out a lot of habitat, and pretty much taken out most of the habitat from the Entiat, north into the Methow Valley,” he said.
Spotted owls cannot compete with barred owls, which are more generalists and will eat a lot of different types of prey, Youkey said. Spotted owls only eat flying squirrels and woodrats. Barred owls are also bigger and more aggressive than spotted owls and will push spotted owls out of their habitat.
“And that’s really the primary driver across the range of the (spotted) owl, they are out-competed by their cousin (the barred owl), essentially,” he said.
Biologists are trying some experiments to see if removing the barred owl from areas will help the spotted owls, Youkey said.
One experiment in Cle Elum involved killing barred owls using a 12-gauge shotgun, according to a U.S. Geological Survey article. New barred owls often recolonized the areas, but the number of barred owls decreased by 77% in a four-year time period in an area near Cle Elum.
Whether the species will survive into the long term, though, still remains to be seen, Youkey said. The species in Chelan County is definitely facing extinction, he said.
“It is not looking really good for the spotted owl up here and in northern and central Washington,” Youkey said.