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Re: Fatally Wounded Great Gray Owl

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avatar Fatally Wounded Great Gray Owl
September 13, 2012 07:00PM
One of Yosemite’s iconic Great Gray Owls was struck and fatally wounded bya vehicle on highway 41 the morning of Friday, August 10, 2012. The Great Gray Owl research team banded her as a mature adult in 2007, making her at least 8 years-old at the time of her death.

This Great Gray Owl was unusually productive, as she nested and successfully raised young during five of the past seven years. Considering that Yosemite Great Gray Owls are known to be infrequent nesters, typically nesting only in years when their small mammal prey are especially abundant, this was a very impressive feat. This particular female successfully incubated, defended, and raised an amazing nine juvenile Great Gray Owls to fledging during her five known nesting attempts, including two this spring. Only the most diligent and experienced Great Gray Owls are successful in raising young. It takes an average of two months for Great Gray Owl juveniles to fledge, including a one-month period when the female remains almost entirely stationary, incubating the eggs atop a nest tree snag, often completely exposed to the elements. This female owl was by far the most productive nesting Great Gray Owl ever documented in Yosemite. The male Great Gray Owl from this territory is now tasked with feeding and caring for the two juveniles without the help of his long-term mate.

This incident is a reminder that we as park employees must all slow down on Yosemite roads for both our own safety and for wildlife, and instruct park visitors to do the same when we interact with them. While the loss of a single Great Gray Owl might seem insignificant, we must remember that exceptionally productive individuals such as the female that was recently killed may be disproportionately important to the health of the California population as a whole. Great Gray Owls are an endangered species with only an estimated 200 individuals in the entire state of California. Yosemite’s meadows provide the core of their breeding range. Unfortunately, this incident is not a rare event, as NPS and USFS biologists have documented over a dozen Great Gray Owl vehicle mortalities over the past ten years. In order to ensure the well-being and survival of the majestic Great Gray Owl and other endangered Yosemite wildlife, please remember to slow down on mountain roads, particularly near meadows and other areas where wildlife tends to concentrate.
avatar Re: Fatally Wounded Great Gray Owl
September 13, 2012 07:50PM
This is one of the reasons for the slower speed limits around Crane Flat.
Re: Fatally Wounded Great Gray Owl
September 13, 2012 08:05PM
If only the Park Service had the personnel to at least enforce speed laws within the park (might gain some revenue too). This is so sad. I've seen so many cars driving at reckless speeds throughout the park and outside.
avatar Re: Fatally Wounded Great Gray Owl
September 13, 2012 11:07PM
I see more traffic enforcement and the use of radar in Yosemite than I see around the San Francisco Bay Area. But the law enforcement rangers can't be everywhere, all the time.

Some of the park employees are the worst offenders in regards to speeding on the park's roads. The Yosemite weekday afternoon rush hour is nicknamed "The Yosemite 500" for good reason.

.
avatar Re: Fatally Wounded Great Gray Owl
September 17, 2012 01:55PM
Where and when have you seen these speeding reckless drivers? My experience over the last 3 years in the park is that drivers going over the speed limit are the exception and the only two drivers I would call reckless were driving far under the speed limit spending half their time splitting the center divider. The most common driver I encounter in the park are the ones driving 10-15 mph under the limit and braking on every turn with many cars stacked up behind them. The rangers should be pulling those people over for breaking the law by not pulling over to allow traffic to pass.
Re: Fatally Wounded Great Gray Owl
September 17, 2012 02:31PM
Regardless if the Owl was hit by a speeding car or not, speeding is an issue in the park. We enter the park via 41 and in my 20 plus years of going on that road I have seen more speeders than I have people driving too slow. On every trip, more than once, we have had someone pass us on a curve because we were going the speed limit and there was no place to pull over. I also find that people driving slow irritating and they should pull over but I feel that speeding is more of an issue because it is dangerous to everyone on those roads.
avatar Re: Fatally Wounded Great Gray Owl
September 17, 2012 04:34PM
I average over 75 miles a day in the park. I see a lot of fast and unsafe drivers. Driving left of center, parking IN the road, tailgaiting, passing on the double yellow, are just as bad, and just as prevelant, as exceeding the speed limit.

Ticketing a vehicle for going too slow is very dangerous and not worth the risk for the officer. They'd have to pass on blind curves and other dangerous areas just to get to the slow driver. And what if it is a group of motorcycles? Who is the officer going to ticket?
avatar Re: Fatally Wounded Great Gray Owl
September 17, 2012 04:50PM
Quote
Dave

Ticketing a vehicle for going too slow is very dangerous and not worth the risk for the officer. They'd have to pass on blind curves and other dangerous areas just to get to the slow driver.

On roads with very few straightaways like Wawona Road or the Hetch Hetchy Road, it is indeed more difficult to ticket the slow driver. Though if the rangers were on motorcycles it would be far easier.

