I worked on a research project aiming at documenting the change in density of spotted owls (Strix occidentalis) and barred owls (Strix varia) in the Cascades Mountains, just around Baker Lake, Washington State. Twenty years after the first and last count in this area, the spotted owls population went from 15 pairs to none. Just one male was heard outside the study area, at an usual high altitude, where no barred owl would go.
The rugged and spectacular mountains of the North Cascades (3,286m) span the border between British Columbia (Canada) and the State of Washington in the USA. Up to 6 meters of precipitation per square meter fall every year on the western slope facing the Pacific Ocean. Below the mineral ridges, the alpine landscapes and the massive glaciers, grows the temperate rainforest. This enchanted forest, primeval, mossy, ferny and once realm of countless giants is the set of my story, all about owls.
The Spotted owl (Strix occidentalis) has become an icon in American conservation because it represents to some the symbol of forest protection and integrity and to others the loss of timber revenue. In the last 30 years, the species has collapsed dramatically all over its range, due to the reduction and fragmentation of its habitat, the old-growth forest of western North America. But the spotted owl is now facing another problem: competition with barred owl (Strix varia), which distribution reached the spotted’s a few decades ago and now overlaps it almost entirely. The barred owl is a generalist species, an opportunistic hunter but is also larger and more aggressive than the spotted owl. Why have the two species ever come in contact? Can the spotted owl still be saved? and if it can, how? To date these questions are partly unanswered, and conservationists face one of the trickiest challenges of this starting century.