The government aims to help the northern spotted owl, which is threatened with extinction, by reducing the number of barred owls in Washington, Oregon and northern California. (Don Ryan/AP)

Government wildlife officials are planning to play referee in a survival contest between two species of owls.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a final review of an experiment to see whether killing barred owls will assist northern spotted owls, which are threatened with extinction.

The agency plans to kill 3,603 barred owls in parts of Oregon, Washington and California in the next four years.

Animal activists say the government should let the more dominant bird prevail, as nature intended.

“To people who say to me that we should leave those owls alone, my response is, ‘So you’re accepting the extinction of the spotted owl? That’s okay?’ ” Robin Bown, a federal wildlife biologist, told the Los Angeles Times.

Barred owls, like this one, migrated from the East Coast over the past century and have moved into the spotted owl's territory in the Pacific Northwest. They are considered a major threat to the smaller bird. (Toby Talbot/AP)

Unless barred owls are brought under control, the spotted owl might disappear from areas of Washington and Oregon’s Coast Range in coming decades.

— MCT Information Services