Tuesday, May 25, 2010

How it works: Regulations and education

I thought I'd take a little time and try to explain how changing regulations works to educate the entire wildlife community, and why this is so important:

First, let me adamantly point out that we must continue our efforts to educate our communities about owlboxes - that they are more than just a method of rodent control! These are living, sentient, emotional, ENDANGERED beings, and it's not enough for them to serve us by hunting rodents - we must serve them in return by making sure that the owlets they're working so hard to feed (while they clean up our rodent problem) survive!

I am certain that most people w/ owlboxes on their land have no idea anything is wrong. And many of these owlboxes are on very large parcels of land where the owner doesn't see the day to day operation of the owls and their behavior and needs. Nor will the owner see when the owlets fall and are dragged off by other wild animals.

So we do need to educate! And we will do that through the owl alliance and through individual efforts of likeminded people. We hope to put together both a website and a brochure that can clearly outline the issues and solutions.

So why the need to change the law and regulations?

Note that one of our commenters went to a wildlife rehab center and noticed that there were perches for the birds of prey, and that they all had astroturf on them (usually held on tightly by those plastic zip ties).

They are all like that because that's a regulation.

When wildlife centers put together a cage for a particular animal, they refer to a big notebook that has all the regulations for all the caging needs of each type of animal spelled out in great detail. The dimensions, materials used, perches, EVERYTHING.

By reading this notebook, the wildlife people are instantly educated as to the needs of the species they are working with. Even if they don't know the reasons for all the regulations, the outcome is that they do build the right setup for that species so that it will thrive.

It's instant, top-down education.

The same goes for wildlife regulators. They know what they know largely by having to read and know the regulations. They don't have to be specialists in every species out there - they just have to know the laws that they are to enforce, and they do enforce them.

So if we manage to get it put into the current willdlife code that all owl boxes must have branching systems, must be installed in shade, must have a door with the bottom at least 8-10 inches above the floor, and must have a way for the owlets to climb back up (and all of these will be defined specifically with measuremets and materials and installation requirements), then that wildlife agent suddenly knows what is needed and necessary. He or she does not have to know every intimate detail about barn owl branching or how they learn to fly. He/she just knows that this is what they need and makes sure that's what they get.

The wildlife agent does come to understand the reasoning, though, and is able to explain that to whoever owns the land upon which the box sits.

Regulations, then, DO serve to instantly educate all the people who are working closely with the animals involved, and that is passed on to the people who put up the owlboxes, and passed on to the builders of owlboxes.

It's a very effective way to spread the word and solve the problem all at the same time!

We are currently filing papers for the Barn Owl Alliance to be a 501(c)3, meaning a nonprofit organization. We're pulling together all kinds of information from all over the place, and we're working on putting up a website to contain this information and be a go to site for all things owlbox and barn owl (eventually). The wheels are turning.

And it can be done by working directly with the Dept of Fish and Game and the Dept of Fish and Wildlife. Fines for non-compliance help to fund the enforcement of these laws. For example, the fine for harrassing a nest of wild owls, or taking one for oneselfl without a permit, or shooting one, is $25,000 and minimum 6 months in jail.

This is serious stuff!

Twenty five THOUSAND dollars minimum, per offence, and a minimum of 6 months in jail!

I'm not saying this would be the fine for an improperly installed owlbox, I'm saying that under current law, this is what happens if you harrass a nest of owls or take one for yourself w/o a permit, or shoot one, or injure one. The severity of the mandatory sentence tells you how seriously the Dept of Fish and Wildlife and Dept of Fish and Game take this issue! And they learned about the importance of these things from the research done by biologists.

So we aim to fill the gap that is allowing so many owlets to perish after their parents have been lured to an inadequate box. The more of these inadequate boxes that are put up, the lower will be the survival rate of baby owls, and the more endangered they will become unless we do something to change the way owlboxes are installed and built. That is why we are doing this.

It's very exciting to be able to help change the outcome for so many, many of these beloved, smart, sassy, emotional, curious, empathetic, lovely, sincere, loyal, earnest, innocent beings with whom we share this sweet earth! It's an honor and a huge privilege to be their voice, to be protectors of their futures.