But on all other park roads, like Big Oak Flat Road, Glacier Point Road, or Tioga Road, it wouldn't be that difficult or dangerous to ticket the excessively slow drivers since the LE Rangers often park on the side of the road at the end of the straightaway when using a radar gun to pullover speeders. In other jurisdictions, the LEO often would be out of their patrol car (or off their motorcycle) when pointing the radar car at the vehicles. If the radar a too slow of a driver, all the LEO needs to do with flag down the approaching slow driver to pull over.

But going back to what causes the roadkill, I think distracted drivers are more of a problem than either those who drive too fast or those who drive too slow.

.
avatar Re: Fatally Wounded Great Gray Owl
September 17, 2012 05:22PM
On all of the roads within Yosemite with a double yellow line down the middle would be far too dangerous to attempt to pass a long line of cars to ticket a slow driver. It's not worth the risk.
avatar Re: Fatally Wounded Great Gray Owl
September 17, 2012 05:31PM
Which is why I stated that it would be more difficult to ticket slow drivers on Wawona or Hetch Hetchy Roads.

But on Big Oak Flat, Tioga, and Glacier Point Roads, all of these road have straightaways with single dashed yellow lines (where passing is permitted). On those road, slow drivers could be ticketed with relative safety.

Besides the LE Rangers could always go Code 3 with lights and siren switched on which would require any vehicle ahead of them to pull over to the side of the road to let the ranger pass. I've seen rangers travel down Wawona Road with their lights and siren on. All of us in their way had to pullover (pullout or no pullout) to let the ranger pass.

.
avatar Re: Fatally Wounded Great Gray Owl
September 17, 2012 05:53PM
Quote
Dave
Ticketing a vehicle for going too slow is very dangerous and not worth the risk for the officer.

You just work in pairs. The following officer radios ahead to an officer that flags the vehicle to pull over. The CHP uses that technique, though not often enough.
avatar Re: Fatally Wounded Great Gray Owl
September 17, 2012 07:35PM
Sure, but what's their motivation? Traffic is going slow - as it should be. Fewer accidents, fewer animals killed, etc. There are more important things for LE to be doing.

I get frustrated behind a slow vehicle, or pack of motorcycles, but they eventually pull over or a safe passing zone comes around. If not, I just chill out and go slow. It's not worth making myself upset over. I have much more important things to worry about.
avatar Re: Fatally Wounded Great Gray Owl
September 17, 2012 07:45PM
Quote
Dave
Fewer accidents

Not sure that is true. Too slow leads to people making stupid passing decisions.
avatar Re: Fatally Wounded Great Gray Owl
September 17, 2012 08:04PM
Exactly. It creates agitated drivers behind the slow poke. And that's not a good thing.

I'm like Dave though. On Wawona, where there are no passing lanes for the length of the road within Yosemite (they even double-yellowed lined the only passing lane on that was on the road a few years back – the one inside the Wawona Tunnel), I just chill out and even sometimes just pull off the road to open a minute or two gap between my car and the line of slow cars. Then I go back on the road and I'm able to drive at the normal speed for at least five minutes or so, sometimes even longer, before I catch up to the slow moving "caravan".



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 09/17/2012 11:10PM by plawrence.
Re: Fatally Wounded Great Gray Owl
September 23, 2012 07:54PM
Quote
parklover
Regardless if the Owl was hit by a speeding car or not, speeding is an issue in the park. We enter the park via 41 and in my 20 plus years of going on that road I have seen more speeders than I have people driving too slow. On every trip, more than once, we have had someone pass us on a curve because we were going the speed limit and there was no place to pull over. I also find that people driving slow irritating and they should pull over but I feel that speeding is more of an issue because it is dangerous to everyone on those roads.
I am almost always tailgaited when I drive the speed limit on the 41 leaving the valley.
Re: Fatally Wounded Great Gray Owl
September 23, 2012 08:03PM
Makes you want to slam on your brake doesn't it? I hate when someone tailgates me and it happens multiple times a day where I live. I live on a very windy,narrow and ,in places, steep road and even if I am going 5 miles over the speed limit, someone starts tailgaiting me and then when I stop at the next stop sign they pass me while I am stopped. Best part is that I usually meet up with them at the stop light at the bottom of our street.
avatar Re: Fatally Wounded Great Gray Owl
September 23, 2012 09:44PM
Quote
parklover

Makes you want to slam on your brake doesn't it?

Huh? Why? To cause a rear-end collision?

When someone's is tailgating me on a two-lane highway, I'll usually pull over and let that car pass so I don't get rear-ended if I have to stop suddenly.

Even when a car is NOT tailgating me, but I realize I'm slowing it down (usually when I'm driving on mountain roads that I'm not very familiar with), I'll pull over when it's safe to do so and let that car pass.

I don't have a problem with vehicles passing me if they want to drive at a faster speed that I'm comfortable with.

.
avatar Re: Fatally Wounded Great Gray Owl
September 23, 2012 09:50PM
Quote
hotrod4x5
[
I am almost always tailgaited when I drive the speed limit on the 41 leaving the valley.

