WASHINGTON -- To save the imperiled spotted owl, the Obama administration is moving forward with a plan to shoot barred owls, a rival bird that has shoved its smaller cousin aside.
The plan is the latest federal attempt to protect the northern spotted owl, the passive, 1-pound bird that sparked an epic battle over logging in the Pacific Northwest two decades ago.
The government set aside millions of acres to protect the owl, but the bird's population continues to decline -- a 40 percent slide in 25 years.
A plan announced Tuesday would designate habitat considered critical for the bird's survival, while allowing logging to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire and to create jobs. Habitat loss and competition from barred owls are the biggest threats to the spotted owl.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar called the plan "a science-based approach to forestry that restores the health of our lands and wildlife and supports jobs and revenue for local communities."
By removing selected barred owls and better managing forests, officials can give communities, foresters and land managers in three states important tools to promote healthier and more productive forests, Salazar said.
The new plan, which replaces a 2008 Bush administration plan that was tossed out in federal court, affects millions of acres of national, state and private forest land in Washington, Oregon and Northern California.
The plan to kill barred owls would not be the first time the federal government has authorized killing of one species to help another. California sea lions that feast on threatened salmon in the Columbia River have been killed in recent years after efforts to chase them away or scare them failed.
The U.S. Agriculture Department kills thousands of wild animals each year -- mostly predators such as coyotes -- to protect livestock. Other animals, including bears, wolves and raccoons also are killed through the program.
Officials acknowledge that the plan to kill barred owls creates an ethical dilemma but say an experiment on land in Northern California has shown promising results. Spotted owls have returned to historical territories after barred owls were removed.