We're finally done outlining a detailed plan to create a new owl colony in the Otay Mesa preserve that the Zoo told us about in their email.  We researched extensively, including what rodents we would use, where we would get the rodents, and how we would dispose of them after they finished building burrows.  Along the way, we came across this quotation by Dr. Lenihan of the San Diego Zoo: "The re-establishment of California ground squirrels is a critical component of any long-term recovery plan for burrowing owls and the larger ecosystem because squirrels provide vital resources," Lenihan said. "Sites with ground squirrel colonies have a greater diversity of reptiles, amphibians, insects and birds than sites where they are absent." 

With that, we decided to incorporate ground squirrels into our process, because it would greatly simplify processes after they finished burrowing, since we could simply release them to further replenish the environment.  This sets up an ideal situation in which we both increase biodiversity by reintroducing burrowing owls and ground squirrels back into areas where they were exterminated or otherwise removed, but we also contribute to reestablishing the ecological processes the dominated the area before human intervention.  Our project will actually be helping to reestablish two species at once!

We also decided that we would rescue all animals from around Southern California, researching and mapping points of collection.  Today, we finalized our plans and contacted Mr. Swaisgood who put us in contact with Dr. Lenihan, who is in charge of the Zoo’s Otay Mesa Owl Project.  We just started our letter to her.

At the same time, some team members decided that it would be a good idea to participate in some community service project competitions, since these competitions would give us a chance to present before philanthropically-inclined people and educate them about the burrowing owl.  We researched one competition, the Community Problem Solving Competition of the Future Problem Solving Program, learned the rules, and registered as a team.  At our meeting today, our members started drafting their parts of the final report while others designed more merchandise. Still others compiled more research on burrowing owl-squirrel interactions.

 
 
We're refining our ideas for building an owl colony at the moment, and in the mean time we're starting the fundraising part of our project.  Everything's starting small, and expenses are adding up for our designing and editing.  We sold our first round of donated items and owl-themed merchandise today at a community swap meet at our school.  We've actually raised enough money to continue to expand our merchandise line, which we'll be selling to support local owl conservation groups.

The more we find out about burrowing owls, the more we're falling in love with them.  There's wonderful pictures all over that show their sense of humor, and their expressive faces and silly poses.  That's not all though.  They can't build their own burrows, so they have to use abandoned homes of other animals.  They're one of the most important species in our area, a key indicator species, and their drastic decline has already caused unspeakable damage in our ecosystems, ranging from decreased productivity and growth in pest populations to decreased resource cycling and decline in biodiversity.  All in all, our environment is quickly destabilizing, thanks to the construction companies that defy faulty regulations to destroy important owl habitats.  It's honestly unbelievable what they will do - they come and seal the owls into their burrows, cover the land with concrete, and destroy the ecosystem for every other species.  To make matters worse, many companies don't even try to test for owls before building, and the laws still allow owls to die from exposure because they can be sealed out of their burrows.  After the houses are built, it's too hard to prove whether the companies followed the laws of testing, and so this behavior is just going unchecked.  I wish companies would have more of a sense of pride in their environment, rather than just in their business matters.  If they felt compelled to protect these birds and the beauty of Southern California, maybe owls wouldn't be in this situation in the first place.
 
 
Oh my goodness!  STOP's first partnership already!  The San Diego Zoo and Safari Park are world-renowned organizations, and being able to partner with them will be a dream come true for all of us!  We never expected our idea to attract this kind of attention already.  I can say that we truly live in an exceptional and supportive community.  We might be able to make an ever greater difference in the burrowing owl's conservation already, and I can't wait to get started!

This is our future mentor's email:

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Hello STOP members,

Thank you for contacting us. It's great to see so much passion for the conservation of this species. As well as the breeding program at the Safari Park we are also about to launch a field conservation program here in San Diego County, so your email is very timely.

I would like to explore with your further how we might be able to work together on burrowing owl conservation. I am hiring a scientist to run this project and she will start February 1. Once she is in place we can discuss some possibilities. Your project idea is exceptional.  We are planning work in habitat restoration in the Otay Mesa area.  There will be a lot of work involved so there very way may be a role for your group to help us, or to implement your ideas.

Mike Mace, our curator of birds at the Safari Park, and his team are also keen to meet with you and discuss possibilities. Perhaps we can meet to discuss some options in February.

Again thanks and we look forward to working with you in the future.

Best regards,

Ronald R. Swaisgood, Ph.D.

Brown Endowed Director's Chair, Applied Animal Ecology
Co-Head, Giant Panda Conservation Unit

San Diego Zoo's Institute for Conservation Research
15600 San Pasqual Valley Road
Escondido, CA 92027-7000

http://www.sandiegozoo.org/conservation

"We are the science of saving species"™