Here is some timely recent research on what happens to spotted owls after a fire, in particular the Rim Fire which comes up often on this blog (thank you, Larry). That discussion has often dealt with the effects of post-fire salvage logging, such as the discussion here. This research discusses the effect of the condition of the forest before the fire on its value to owls after the fire.
This is important because of the argument by some that fires are bigger threat to the owls than cutting down trees to reduce fire risk. I’ve only looked at this overview and the linked abstract, but it seemed like enough to generate some discussion. In particular, it contrasts the pre-fire management of Yosemite National Park and the adjacent Stanislaus National Forest.
From the abstract:
Spotted owls persisted and nested within the fire perimeter throughout the four post-fire years of our study at rates similar to what we observed in areas of Yosemite that were unaffected by the fire… Prior to the fire, spotted owls selected for areas of high canopy cover relative to the rest of the landscape; after the fire, even though territory centers shifted substantially from pre-fire locations, pre-fire canopy cover remained a stronger predictor of spotted owl presence than post-fire canopy cover, or any other pre- or post-fire habitat variables we assessed.
So removing canopy cover, which seems to be one of the goals of fuel reduction, would not benefit the owls even if it reduces fire risk, and it would adversely affect them whether there is a fire or not.
From the lead author:
California Spotted Owls can tolerate forest fire, but Schofield cautions that not all fires are created equal. Yosemite’s forests have not been commercially logged since the early 1900s and fire suppression efforts since the 1970s have been kept to a minimum. This results in a forest structure and fire regime that is distinct from what is found outside of the park.
“In Yosemite there is a diversity of forest habitat” explains Schofield, “This means the Rim Fire burned with a diversity of severities creating a range of post-fire habitat for owls to choose from.” The study notes that in portions of the adjacent Stanislaus National Forest that were also burned by the Rim Fire, burn severity was more homogenous likely due to the contrasting logging and fire management regime on the National Forest.