It was a stressful three months for spotted owl researcher Stan Sovern. He watched forest fires ravage Kittitas County where he lives and works, and he worried about his neighbors and his outdoor laboratory.

A place he could depend on for years to find and study spotted owls was in the Table Mountain Fire footprint. On Thursday, he finally got to hike in a see how it fared.

The site suffered a mixture of heavy and light fire damage, but there were still plenty of stands to support owls. But there are other problems facing the spotted owls. He counted 120 of the threatened birds in that district in 1992. At last count, there were only 20.

The number of this species of owls is declining by about 6 percent a year, and a larger cousin gets part of the blame. Barred owl populations are growing as that species migrates west from the eastern states and Canada.

Sovern and other scientists believe the barred owls may be chasing off the smaller spotteds, and in some cases the two species are interbreeding, producing a hybrid sparred owl.

Either way, the future is very blurry for the spotted owl even after massive amounts of forest lands were closed to logging to protect it.

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