To save the spotted owl, wildlife officials want to kill hundreds of thousands of competing owls.

To save the spotted owl, wildlife officials want to kill hundreds of thousands of competing owls.

To save the spotted owl, wildlife officials want to kill hundreds of thousands of competing owls.

To save spotted owls in the Pacific Northwest, U.S. authorities are planning to kill hundreds of thousands of other owl species.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) on Wednesday released its final environmental impact statement on how it would save spotted owls, a species native to the Pacific Northwest.

In some studies, the global population of spotted owls is as low as 15,000.

The bird’s population has declined dramatically over the years due to habitat loss and the loss of its cousin, the barred owl.

Barred owls are native to the East Coast, but have expanded their range, outcompeting and displacing the spotted owl from its natural range.

To save the native owl from the brink of extinction, the USFWS said trained marksmen would use shotguns to kill up to nearly 500,000 barred owls over the next three decades.

Shooters would be trained to identify barred owls in the environment.

Officials told KIRO 7 News they understand the importance of restoring natural habitats and the loss of life.

“We identified both the importance of habitat and concerns about threats facing the barred owl,” said Bridget Moran, deputy state supervisor for the Oregon Office of Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“While those efforts have been successful in restoring many habitats, barred owl encroachment has increased significantly. And we are now at a point where we have the science to support that if we don’t do something about the barred owl, the spotted owl will likely go extinct,” he added.

Barred owls have been displacing spotted owls from their natural range since the mid-1980s.

Although both owls appear similar to the naked eye, barred owls are slightly larger and more aggressive.

They consume a wider range of animals, which could affect the natural food chain in the wild.

“There are scientists who are very concerned that this could cause a collapse in our food web in some areas of our West Coast,” said Robin Bown, lead biologist developing the barred owl management strategy.

He added: “We have studied capture, translocation and sterilisation. There is no method that really works.”

KIRO 7 News also spoke with Claire Catania, executive director of Birds Connect Seattle, a nonprofit that advocates for birds and forests across Washington.

“We don’t have a significant population of northern spotted owls in King County at all,” he described the current environment.

“We need to protect the northern spotted owl. It’s a species in crisis. It’s a species on the brink of extinction,” he said. “Drastic measures are now needed to protect it. To save it because of our failure to protect the old-growth forest habitats that these owls need.”

Catania said the federal program’s plan is drawing mixed reactions from animal and environmental advocates.

“Not just a number of spotted owls, but the entirety of a species. You have to try to quantify their value in terms of the value of individual lives of another species,” he explained. “Barred owls, which are actually innocent in this whole equation, would have to suffer the consequences of our poor forest management decisions.”

“This is something we will increasingly face if we do not act more seriously and urgently in the face of climate change and continued habitat loss. We will be left with two bad options: in this case, the extinction of the spotted owl or this violent management plan,” Catania added.

A final decision on the new USFWS plan is expected in about a month.

If approved, the plan will come into effect as early as next spring.