The Open Environmental Research Journal


Formerly: The Open Ecology Journal

ISSN: 2590-2776 ― Volume 12, 2019

Effects of Fire and Commercial Thinning on Future Habitat of the Northern Spotted Owl


The Open Ecology Journal, 2014, 7: 37-51

Dennis C. Odion, Chad T. Hanson, Dominick A. DellaSala, William L. Baker, Monica L. Bond

Earth Research Institute, University of California, Santa Barbara, California. 93106. Environmental Studies Department, Southern Oregon University, Ashland, Oregon, 97520.

Electronic publication date 11/7/2014
[DOI: 10.2174/1874213001407010037]

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Abstract:

The Northern Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis caurina) is an emblematic, threatened raptor associated with dense, late-successional forests in the Pacific Northwest, USA. Concerns over high-severity fire and reduced timber harvesting have led to programs to commercially thin forests, and this may occur within habitat designated as “critical” for spotted owls. However, thinning is only allowed under the U.S. Government spotted owl guidelines if the long-term benefits clearly outweigh adverse impacts. This possibility remains uncertain. Adverse impacts from commercial thinning may be caused by removal of key habitat elements and creation of forests that are more open than those likely to be occupied by spotted owls. Benefits of thinning may accrue through reduction in high-severity fire, yet whether the firereduction benefits accrue faster than the adverse impacts of reduced late-successional habitat from thinning remains an untested hypothesis. We found that rotations of severe fire (the time required for high-severity fire to burn an area equal to the area of interest once) in spotted owl habitat since 1996, the earliest date we could use, were 362 and 913 years for the two regions of interest: the Klamath and dry Cascades. Using empirical data, we calculated the future amount of spotted owl habitat that may be maintained with these rates of high-severity fire and ongoing forest regrowth rates with and without commercial thinning. Over 40 years, habitat loss would be far greater than with no thinning because, under a “best case” scenario, thinning reduced 3.4 and 6.0 times more dense, late-successional forest than it prevented from burning in high-severity fire in the Klamath and dry Cascades, respectively. Even if rates of fire increase substantially, the requirement that the long-term benefits of commercial thinning clearly outweigh adverse impacts is not attainable with commercial thinning in spotted owl habitat. It is also becoming increasingly recognized that exclusion of high-severity fire may not benefit spotted owls in areas where owls evolved with reoccurring fires in the landscape.


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