By David Suzuki with contributions from Ontario Science Projects Manager Rachel Plotkin

B.C. is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a captive breeding program to protect spotted owls. With an estimated six of the owls left in the wild in Canada, all in B.C., that seems like good news. But while the program includes some habitat protection, the province is also approving logging in habitat the owl needs to survive.

It’s a major flaw in government-led conservation efforts. Stories of captive breeding programs that lead to successful animal re-introduction are happy, but they’re often born out of sad stories about the animals’ plight.

Captive breeding programs are last-ditch efforts to save animals after humans have degraded or destroyed their habitat to the point where it’s difficult for them to survive. In almost every case, experts and regulators are aware of the species’ decline and the reasons behind it, but calls for habitat conservation go unheeded, or efforts are inadequate to ensure the animals can continue.

Species don’t disappear overnight. Activities that degrade and destroy habitat are allowed to continue until a species is driven to point where it can no longer function in the wild and needs human help.

Conservation would work better if land-use management regimes focused on maintaining habitat wildlife needs to survive before it’s too late. Instead, we wait until tipping points have been passed and then scramble to capture animals for breeding.

Captive breeding itself is often controversial, riddled with risks. When humans handle wildlife over generations, animals can become semi-domesticated and lose intergenerational knowledge about survival in nature. Once they’re re-introduced into the wild, many don’t make it.

The odds of captured predators such as tigers and wolves surviving freedom are only 33 per cent, according to recent research, and studies show captive-bred animals are more likely to interact and mate with other captive-bred animals and lose their ability to communicate with wild peers. Another study concluded captive-bred animals may develop behavioural changes such as “decrease in predator avoidance, decrease in foraging abilities, increase in sleeping patterns, decrease in overall activity, and some problems in social behaviors.”

The intergenerational effects are biological as well as cultural. One study showed captive breeding can result in genetic changes between captive and wild lineages, and confinement can make animals more susceptible to disease outbreaks. (A tragic lion-breeding program resulted in the deaths of nearly two dozen “struck by a mysterious disease aggravated by inbreeding and a weakened gene pool.”)

The main issue is the risk of releasing captive-bred wildlife into degraded habitat that couldn’t support it in the first place. Most examples of successful endangered species recovery involve animals facing threats other than habitat loss. Eagles were declining because of DDT contamination until it was banned. Condors were being poisoned by lead in the bodies of the carrion they ate until lead shot was limited.

Read full David Suzuki here

Friday, 07 September 2018 23:37

Burrowing Owl Events

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Boosting awareness of burrowing owls and their habitat will be the focus of three events beginning next month, hosted by the Burrowing Owl Conservation Society of BC and World Wildlife Fund Canada.

Burrowing owls, an at-risk species, are "charismatic little ground dwelling owls of semi-arid grasslands," the society said, adding they are native to the southern Interior.

The society breeds and releases owls into the region, and volunteers build artificial burrows for them to nest in upon being released.

The first workshop takes place on Sept. 8 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. near Oliver, at a breeding facility located behind the South Okanagan Recovery Centre for Owls.  There, participants will build burrows before a discussion on conservation for the final hour.

A second event will take place on Oct. 5 at the Osoyoos Visitor Centre, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Attendees there will head to a "well-established site" to install burrows and remove invasive plants from their entrances.

A third event is scheduled for Oct. 13 at the Quilchena Resort near Merritt from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., similar to the one taking place in Osoyoos.

"The fall is a perfect time to install and/ or repair burrows for the owls as they have migrated to their wintering grounds in California and even into Mexico," the society noted.

Space is limited, and those looking to participate can find more information and register here.

Article by Castanet

 Residents of B.C.'s Interior shouldn't be alarmed if they start seeing a bunch of owls flying around in coming days. It's all part of the plan.

The B.C. Wildlife Park — a zoo in Kamloops, B.C. — has been working for decades to save the native population of burrowing owls from extinction. The park released dozens of the birds into the wild Friday.

It's part of a provincial survival plan to stabilize the animal's declining population.

"Historically, there were owls here, but we like to live exactly where the owls like to live," said Tracy Reynolds, a zookeeper at the park.

"Because of our farms actually taking over their habitat, they've declined to the point of being almost gone."

The park, a member of the Burrowing Owl Conservation Society of B.C., is trying to create livable areas for the creatures, educate the public on their importance and prevent further owl-habitat loss.

For years, the park has been breeding burrowing owls, and then moving them to large, caged enclosures around the Interior as they get older.

First, the animal spends some time flapping around the enclosure, getting used to it. Then, when the time is right, the enclosures are opened and almost 100 of the tagged owls will be free to roam.

