Protesting Burrowing Owl Eviction

January 6, 2010

An ongoing controversy over the displacement of burrowing owls in Antioch brought out 40 local residents and others from across the Bay Area on Sunday for a march to raise awareness about the eviction of burrowing owls at the Blue Ridge development site in Antioch. (See our previous story on this.)

Activists fighting the eviction seek to change the California Department of Fish and Game’s policy of moving owls by passive relocation (installing one-way doors on burrows to prevent owls from entering them). “There must be mitigation for these owls when you displace them from their homes. Now they’re just locking the owls out. The mitigation is zero,” Says Scott Artis, who lives near the owls and reports on them in his blog, journOwl.com.

Behind the Blue Ridge development are hills covered with tall grasses, a habitat not suitable for the owls or the ground squirrels whose burrows the owls inhabit. Both species prefer areas with shorter grasses, where good visibility makes it easy for the owls and squirrels to see predators.

Unfortunately, there is no such habitat nearby. “Essentially, this is an island habitat,” says Artis. “The owls have nowhere to go. They aren’t just being pushed back. They are being pushed out – out into the grips of predators.”

According to Prof. Lynne Trulio of San Jose State University, the owls should be moved no more than 100 yards to artificial or natural burrows over a three-week period so that their natural habits are not disrupted. A long-distance move would thus mean a series of short moves over a long period.

This particular project is also under fire because the environmental review was done 15 years ago. Artis and his group are urging the City of Antioch to require a supplement to the 1995 Environmental Impact Study. “That’s too long ago to be useful. You have to see what has happened here and look at the surrounding area to know what needs to be done.”

Katherine Portman, of the Burrowing Owl Preservation Society, says the owls are facing major problems across their range despite being lists as a Species of Special concern by the state. “California Fish and Game’s policy of allowing contract biologists to evict burrowing owls from their burrows is contributing to the decline of the species,” she says. “The owls, excluded from their burrows, are likely to die from predation or automobile traffic. And since each pair should raise four chicks, this is a significant take.”

In 2003, says Portman, Fish and Game committed to publishing a Burrowing Owl Conservation Plan. “We’re still waiting. [Fish and Game] should at least install artificial burrows in the surrounding hills. They could even move these birds to the burrowing owl habitat in Antioch’s conservation park. They are not even banding them, so we can see where they go. As it is, [Fish and Game] is in violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the California Environmental Quality Act, and their own code.”

As of publication, officials from the Department of Fish and Game have not responded to our phone calls.

About the Author

Donna Whitmarsh is a Bay Nature volunteer.

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