Chris said...

Great work, Stacey! I did hear Carlos say that the owlets were preferring the structures to the tree. However I also heard him say on Monday morning (I believe) that Tom's boxes were "excellently designed" and needed no changes or adapting. He repeated this several times, insistently. This is so foolish. Even if Tom changed nothing else, he could at least add a "porch" and a rudimentary perching structure attached to the base of the box, extending a foot or two in front of and behind the box at entry level. At least that way there would be some place to jump from door to perches to roof and back. Oh yes, and cover the pole with astroturf so maybe, just maybe, they could climb back up, if they put the pole on the same side as the entrance, instead of opposite. That would required little or no effort, and could save a lot of lives during the long stretch of getting regulations passed. I'd like to see some small steps these builders might be convinced to do, that could be done right now.

Chris said...

In years of working with recalcitrant Humane Society directors and boards, I found the most success by offering detailed plans for a few very concrete and easy things they could do to make things better was much more likely to start a process of the change we ultimately wanted to see than trying to convince them they were wrong.

Chris said...

I am the world's worst proofreader!

melinda said...

Tom was chatting on the O&O site late last night and I believe he was saying that he is going to have some sort of "new" design and also he stated that he is now offering, at extra cost, some fledging platforms....could it be possible that he's getting the message? I think he says he was involved in the new platforms that went up for O&O, although I'm not positive on that.

Also, I noticed in one of the photos that Carlos posted on the Molly blog that he had put astroturf on the landing platform that the owlets are using....

I'm very exciting about the alliance and think it's cause is so important.....

chipmonk said...

Stacey,as a member of The Barn Owl Alliance,i don't need to say what a great blog today,but i will anyway,lol.As members we know you and we know your heart,and I think so are alot more people.In a small way,and we have just begun,i think people are getting it!.Like all the members in BOA,I am so proud of you and of all our members,like you always say Stacey;Lets get-er done,and we will.

Brenda said...

Stacy, I'm in Louisiana. I imagine you're following what is happening to our brown pelicans on our coastline right now. Have you been asked for advice? If not, would you have advice if you were to be asked? Thanks. I enjoy your blog, and I so enjoyed your book.

Stacey O'Brien said...

The only advice I have is for every wildlife rehabber who can to go down and join the existing rehabbers and wildlife centers. We used to go out in boats and FIND pelicans in trouble. We called them "Pancakes" in the dark humor of rehab centers. That meant their heads were resting on their backs and they were too weak to hold their heads up. We'd net them into the boat and take them in. First, if it's oil, you scrub them w/ toothbrushes in warm water w/ one of the good, greasecutting dish soaps and allow them to dry. Keep them warm. We'd check to see if they could swallow and remove all hindrances like fishing line and hooks that we could remove. We'd first tube feed them a solution similar to pedialyte, but specific for starving pelicans. Then if they kept that down, slowly graduate to a nutritious solution.

We'd never just put them into a pool, but would do the "float test" in a bin of water, watching them closely (warm water so they don't chill). If they started to tip over or sink, we pulled them out and knew that they weren't ok yet.

Sometimes many, many scrubbings are necessary,

I don't know if using activated charcoal is advised or not for pelicans when they've ingested too much poison.

I've never worked an oil spill but have worked w/ individual pelis a LOT along w/ other seabirds.

There must be existing wildlife centers w/ expertise already in place. You can see if they need volunteers to do laundry, clean cages, and do other grunt work, and they need experts for other work.

It's so overwhelming. If you can relocate and help in an existing wildlife center, or if you can donate money or towels and other items, do so!

That would be my advice...

PS: Thank you guys for all your support!!

Anonymous said...

Stacey, you realize, I'm sure, the virulent anti-regulation fervor that is rampant among a certain segment of our population. And that virulence seems particularly concentrated when it comes to "environmentalists and tree-huggers." So, the fight to get this new set of regulations through won't be an easy battle.

