The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has released a final revised recovery plan for the threatened northern spotted owl, which officials say step up actions that so far have helped stem but not reverse the old-growth forest raptor's decline.
The revised plan identifies two main priorities for achieving spotted owl recovery: protecting the best of its remaining habitat, and reducing competition from barred owls, a native of eastern North America that has progressively moved into the spotted owl's range in Washington, Oregon, and northern California.
"For more than 20 years, northern spotted owl recovery has been a focal point of broader forest conservation efforts in the Pacific Northwest," said Robyn Thorson, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Pacific Northwest regional director. "This revised recovery plan is based on sound science and affirms that the best things we can do to help the spotted owl turn the corner are conserving its habitat, managing the barred owl, and restoring vitality to our forests."
The agency will use the recovery plan to work with land managers in the Pacific Northwest such as the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, as well as other federal and non-federal landowners, to advise them on habitat management activities that can benefit the spotted owl and contribute to improved forest health.
Because about 20 million acres of U.S. Forest Service lands and about 2 million acres of Bureau of Land Management lands are potentially affected by recovery plan recommendations, the three agencies worked together on key recommendations related to forest management. Both agencies provided formal letters of support for the plan's recovery goals.
"This recovery plan is a welcome update to the state of the science surrounding the northern spotted owl," said Cal Joyner, deputy regional forester for the Pacific Northwest Region of the U.S. Forest Service. "The plan will help us implement a mix of actively managing and protecting habitat to best contribute to conservation and recovery."
"Federal agencies have worked together closely over the past couple of years to design projects that both improve forest conditions and minimize impacts to spotted owl habitat," said Ed Shepard, Oregon/Washington State director for the Bureau of Land Management. "We expect this cooperation to continue as we implement this new plan."
Overarching recommendations in the revised plan include:
"Conservation of spotted owl sites and high-value spotted owl habitat across the landscape. This means the habitat protections provided under land use plans on federal land will continue to be a focus of recovery, but protection of other areas is likely needed to achieve full success (including some of the lands previously slated for potential timber harvest on federal lands, and possibly non-federal lands in certain parts of the owl's range where federal lands are limited).
"Active management of forests to make forest ecosystems healthier and more resilient to the effects of climate change and catastrophic wildfire, disease, and insect outbreaks. This involves an ‘ecological forestry’ approach in certain areas that will restore ecosystem functioning and resiliency. This may include carefully applied prescriptions such as fuels treatment to reduce the threat of severe fires, thinning, and restoration to enhance habitat and return the natural dynamics of a healthy forest landscape. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recommends this approach in areas where it promotes ecosystem function and is in the best long-term interest of spotted owl recovery. The agency also strongly affirms adaptive management principles to continually evaluate and refine active forest management techniques.
"Management of the encroaching barred owl to reduce harm to spotted owls. Most of the recovery actions the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has carried out since finalizing the spotted owl's 2008 recovery plan deal with the barred owl threat. A major part of this is developing a proposal for experimental removal of barred owls in certain areas to see what effect that would have on spotted owls, and then to evaluate whether or not broad scale removal should be considered. This portion of the 2008 plan was not significantly revised.
The northern spotted owl was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act 21 years ago. The USFWS developed a final recovery plan specific to the spotted owl for the first time in 2008.
The revised recovery plan does not include recommendations from the 2008 plan for a new habitat conservation network of "Managed Owl Conservation Areas." Rather than creating a potentially confusing new land classification, the plan identifies the scientific rationale and parameters for habitat protection and will revise the spotted owl's designated critical habitat to reflect the latest scientific information about areas essential for the owl's recovery.
Officials say identifying this habitat through the critical habitat process -- as the ESA intended -- “will be more efficient and provide land managers and the public with additional opportunities for review and comment.”
For a recovery timeline, frequently asked questions, related information, and the recovery plan itself, visit www.fws.gov/oregonfwo