New report from the Rocky Mountain Research Station: “Through the Smoke: Spotted Owls, Wildfire, and Forest Restoration”. Lots of focus on Mexican spotted owls, but also their cousins.
- Wildfires are likely to increase in extent or severity, or both, throughout most of the range of the spotted owl, indicating a potential for large-scale habitat loss in the future.
- Within the range of the Mexican spotted owl, a 13-fold increase in area burned is expected by the 2080s.
- High-severity fire can decrease habitat suitability considerably for nesting Mexican spotted owls. For example, mean habitat suitability decreased by 21.9 percent 3 years after the Wallow Fire in Arizona.
- Mexican spotted owl occupancy decreased by more than 50 percent 14 years after the Rodeo-Chediski fire in Arizona in 2002.
- Areas with suitable nesting habitat may be more prone to high-severity fire.
- Some types of fire can result in improved habitat for prey and food resources for the Mexican spotted owl, but that improvement may not compensate for the loss and degradation of nesting habitat.
Quote from Joe Ganey, research wildlife biologist at the Rocky Mountain Research Station:
“There’s a high potential for rapid loss of the highest quality owl habitat due to increasing wildfire extent and severity,” Ganey says. “That’s kind of the crux of the issue. Everything that we know from 40 years of research on spotted owls across their entire range suggest that this could be the case.”
- Protecting remnant patches of mixed conifer and pine-oak forest with large trees and high canopy cover is important to conserve Mexican spotted owl nesting sites.
- Long-term monitoring is essential to understanding spotted owl population trends and response to fire.
- Integrating the beneficial roles of fire and restoration thinning into spotted owl conservation in the West may be critical for maintaining habitat, especially with a changing climate.