The hope is that many of the tagged owls will return to the prepared enclosures in B.C. after they migrate south for the winter.

Read the full article by Matt Humphrey at CBC

Original CBC article here.

Saturday, 02 September 2017 07:26

Lauren Meads: Top 40 Entrepreneur

This year, Okanagan Edge and the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce have partnered to showcase some of the Okanagan’s most exciting entrepreneurs, through the Top 40 Under 40 program.

This week we recognize Lauren Meads, the executive director of the Burrowing Owl Conservation Society of BC.

Lauren Meads has always been passionate about animals, but became fascinated with animal behaviour and conservation during her university studies.

Meads started volunteering with the Burrowing Owl Conservation Society of BC when she was working on a breeding program for the Northern Spotted Owl.

In 2015 Meads became the field manager for all of the release sites across the province, and this year was named the executive director of the Burrowing Owl Society of BC.

Along with managing breeding activities, Meads works with other volunteers, organizations and local schools.

“This is definitely not your typical job, that you would think has a place in the entrepreneurial world, but it is,” Meads says. “Even with a cute owl by my side I need to convince others of conservation through presentations, fundraising, grant writing and media.”

Click here for the full article at Castanet Media

As founder of the Global Owl Project, David Johnson works with 450 people in 65 countries to research, track, and preserve owl habitat.

He runs a multi-partner project at Umatilla Chemical Depot, in Oregon where volunteers are working hard to increase the numbers or burrowing owls.

A female owl that was tagged and released by BOCS BC was identified nesting at the Umatilla site. She has since mated and produced several young owls that are being monitored.

Dave co-operates with the Burrowing Owl Conservation Society of BC to help save this endangered species.

Read more YakTriNews

Wednesday, 18 March 2015 07:21

WildLens Eyes on Conservation

Burrowing Owls (Athene cunicularia) are a small (150-180 g) species of owl that nests in the natural grasslands of North and South America.

They live in burrows that are first constructed by other burrowing mammals; in BC these mammals are usually badgers and ground squirrels. They are the only owl that nests in the ground, hence their name “burrowing.”

When they first establish a burrow, they remodel the inside by kicking out old dirt.

Sadly, these charismatic owls have been disappearing throughout their range over the last 30 years. In Canada they are listed as Red-Listed (meaning endangered), and in British Columbia they were deemed extirpated in the early 1980s.

There are several potential reasons for declines in Burrowing Owl populations: loss of habitat due to land development, loss of prey species (rodents, grasshoppers), possibly due to agriculture spraying; and the loss of burrowing animals (badgers, ground squirrels, marmots) to dig the holes Burrowing Owls live in. These factors combined with climate changes make this a complex multi-level conservation issue.

Read More at Wild Lens Burrowing Owls of BC

Thursday, 17 August 2017 07:21

Burrowing Owl Hits Charitable Milestone

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The Okanagan's Burrowing Owl Estate Winery is proud to announce a milestone in its support of charitable organizations including the Burrowing Owl Conservation Society of B.C.

As of Aug. 1, 2017, the winery had raised $1,029,357, which has benefited not only the BOCSBC, but also other worthy organizations such as the South Okanagan Raptor Rehabilitation Centre, the Nature Trust of British Columbia, and Nature Conservancy Canada.

The winery celebrated this achievement with a visit by Pluto, an educational ambassador burrowing owl from the Burrowing Owl Conservation Society, and Lauren Meads, biologist and executive director of the society.

Since 2004, Burrowing Owl Estate Winery has been raising funds for conservation by charging a $3 tasting fee to patrons who sample its wines at its on-site wine shop. Proceeds have been donated on an annual basis, with the BOCSBC receiving the lion's share of the funds.

The BOCSBC has always held a special place in the heart of winery proprietor Jim Wyse, who notes “we're always conscious that we really owe our success to the land we grow our grapes on, and helping this beautiful bird survive is one way we can give back to the earth, for all it gives us.”

“Burrowing Owl Estate Winery has taken on a key stewardship role for this species at risk,” said Mike Mackintosh, president of the BOCSBC.

“Their long-term support has given our society the stability and the means to focus on what is most important — rebuilding a self-sustaining population of these tiny, amazing owls in the southern Interior grasslands of B.C.”

Burrowing Owl winery wishes to thank all those who visited the winery's tasting room over the years, and helped put this amazing bird on the road to recovery.

Read the full article Penticton Herald.

About BOCS BC

We are a non-profit society concerned about the conservation of species and habitats in BC.

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02 February 2015
02 February 2015