Are you sure that your driving always at the speed limit on Wawona Road (35 MPH) between Tunnel View and Wawona?

When I'm able to drive at the speed limit on Wawona (35 MPH) I rarely get a car on my tail. Vehicles usually catch up to me if I'm following someone who goes 35 MPH on the straighter portions of Wawona Road, but slows down to 25 MPH on the curvier parts of the road.

But if I'm driving a steady 35 MPH on the road, only on rare occasion I'll have someone catch up to me from behind.

.
Re: Fatally Wounded Great Gray Owl
September 30, 2012 06:54PM
Quote
plawrence
Quote
hotrod4x5
[
I am almost always tailgaited when I drive the speed limit on the 41 leaving the valley.

Are you sure that your driving always at the speed limit on Wawona Road (35 MPH) between Tunnel View and Wawona?

When I'm able to drive at the speed limit on Wawona (35 MPH) I rarely get a car on my tail. Vehicles usually catch up to me if I'm following someone who goes 35 MPH on the straighter portions of Wawona Road, but slows down to 25 MPH on the curvier parts of the road.

But if I'm driving a steady 35 MPH on the road, only on rare occasion I'll have someone catch up to me from behind.

.
Yes, I am sure.
avatar Re: Fatally Wounded Great Gray Owl
September 17, 2012 07:42PM
Well, now I know what topic to bring up to get people to comment. winking smiley I agree with the comments that there are ways for the rangers to pull over slow moving vehicles. If they did a little of that the word would get out to more slow drivers that they need to pull over and let traffic by. To me it's just common courtesy to let other drivers pass even if they are speeding. It's not my job to enforce traffic laws and I don't want upset drivers tailgating me.

I have not seen the speeding and illegal passing on Tioga Road, Big Oak Flat Road or Glacier Point Road that apparently occurs on Wawona Road.
avatar Re: Fatally Wounded Great Gray Owl
September 17, 2012 08:15PM
I've driven often on Wawona Road for the past 20+ years (though not as often as someone who works in the park like Dave). I've only seen twice someone illegally passing a slower moving vehicle on Wawona Road, the last time about eight years ago.

What I've seen far more often on Wawona are drivers driving down the middle of the freaking road around blind turns!!! It's almost always a large vehicle, be it a minivan, a large pickup truck or even an RV. I wouldn't be surprised if these stupid drivers are the ones that cause the most accidents on Wawona Road.

.
Re: Fatally Wounded Great Gray Owl
September 13, 2012 08:34PM
Very sad. What a beautiful creature.
avatar Re: Fatally Wounded Great Gray Owl
September 17, 2012 01:46PM
A sad incident for sure but it seems that this article is reinforcing the questionable meme that speeding vehicles are killing wildlife in disproportionate numbers to speed limit obeying vehicles. I've never read any study that links driving over the speed limit to increased wildlife fatalities but I'd like to read one that compares the two groups. I suspect that moving vehicles are simply incompatible with wildlife.

I tried to do a little research on both this article and the Great Gray Owl (GGOW). The article was issued by the GGOW research team who published a paper on the Yosemite GGOW last year.

http://www.nps.gov/yose/naturescience/upload/greatgrayowlreport2011.pdf

The article does not say that this latest fatality was caused by a speeding driver. By not stating that this is entirely unknown, the article implies that it was.

I was struck by the statistic of over a dozen GGOW vehicle fatalities in the last 10 years. That seemed like a really high number for such a rare bird. Why would this be so? A little research turned up the fact the GGOWs have a habit of flying less than 20 feet above the ground. This combined with their flight time of dusk until dawn is likely the reason for the high incidence of collisions with vehicles. No driver, no matter what speed they are traveling, is going to be able to see an owl at night to avoid a collision. And I doubt that a collision at any speed is going to have a good outcome for the owl. Unless you're willing to ban nighttime driving through GGOW habitat, I don't see how these vehicle encounters can be reduced.

There are other things in the article that are misleading. The article says "200 individuals" while the paper says 100-200 pairs plus there are individuals. This is still a really low number but a factor of 2 is misleading. The article says the GGOW is an endangered species. It is not an endangered species and it's false to say this. It is a rare species within the borders of California and the northern Sierra happen to be at the periphery of its range. Many species are rare at the periphery of their ranges. Another estimate I found says there are an estimated 20,000 to 100,000 GGOWs in Canada. The range extends into the northern US and also in Europe and Asia.

GGOWs have been placed on the California endangered species list and the Yosemite population has been granted subspecies status. How you feel about this depends on what you think about labeling species as rare based on political borders and whether you fall into the "lumper" or "splitter" camp of taxonomists. If you're unfamiliar with these, lumpers tend to avoid creating subspecies while splitters want to create as many as possible.

Finally, I found reference in the paper to two GGOW vehicle fatalities outside of Yosemite. This brings up the question that of the 12+ vehicle fatalities, how many occurred within the park borders beside the most recent one? I couldn't find anything on that.
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