Chief James Hobart, Spuzzum First Nation; Nathan Cullen, Minister of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship; and Jasmine McCulligh, facility co-ordinator for the Northern Spotted Owl Breeding Program, have released the following statements in response to the recent loss of two spotted owls:
Chief James Hobart, Spuzzum First Nation:
“It’s with an extremely unsettled spirit that I learned the devastating news that, in early May 2023, members of our Skelúle? team discovered the GPS transponders and remains of two of the recently released northern spotted owls in Spuzzum First Nation traditional territory.
“While we hoped this day would not come so soon, we also knew from the start that we were taking on a project that had many variables. In the coming months, I promise that we will honour our relatives not only by retracing their last days, but also by retracing every step we took up until the owls’ release and after to better ascertain what we could have done differently to ensure their survival.
“As our freshly assembled team — made up of representatives from the Spuzzum First Nation, the B.C. government, biologists and northern spotted owl experts — began this project, it became abundantly clear in our initial planning sessions that marrying science with Indigenous knowledge could provide the best results.
“However, as you can imagine, this approach has its own hurdles that we would need to face as a team, while owning the wins and losses together. We also need to accept that the two owls may have been summoned by their ancestors to restore balance in that space.
“I promise that it’s with new resolve and determination that we will increase our efforts, doing whatever it takes to avoid ever having to experience this space in time again. As the host Nation, we extend our deepest sympathy to Jasmine McCulligh and the entire breeding centre staff, as we’re aware that you have put your trust in our hands.
“As a cautionary note to anyone who may believe that this loss has in any way diminished our efforts, we take on the challenge to push the pendulum even further to harmonize all moving parts. We took on this challenge together, and we will continue to keep on the intended path of repopulation of Skelúle?.”
Nathan Cullen, Minister of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship:
“The B.C. government and our partners are doing everything we can to help spotted owls recover, including supporting the world’s only captive breeding and release program for this endangered species.
“The conservation of these remarkable birds in B.C. took a significant step forward last August, when three male spotted owls born and raised in the Langley breeding facility were released into protected habitat in the Fraser Valley. It was the first such release of these rare birds into the wild in Canada.
“Unfortunately, we learned earlier this month that two of those owls have died. The cause of death is unknown, but potential causes include physical injury, predation, disease or starvation. The third owl was found injured in October, but it was treated and returned to the spotted owl breeding facility in Langley, where it has since recovered.
“The release of these owls is part of an ongoing learning process to help their populations recover in B.C. One of the primary goals was to draw on this experience to inform procedures for transporting, releasing and supporting released owls in future. Three males (and no females) were released because enough males were already participating in the breeding program.
“The population of spotted owls at the Langley breeding facility must continue to grow to produce enough offspring to be released into the wild to support the species’ long-term recovery. Releasing spotted owls that were born at the facility is an essential component of the program. It’s not without risk, and we acknowledge that there is much that we have to learn and discover so that we can support these owls to survive and become established in the wild.
“Everyone involved in spotted owl recovery in B.C. is saddened by the loss of these two amazing creatures, but releasing captive-born spotted owls into the wild is an essential component of the spotted owl recovery program. The long-term goal is to establish a resilient and self-sustaining spotted owl population within healthy forest ecosystems, but it will take decades to achieve that goal.
“The Spuzzum First Nation’s participation and Chief James Hobart’s leadership have been instrumental in the spotted owl recovery program reaching this point. The Spuzzum First Nation’s land guardians also provided on-the-ground support by sharing their knowledge of the land and natural resources within their territory and participating in release operations.
“The loss of these two spotted owls is certainly unfortunate, and it will help us learn more about raising and releasing spotted owls and how to guide the recovery of this species. We remain confident in our overall approach and optimistic that we’ll see more positive results in the years to come.”
Jasmine McCulligh, facility co-ordinator for the Northern Spotted Owl Breeding Program:
“The Northern Spotted Owl Breeding Program has dedicated the past 15 years to caring for its breeding population of spotted owls in the hope that captive-born offspring would one day be released into the wild.
“We spent countless hours nurturing these owls, from their first heartbeats to their first flights. It was an exciting and rewarding moment to finally see three of them released into the wild last summer.
“Although this is clearly not the result we had wished for, we are committed to learning as much as we can from this experience to help the breeding and release program move forward. Each time we see the owls or hear their calls at the breeding centre, we are reminded that our job is to care for them and prepare them for life in the wild.”