Public help needed to find Creston Valley screech owls

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The western screech owl.

When biologists embarked on a study of the endangered western screech owl in 2009, they were not aware of how much the success of their project rested on the hands (or ears) of the public. West Kootenay residents, to date, have been integral in finding new territories (four of eight territories monitored last year were reported by local landowners), helping monitor owls and conserve valuable habitat on their properties. Once again, the public is being asked to listen for the calls of the western screech owl.

“Because of their nocturnal habits and elusive ways, these birds have a certain allure with people,“ says biologist and project manager Doris Hausleitner. “We have really appreciated the leads we have received in the past and we are hoping that we can find a couple of new territories this year.”

Although the western screech owl is listed federally and provincially as an endangered species, their habitat is offered no real protection on private land. The western screech owl in the West Kootenay region typically reside in low-elevation areas adjacent to water, precisely where people also like to live. In fact, over 90 per cent of locations (collected from owls wearing small radio backpacks) have occurred on private lands. Biologists have followed owls on eight different territories from the Creston Valley to the Columbia River and from the border of the U.S. north to Slocan City.

“For these territories, there are approximately 150 landowners involved,” added Hausleitner. “So far, every single one of them has cooperated positively with the project which we are really pleased about.

“Getting all the residents of a particular owl’s territory together to view an owl territory has been very successful. A landowner might not think they have high-value land for wildlife when they look within their property lines, but when they see the significance of their property on a larger scale, a sense of collective responsibility sets in. Some have even invited biologists to walk their properties to give them ideas on how to enhance their land and keep important wildlife trees for the owls. This type of habitat conservation will benefit a multitude of species.”

As a direct result of the project, biologists have applied to the province to provide conservation status on approximately 150 hectares of Crown land on three owl territories. In addition, commercial landowners have been notified of owl use on their properties and regional districts have used the spatial data from the project in their official community plans. Together with private landowners, habitat is being conserved for the western screech owl one territory at a time.

The western screech owl telemetry project is funded by the Fish and Wildlife Compen-sation Program, Columbia Basin Trust, FortisBC, Habitat Stewardship Program and the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation.

Project biologists are still searching for owls to monitor by radio telemetry in 2012. Not only will this data be used in habitat conservation, but also for species recovery provincewide. Recordings of the western screech owl can be found at www.owlpages.com. This call, which will only be made when the bird is perching, can be heard at night and should not be confused with that of the common snipe.

If you have heard this owl or you have any further questions please contact Doris Hausleitner at 250-505-7768 or dorishaus@shaw.ca.

— WESTERN SCREECH OWL TELEMETRY PROJECT

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