In the summer of 2022, the Northern Spotted Owl Breeding Program (NSOBP) took a monumental step forward with its first release of spotted owls in British Columbia. Sítist, who hatched in 2020, was one of the owls selected for release after passing hunting, fitness, and health tests. He was equipped with a GPS tracker and released alongside two other males into protected habitat in the Fraser Canyon. These releases symbolized the aspirations and dedication of generations striving for conservation progress.
While it’s difficult to keep expectations from getting too high, it is important to remember that there are always risks animals face in the wild. In the fall of 2022, after successfully surviving on his own for two months, Sítist was found injured close to train tracks within protected habitat in the Fraser Canyon.
Although we do not know for sure what happened, we believe he may have collided with a passing train. Thankfully, a railway worker noticed Sítist and brought him to the Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Society (OWL) in Delta for treatment. Once there, he was diagnosed with a broken wing and an eye injury. Fortunately, his injuries were relatively minor, and he recuperated at OWL for several weeks before making a complete recovery and returning to the NSOBP.
While Sítist was recovering at OWL, Spô’zêm First Nation gathered for him near the release site, where drummers and knowledge-keepers held traditional healing ceremonies. Here he was given the traditional name Sítist, which means “night” in the Nlaka'pamux language. Sítist returned to the NSOBP in late 2022, where he was closely monitored to assess his re-release potential.
After another round of x-rays, health exams, flight tests, and hunting tests, it was determined that Sítist was fit to be released again. In July 2023, he returned to the old-growth forests of Spô’zêm where he can reunite with his ancestral lands and skies.
Every success and setback is an opportunity for the NSOBP to learn and grow, and we have much to learn from the owls themselves. Both the 2022 and 2023 releases were within Spô’zêm territory, with a new release site selected this year thanks to Sítist. While analyzing his 2022 tracking data, field biologists noted a stretch of old-growth he spent most of his time in.
When the biologists surveyed this area they found lush old-growth habitat that would make a better release site than that used in 2022. Analyzing GPS data gives us important logistical information, but it also lets us listen to what the owls are trying to tell us.
Sítist led us to a new area of the forest we hope he will call home, and that will hopefully lead to more successful releases in the future.
This article was originally published in our 2023 Newsletter.