The spotted owl, already encroached upon by the invasive, usurping barred owl and under siege from continuing loss of its old-growth-forest habitat, may have a new enemy: rat poison on illegal marijuana plantations.
The Hoopa Tribe, in conjunction with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is looking to test birds’ remains to see how susceptible they are to rat poison. It is part of the years-long effort to learn what has been reducing spotted owl numbers by five percent to 15 percent annually between 1990 and 2008, according to an Associated Press report.
It’s owls in the southern part of their range, where large-scale, illegal marijuana plantations are plentiful, that they are in potential danger, AP said. The birds’ primary prey in Northern California and southwest Oregon, where there lie a plethora of illegal pot farms, are dusky-footed woodrats, the wire service said. Household rat poison is often put out to keep the rodents from eating the pot plants on the illegal farms. The owls eat the rats and are poisoned.
Hoopa Tribe lands fall smack in the middle of this region known as the Emerald Triangle, and Fish and Wildlife has already awarded the tribe $200,000 in grants to study the intersection of rat poison and wildlife, AP said. Tribal wildlife biologist J. Mark Higley told AP that the money will be used to clean up several pot farms on the reservation, as well as testing the soil and species of prey including snails, crawdads and wood rats for rat poison.
Since spotted owls are so rare to spot, alive or dead, officials are testing remains of their cousin the barred owl to see if rat poison is present. It is already known that fishers, related to the weasel, are being poisoned in this way to such a degree that they’re even being considered for inclusion on the endangered species list, AP said. So far, half of the 10 barred owls tested were positive for rat poison, AP said, as were two spotted owls corpses found in Mendocino County in Northern California, said Mourad Gabriel, a veterinary doctoral student who is spearheading the research.
Marijuana farms have been a problem for the Hoopa for some time because the illegal plantations encroach on sacred lands. Last year tribal officials joined with federal authorities to remove 26,000 pot plants from a sacred site on the reservation. (Related: Hoopa Tribe Helps Destroy 26,600 Marijuana Plants Invading Sacred Land)