Uncertain future for spotted owls
Despite the protection of their old-growth habitat the Washington spotted owl population has dropped by half since 1994 - and scientists aren't sure why.
Fourteen years after causing an uproar among environmentalists and loggers, the northern spotted owl still enjoys the protection of the Endangered Species Act and a ban on old-growth logging on most federal lands. But despite these safeguards, the spotted owl population continues to decline, and has dropped by half in Washington since 1994.
The continuing decline in spotted owl numbers could reopen the old-growth logging debate, as the ban, under the Northwest Forest Plan, has not helped the spotted owl make a comeback. While no one knows exactly how many spotted owls there are, each year nests that were occupied the year before are found empty.
Some scientists fear that spotted owl numbers have dropped so low that they are now caught in a "genetic bottleneck"–meaning the owls are more likely to inbreed and be unable to adapt to any more changes in their habitat or sudden illnesses. Spotted owls are also vulnerable to harsh winters, continued habitat loss from logging and forest fires, and predation by barred owls.
The moratorium that bans removing the protections on spotted owl habitat was enacted in 2005 and is set to expire at the end of the year, leaving the spotted owl with an future that is more uncertain than ever.