Because of their large range, which covers every continent except for Antarctica and Australia, short-eared owls are not endangered as a species. However, their population has decreased in six states in the northeastern part of the United States, and the owls are considered endangered in these states. Scientists believe that the reason for their population decline has to do with habitat loss and pesticides.
The short-eared owl is dependent on open spaces such as meadows, prairies and tundra to hunt. However, many of these areas are being repurposed for agriculture, used to expand and develop cities and towns, or changed by natural succession and turned into forested areas. In addition, rat poison, pesticides and other harmful chemicals travel up the food chain and accumulate in the bodies of short-eared owls, putting them at risk for disease.
Many conservation efforts have been made to help the short-eared owl. Many of these involve prescribed burning of grasslands or periodic mowing of these areas to keep secondary succession from occurring. However, ecologists sometimes find it difficult to maintain all of the habitats that short-eared owls use because they are migratory, which makes it necessary to maintain not only current living sites but also many present and potential migration sites.