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Aspiring Eagle hopes owl project takes flight

Article Date: 2006-09-24   Source:   Comments: 0

By James Joyce III

Yakima, Washington, U.S.A. - It's no field of dreams, but Lukas Brooksby helped to build it. Now he remains hopeful the burrowing owls will come.

In his quest to become an Eagle Scout, the 16-year-old Brooksby oversaw the building of two artificial burrows in hopes of preserving the small population of burrowing owls spotted two years ago just outside Moxee on the Hoeger Preserve.

While the aim of the Eagle Scout project is to do something that gives back to the community, it's also designed to show leadership. And that's where the real challenge arose.

Brooksby, a junior at Selah High School, has high-functioning autism. Generally, those diagnosed with the condition have difficulty with social interaction, which is a necessity when leading a project.

While animals have long been an interest for Brooksby — several of his merit badges as a Boy Scout were earned dealing with animals — he said his toughest challenge was making phone calls to get volunteers to help build the artificial burrows.

For his project, Brooksby rounded up about 12 of his peers from Boy Scout Troop 151 and his church to dig two 4-foot burrows on the morning of Sept. 19. They built two nests about 100 yards apart, using two inverted 5-gallon buckets for the nests and perforated flexible drainpipe, donated by Ackland Pump and Irrigation in Yakima.

Now, it's a waiting game.

The planning and completion of the project was a success, but unlike the theme in the 1989 movie "Field of Dreams" starring Kevin Costner, just because the burrows are built doesn't necessarily mean the owls will come. It could take up to five years for any owls to find the artificial burrow, which they would use to breed.

"We'd be really lucky if we got one nesting pair," said Leslie Wahl, who manages the Hoeger Preserve for the Yakima Valley Audubon Society. "If we could establish a nesting pair, we'd be very excited about that."

Burrowing owls are a small ground-dwelling owl found in open dry grasslands, agricultural fields and range lands. They are often associated with burrowing animals, particularly prairie dogs, ground squirrels and badgers because the owls rely on these animals' burrowing abilities for their nests.

While burrowing owls were abundant in Yakima County at one time — that was in the early 1900s — the population has dwindled, nearing the point of becoming an endangered species.

"Burrowing owls are a species that are under serious threat because of lost habitat," said Wahl. "Burrowing owls classically nest in badger holes. They don't dig them themselves. And as agriculture comes in, it forces badgers out and with that goes the burrowing owls."

Wahl said the local Audubon Society has been planning to build artificial burrows since eight of the owls were spotted in the area about two years ago. But the project was not a priority.

Brooksby' interest in animals and the opportunity to pair that with his Eagle Scout project came together with the help of a librarian in Selah, who is also an Audubon member.

"He's encyclopedic about animals," said Brooksby's mother, Leslie.

Brooksby took care of getting the necessary groundwork done for the project by getting it approved by the advancement committee for the Skookum Boy Scout District and consulting a biologist for the state.

While Brooksby has yet to make the ceremonial step to become an Eagle Scout — something that about 2 percent of Boy Scouts achieve — he has completed most of the other requirements, said Stephani Kinney.

Since completing the project, Brooksby is back to some of the other things that interest him, including animal-focused computer games, Pokémon cards and an occasional joke.

Dispelling the popular myth of the wise owl, Brooksby quipped: "Owls always ask the question who? But they can't seem to find the answer."

Disclaimer: This article has been reproduced from and placed here for comment. is not responsible for the accuracy of any information in this article, and does not necessarily agree with the author's opinions.

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