Effects of fire on spotted owl site occupancy in a late-successional forest

Biological Conservation
By: , and 



The spotted owl (Strix occidentalis) is a late-successional forest dependent species that is sensitive to forest management practices throughout its range. An increase in the frequency and spatial extent of stand-replacing fires in western North America has prompted concern for the persistence of spotted owls and other sensitive late-successional forest associated species. However, there is sparse information on the effects of fire on spotted owls to guide conservation policies. In 2004–2005, we surveyed for California spotted owls during the breeding season at 32 random sites (16 burned, 16 unburned) throughout late-successional montane forest in Yosemite National Park, California. Our burned areas burned at all severities, but predominately involved low to moderate fire severity. Based on an information theoretic approach, spotted owl detection and occupancy rates were similar between burned and unburned sites. Nest and roost site occupancy was best explained by a model that combined total tree basal area (positive effect) with cover by coarse woody debris (negative effect). The density estimates of California spotted owl pairs were similar in burned and unburned forests, and the overall mean density estimate for Yosemite was higher than previously reported for montane forests. Our results indicate that low to moderate severity fires, historically common within montane forests of the Sierra Nevada, California, maintain habitat characteristics essential for spotted owl site occupancy. These results suggest that managed fires that emulate the historic fire regime of these forests may maintain spotted owl habitat and protect this species from the effects of future catastrophic fires.

Study Area

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Effects of fire on spotted owl site occupancy in a late-successional forest
Series title Biological Conservation
DOI 10.1016/j.biocon.2010.11.002
Volume 144
Issue 1
Year Published 2011
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Publisher location Amsterdam, Netherlands
Contributing office(s) Western Ecological Research Center
Description 10 p.
First page 610
Last page 619
Country United States
State California
Other Geospatial Yosemite National Park
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