Thinning, Rx Fire, and Owls

This study looks at Mexican spotted owls, a subspecies of the northern spotted owl.

Open access paper from Fire Ecology:

Frequent burning and limited stand-replacing fire supports Mexican spotted owl pair occupancy


Changing fire regimes have the potential to threaten wildlife populations and communities. Understanding species’ responses to novel fire regimes is critical to formulating effective management and conservation strategies in an era of rapid change. Here, we examined the empirical effects of recent and historical wildfire activity on Mexican spotted owl (Strix occidentalis lucida) populations in the southwestern United States. Using region-wide, standardized detection/non-detection data of Mexican spotted owl breeding pairs collected from 2015 to 2022, we found (i) higher rates of pair occupancy at sites that experienced more frequent fires in the three decades prior to the initiation of our study, and (ii) lower rates of local persistence at sites that experienced more extensive high-severity fire during the study. Historical fire regimes throughout much of our study area were characterized by high fire frequencies and limited high-severity components, indicating that Mexican spotted owls responded to wildfire in a manner consistent with their evolutionary environment. Management activities such as prescribed burning and mechanical thinning that aim to reduce stand-replacing fire risk and re-introduce the potential for frequent-fire regimes will likely benefit Mexican spotted owl conservation objectives, as well as promote more resilient forest landscapes.

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