A draft revision to the 2008 Northern Spotted Owl Recovery Plan is available for a 60-day public review period, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced this week.
Service officials say the proposed refinements will help the agency better address the Pacific Northwest forest dweller's current threats and recovery needs. The northern spotted owl was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1990 and continues to decline.
The draft revision is not an overhaul of the existing recovery plan but includes significant refinements based on scientific and technological advancements, especially related to evaluating suitable habitat.
"In the early years after the spotted owl was protected under the Endangered Species Act, we anticipated that it would take decades to make up for the habitat that has been lost over the last 100 or more years," said Robyn Thorson, director of the USFWS's Pacific Region. "The progress federal partners have made in establishing more ecological and diversified forest management practices since the spotted owl was listed has helped to reduce its decline, but we're certainly not out of the woods yet."
The 2008 recovery plan identified past and current habitat loss as well as competition from barred owls as the most significant threats to the owl's continued survival. The barred owl, a larger, more aggressive and adaptable relative from eastern North America, has progressively moved into the same range, disrupting and displacing spotted owls.
The most recent analysis of data on demographics such as occupancy, survival, reproduction, and movement indicates that the spotted owl continues to decline in seven of 11 study areas throughout its range in Washington, Oregon, and California (populations are considered stationary in the other four). The overall rangewide population is declining at an average rate of nearly 3 percent per year.
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In addition, last week federal and state agencies reached an agreement that assures private forest landowners can continue to manage for long-term, sustainable timber harvests while also enhancing northern spotted owl habitat.
The voluntary statewide Safe Harbor Agreement features conservation efforts coupled with financial incentives and technical assistance to landowners.
Landowners who enter into the Safe Harbor Agreement will be able to develop or conserve spotted owl habitat, with the assurance that if the property eventually attracts owls, timber harvest or other activities could continue, as long as the land is managed to provide a net conservation benefit to the species. The agreement is intended to encourage landowners to pursue conservation values while also deriving the economic return they need to continue to manage their land for a range of benefits.