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Will the Northern Spotted Owl Survive?

Will the Northern Spotted Owl Survive?
by Pamela Conley

Ecology notes.
Evolution notes.
New books New and Recent Books about Forests and Trees.
Buy Sibley's Birding Basics Sibley's Birding Basics by David Allen Sibley.
Compact field-guide primer for novices and veterans.
Includes techniques in sighting birds; suggestions for sketching birds in the field. 200 beautiful painted illustrations; clear descriptive text; 16 essays.

Many Factors Threaten the Existence of the Northern Spotted Owl.

We all know that the Northern spotted owl's loss of habitat has caused it to become endangered and is its biggest threat to its existence.

However, there are several factors that add to the owl's plight:

Habitat of Northern Spotted Owl.

Northern spotted owls typically prefer old-growth trees that are over 200 to 600 years old with an overstory of canopy above. However, if necessary they can survive in younger forests.

The juveniles will disperse upon becoming young adults. Often they are forced to frequent younger forests.

Even the geographical differences over the owl's territory complicates the issue of what constitutes good owl habitat. In the Pacific Northwest, the owls preferred dinner is the flying squirrel, another old-growth dweller. However, in Northern California, they feed primarily on the dusky-footed wood rat causing them to live closer to the edges of the forests.

Habitat of Northern Spotted Owl.

Back in the 1950s, national forests were virtually untouched by logging. In the 1930s most of the lumber came from private lands.

When the U.S. Forest Service wanted to open up public lands for timber harvesting, the landowners didn't want it because they thought it would depress timber prices. By the 1960s the land owners had depleted all their timber and old growth groves and were ready to turn to public lands.

Logging levels continued to remain high into the 1980s where the estimates were at 60% greater than the rate of growth of timber and there were only 10% to 13% left of old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest. Suddenly, public outcry began to be heard against the loss of old-growth and researchers were beginning to see the need to learn more about the Northern spotted owl.

This collision course severely divided the environmentalists from the timber industry. With the discovery that the spotted owl needed old-growth forests to survive, conservationists struck upon a tactic that was to become a colossal success. By calling the bird an endangered species and under the protection of the government, the environmentalists literally stopped the sound of chain saws in old-growth forests.

Forest Management as a Plan to Manage All Species Found in a Biosystem.

The cold war between environmentalists and the timber industry continued from the late 1980s until 1994 when the Northwest Forest Plan was implemented by the Clinton administration. The plan was a revolutionary idea as it sought to manage all species found in old-growth, not just spotted owls. It allowed for large areas of mature forests to be set aside in hopes that as many as 15 to 20 pairs of owls would be able to frequent them. The major problem is that it might take decades for the ravaged land to recover and become owl's habitat. The question is will it be too late for the owl's decline by the time the new habitat meets the owl's needs?

Back in 1990, two studies showed the spotted owl population to be plunging downwards in a fast spiral spin at an accelerating rate.

Forest Management as a Plan to Stabilize Species Heading for Extinction.

However, a study in 1998 showed the bird still declining but no longer at the accelerating speed.

Under the owl conservation strategy of the Northwest Forest Plan, the owl's numbers are expected to decline for several decades while the logged-over lands grow back to sufficient owl habitat and then stop all together before the owls begin to recover several more decades later.

This is an incredible experiment involving a small owl whose preference for old-growth trees sparked the fuel of controversy over Pacific Northwest's forests. No one knows if this experiment will succeed in saving the spotted owl from plummeting to extinction and it may be decades before the facts are known.

See also these pages.


Ecology notes.
Buy The Sibley Guide to Birds The Sibley Guide to Birds by David Allen Sibley.
For experienced birders. Includes 810 species in North America, with 6,600 beautiful watercolor illustrations and descriptive text by one of the foremost bird painters and authorities in the U.S.A. With a pointer system for key field markings.
Buy the Legacy Of Luna The Legacy of Luna by Julia Butterfly Hill. The dramatic story of devotion and dedication to the old growth forests and the great tree, Luna.
Buy Old-Growth Forests Field Guide to Old-Growth Forests by Larry Eifert. Discover and explore the ancient lowland forests from California, north through Oregon, to Washington Olympic Peninsula, to Canada, and to the Sitka spruce forests of Alaska.
Giants in the Earth Giants in the Earth by Peter Johnstone (Editor), Peter E. Palmquist (Photographer)
Buy Trees and Shrubs of California Trees and Shrubs of California (California Natural History Guides) by John David Stuart, et al.