Like a bad naturalist, I didn't report it immediately. Word got around, and the staff Wildlife Biologist showed up to confiscate my owl and deliver a stern lecture about the penalties of harboring both a raptor and an endangered species. I never saw Spotty again.
But happily I have have since seen live spotted owls in old-growth forests. Those spots help them blend into the background so that it's easy to walk past one without ever seeing it. But of course the main reason they are so rarely seen is that they are, well, so rare.
If you lived in the PNW during the 1980s and '90s, you'll remember the fights that erupted between environmentalists trying to save old-growth, and the logging interests trying to save jobs/make money. Because spotted owls were dependent on old growth, they served as a focal point for the conflict, although the real issue for environmentalists was destruction of an ecosystem.
Those issues have quieted over the years, but the spotted owl faces another challenge: the barred owl. This more aggressive, and slightly larger species, moving in from eastern states, outcompetes its relative for food. In territory disputes, the barred wins.
Some biologists hold out hope that the two species can coexist if given enough time and enough territory.
Nearly 15 years after I'd found the dead owl, I happened to see another owl land in a tree near that same road. I grabbed my binoculars and peered through the increasing dusk. Brown streaky spots on a lighter breast (rather than white spots on a darker background) revealed a barred owl. Getting an uncommonly good look at such an evasive, nocturnal animal as an owl should have pleased me more. But that night the barred owl's proximity to an area I knew had harbored spotted owls simply seemed ominous.