These four men will have a long wait before that happens. Four men fined for shooting owls (Duluth News Tribune, Tuesday September 20th)
From the article:
Four Carlton County men have been fined after separate incidents of shooting owls that migrated into the region during last winter's owl irruption.Anyone who has dug through the archives of my blog to its beginning last winter knows that I was utterly in awe of the spectacle of the great gray owl irruption that occurred in 2004-2005 in my county. I kept counts on my daily drive to work, sometimes logging up to fifteen individual owls in 30 miles. I had several near-misses as owls swooped in front of my car; I even came home one day to see an owl sitting on my mailbox. (Insert Harry Potter reference here) I hung onto the hope that some may have stayed around and nested. I never lost my sense of wonder and amazement; it made a long Minnesota winter somewhat more bearable.
In the cases:
• Jacob Line admitted to federal agent Brad Merill that he had shot an owl that was feeding near Cromwell in January. Line was fined $850.
• Roy Line admitted to shooting and destroying an owl and also was fined $850.
• Mlaskoch admitted to shooting four owls and will pay fines and restitution totaling $3,400.
• Warner admitted to shooting eight owls with .22 and .22-250 caliber rifles. Warner later pleaded guilty to violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act for his role in killing great gray owls and faces fines and restitution totaling up to $6,800. Warner will be sentenced Oct. 24 in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis, and his hunting, fishing and trapping privileges could be suspended for two years.
So why would anyone willingly take the life of a great gray owl? I believe it is nothing more than ignorance, stupidity, and laziness, pure and simple. All of the shooters listed above made excuses and showed no remorse. They believed that these owls, which primarily feed on small voles and other rodents, posed a serious threat to penned pheasants, domestic chickens, and wild ruffed grouse.
"The owl killed a couple of pheasants; that's why he did it," Jacob Line's father, Roger Line, said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "He told that to the DNR, but the DNR wasn't very understanding, I guess."There are plenty of other predators that pose an even more serious threat to medium to large sized birds: great horned owls, goshawks, foxes, and coyotes to name a few. However, predators alone are not the problem nor can they be simply placed in the category of "enemy". They are just doing their jobs, filling their respective niches. As a somewhat novice caretaker of chickens, and having suffered some losses to unkown predators, I believe that some responsibility is mine. If I want to raise livestock such as pheasants or chickens, I should be mindful of the dangers posed by predators and build appropriate shelter. Even then, I can expect to lose a certain percentage of the flock as the "cost of doing business". It is simplistic to believe that the loss of domestic birds is necessarily worth the life of any predator.
In an interview Tuesday, Mlaskoch said he knew that the birds were protected but that he shot them because "there's no grouse around here anymore; I took it upon myself to address the problem."
--Minneapolis Star Tribune, Tuesday September 20, 2005
That said, there is very little evidence to support the claim that great gray owls will more than very rarely take any prey larger than perhaps a squirrel. I've picked up the carcasses of dead great grays, including the one I photographed above. They are extremely light; mostly fluff and feathers. It is physically impossible for them to fly off with a chicken-sized animal.
As for the self-appointed protector of ruffed grouse, who lives not too far away from me: I suggest before taking things into your own hands, you learn a bit about their life history. Ruffed grouse populations have distinct cycles of abundance, which biologists are only beginning to understand. My husband did some undergraduate research with the late ruffed grouse researcher Gordon Gullion, and some of his work, which remains unpublished, suggests that the cycle is so complex it even involves cycles in the nutritive value of aspen catkins. Forest management practices also play a role in the carrying capacity of the land. So it's not as simple as shoot an owl=save a grouse. And why should any human be so arrogant as to play God and interfere with systems we don't understand? Yes, ruffed grouse populations are at a low point in their cycle. And that is the way it works.
No, these lowlife scum chose to shoot great gray owls for one reason. They are an easy target. You can walk right up to them. They have no innate fear of humans. It does not take a lot of effort to shoot and kill a great gray owl. You can even stay in the comfort of your heated pickup truck and knock off one or two without even spilling beer all over the dashboard or dropping your cigarette, because they often perch in trees next to cleared ditches and road right of ways. No, great gray owls are a lazy idiot's target.
What really bothers me is how this is just a symptom of how our society in general views Nature: as something to be subdued, overcome, controlled. Period. Owls are killed without any thought as to how they fit into the system as a whole; they are the enemy. There is a lot of discussion going on about this topic on the Minnesota Ornithologist's Union listserv, and the consensus is you just cannot reach people like this through punishment or education. So have the conservation and environmental movements (they are two separate entities, although they share more in common that they would like to believe) failed to have any significant impacts on our society's ideas about how we value the land and all of its inhabitants? It would appear we have not come too far since Leopold's time.
I could write out pages and pages of Aldo Leopold quotes right now that would be relevant. Perhaps an edition of "A Sand County Almanac For Dummies" should be written for those who can't get through Leopold's eloquence, and be required reading for these criminals.