Having said that, you and the BOA are on the side of the angels here. Don't let the naysayers and the profiteers dim your passion for barn owl protection.

Anonymous said...

PS: I hope that you won't mind that I placed a link to this blog post on my own owl box project blog, because I think it deserves the widest exposure possible. thomboyd.com

wess_liana said...

Stacey, as always...this is an excellent post! It's exciting to see that our Barn Owl Alliance is starting to get some traction! I'm encouraged by folks who are making changes to their boxes as a direct result of what they've learned from you and the BOA!!!

Evelyn said...

Hi there, I remember you saying that after studying wild barn owls, it seemed that the female stayed with the owlets until they fledged, I'm wondering if you might have been mistaken in which owl or owls are leaving to hunt.

The barn owl cams I've been keeping track of, the female starts going off to hunt when the owlets are 2-3 weeks old, it seems fairly consistent between cams.

Brenda said...

Thanks, Stacey, for your good advice. I will inquire as to what is being done, what I can do, and share your expertise where/when I am able. I admire you so much, and I feel that I know you from having just read your book. Thanks again. We need ALL the help/advice we can get.

Stacey O'Brien said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stacey O'Brien said...

I will answer your statement about the owls you've watched on web-cams. First, these are all not entirely wild environments w/ cameras and possible other disturbances. Second, I have never said that it's not possible for the 2 parents to hunt.

I was not mistaken about anything I said. I'm not speaking just for myself and my own observations, but I'm talking about the collective observations of dozens of barn owl biologists who have dedicated their entire lives to watching barn owls in the wild, not just on webcams.

Having said that, however, i will say that I have only studied barn owls in Southern California, up near the Angeles Crest Forest and in Carlsbad and its surrounds.

I'm aware of other studies that state that barn owl females have been known to go out hunting when the babies have gained enough fluff to stay warm on their own. However, that has not been OUR observation, in general. By that I mean that STATISTICALLY, it was more likely, according to our studies, that the female, IN SUCCESSFUL NESTS, will stay with the babies until well into branching and continue to stay with them until they are hunting on their own.

So, it's important to really parse through the intricacies of what's really being said. English is the best language for science because you can express things in terms of the exact meaning, meaning I can express to you that I'm talking about a statistical probability according to the observations of the people I've worked with and according to my own observations. I am NOT Saying it's impossible for the mother to act as we have seen on a few of these cameras.

In cases where hunting is not as good as it is in a great season, the female may be compelled to help w/ the hunting.

In general, though, she is not eager to leave her babies. The babies are more likely to thrive if the mother stays with them through branching and fledging (that is a statistical probability - so there are going to be successful nests where the mother did leave, such as Molly's nest). But, as you saw with OO nest, the nest was NOT a successful nest (by that we mean all the babies survive to adulthood and independence - ALL the babies).

I know that there are times when I have made a general educated, probability based guess when asked a question on the very fast moving chat, but I don't have time in those situations to explain the caveats, if ands and buts, that go with my "in general" statements.

Then I get misquoted and "people" say "AHA! Scientists were WRONG!".

It can be frustrating when it's not been explained well in our education system, how scientists use statistical probability to inform their "quickie" answers in cases where they're answering questions in "general".

It makes a person not want to answer any questions sometimes! Lol.

So, you're seeing one of the probabilities at work, but you're also seeing a smattering of unsuccessful nests (OO).

I have to wonder if, because of the continual urbanization of our neighborhoods, hunting has gotten worse and worse until now the mothers are more and more compelled to have to go out when the babies are 3 wks old.

This may be a pattern that scientists need to look into! It will be the grad students and post docs who do these studies - it's a perfect subject for someone working on their PhD - to compare data from a particular area from 20+ yrs ago compared to now, when there are less vacant lots, more rodent poisons, less hunting grounds.

Even the La Costa owls no longer nest at this wonderful nesting site I talked about in my book. Why? The nearby fields are all covered w/ cement now, made into a library (don't get me wrong, I love libraries!).

We are seeing some behavioral changes due to changes in the environment caused by man - meaning increased urbanization.