The BC Program
Phase 1: The Early Years
Burrowing Owls in BC were listed as extirpated in 1980. There were only sporadic sightings usually in the south Okanagan and occasionally in the Lower Mainland coastal areas such as the Fraser Delta and occasionally Vancouver Island.
The overall plan was to try and reintroduce a population back to the areas where they had historically lived (the southern Interior grasslands) in sufficient numbers that they would once again breed and sustain their population from year to year.
Earlier Recovery Work in BC
Ralph Ritcey, Dave Low, and Doug Jury of the Kamloops Wildlife staff released Burrowing Owls from an Ontario owl rehabilitation centre. Owls were releases into artificial burrows, constructed in plywood, ,in locations from Douglas Lake ranch, to near Cache Creek.
Complete families of Burrowing Owls were relocated from from Washington State to BC release sites near Osoyoos and Vaseaux Lakes.
The BC Environment Ministry transplanted a total of 587 birds, mostly young pre-fledgling juveniles, were translocated to a series of artificial burrows. By all reports the moves did not prove too disruptive to the birds who continued to care for their young. Unfortunately, despite large numbers of translocated birds and successful breeding by released owls in the field, the migratory return rates were low. The Washington State population was also beginning to decline. The program was discontinued in 1989.
A radically different approach was required if the reintroduction was to be seriously attempted once again. The new program would have to provide sufficient numbers of owls for release without the effects on external populations. The program would have to ensure that there was sufficient hunting and nesting habitat available for the owls. A successful recovery program would also need the cooperation and support of landowners government staff and non profit groups to accomplish the large amount of work required.
Phase II: 1990 and after
In 1990, a new strategy was planned. Burrowing Owls would be raised in breeding facilities located at Kamloops and Vancouver. Once they were mature the owls would be released to the wild. To compensate for the disappearance of burrowing mammals a network of artificial burrows would provide their living conditions at first. Released owls would then breed and raise their young naturally. It is hoped that over time the released birds and their young will recognize the BC sites as home breeding range. Eventually a sustainable population would be re-established in British Columbia. The Burrowing Owl Recovery Program is the first and longest sustained program of its kind in North America. Over the years we have developed expertise and understanding of Burrowing Owl behaviour:
- Improved captive breeding success
- Locating the best release habitats and protocols
- Refining the artificial burrow design and layouts in the field
- Improving field studies to learn about the life histories of the owls
THE KEY ELEMENTS OF THE BC RECOVERY PROGRAM
THE NEW RECOVERY IMPLEMENTATION PLAN
- The BC Recovery Goal is to establish viable populations of at least ten pairs at four separate locations.
- The recovery approach for Burrowing Owls in British Columbia focuses on the production of young owls from a captive breeding stock and their release as yearlings into suitable habitat where artificial burrows have been installed.
- The success of the program requires three coordinated efforts:
- captive breeding programs
- releases and associated activities including research and monitoring
- Identify important habitat features for nesting and foraging for owls
- Work with landowners concerning the habitat trends that may influence or affect Burrowing Owls