Displaying items by tag: Owls


Executive Order Puts Natural Resources and Local Economies at Risk


(Washington, D.C., April 26, 2017) President Trump signed an Executive Order today calling for the Interior Department to review National Monument designations exceeding 100,000 acres since 1996, with an eye toward reducing or eliminating areas that were protected for their historic, cultural, and environmental importance.

“This Executive Order has the potential to undermine one of the nation’s most important conservation tools—one that has benefited endangered birds such as the Northern Spotted Owl and provided habitat essential for their recovery,” said Steve Holmer, Vice President of Policy for American Bird Conservancy. “It’s a troubling reversal of the conservation ethic established by President Teddy Roosevelt in 1906, when he signed the Antiquities Act to safeguard and preserve federal lands and cultural and historical sites for all Americans to enjoy.”

Across the United States, National Monuments make a crucial difference for wildlife. For instance, the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, the only monument created specifically to conserve biodiversity, provides habitat for the threatened Northern Spotted Owl. The monument also creates an important habitat linkage for the species by protecting a ridge that connects the Coast Range with the Cascade Range. The Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, established by President George W. Bush in 2006, protects the land and waters of the Northwest Hawaiian Islands and is home to 99 percent of the world's breeding population of Laysan Albatross, as well as critically endangered Laysan Duck, Nihoa Finch, and Nihoa Millerbird.

“This review process is a step in the wrong direction,” Holmer said. “It threatens endangered birds and diminishes the natural heritage of future generations of Americans."

The Executive Order also threatens to undermine a sustainable economic engine. Outdoor recreation alone generated $887 billion and supported 7.6 million jobs last year. In 2016, national parks saw a record 331 million visits, contributing almost $35 billion to the U.S. economy. Regions surrounding national monuments have seen continued growth or improvement in employment and personal income, and rural counties in the West with more federal lands have healthier economies, on average, than similar communities with fewer protected lands.

(Photo: National Monuments protect crucial habitat for threatened birds, including Northern Spotted Owl, and many other species. Photo by All Canada Photos.)


American Bird Conservancy is dedicated to conserving birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. With an emphasis on achieving results and working in partnership, we take on the greatest problems facing birds today, innovating and building on rapid advancements in science to halt extinctions, protect habitats, eliminate threats, and build capacity for bird conservation.


(Washington, D.C., March 9, 2016)Fourteen timber sales in the Klamath National Forest approved by the USDA Forest Service late last month have received permission from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to take* up to 103Northern Spotted Owls, a subspeciesalready in steep decline.The Westside project, approved on Feb. 29, proposes extensive post-fire salvage logging, 70 percent of which is in forest reserves designated by the Northwest Forest Plan as areas for wildlife conservation and forest restoration.

“According to analysis by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, habitat will be removed from up to 57 areas where Northern Spotted Owls are known to nest,” said George Fenwick, President of American Bird Conservancy. “The large number of Spotted Owls being put at risk by this project—and the amount of habitat being taken from the owl reserves—is an unreasonable risk to the population and should not have been approved.”

The project, which is in a 187,000-acre area in northern California affected by wildfires in 2014, is inconsistent with government research indicating the owls will often continue nesting in burned forests. They also frequently forage in these areas due to abundant prey. The Northern Spotted Owl’s Recovery Plan calls for conserving large standing dead trees used by the owls for nesting.

“These large snags take a long time to form on the landscape and are currently in short supply,” said Steve Holmer, ABC’s Senior Policy Advisor. “If the Westside plan proceeds, this essential owl habitat will be lost.”

According to the Forest Service, the Westside timber sales are intended to protect public safety, reduce hazardous fuels, and provide for economic use of burned timber. The sales include 5,570 acres of salvage harvest, 12,700 acres of tree planting, 320 miles of roadside hazard treatment, and 24,450 acres of hazardous fuels reduction, including 11,180 acres of prescribed burn.

“We at American Bird Conservancy urge the Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reconsider the salvage portion of the Westside decision,” said Fenwick. “We ask then to adopt a more conservative approach to managing Northern Spotted Owl Critical Habitat and to ensure that similar projects putting so many of the threatened owls at risk are not approved in the future.

“A better post-fire management strategy has already been suggested by the Karuk Tribe,” Fenwick continued. “This strategy focuses on protecting human safety by removing hazard trees along roads and targeting fire risk-reduction activities around nearby communities.”

The Northern Spotted Owl population is in steep decline, according to the latest population study released last year by the Forest Service. This research indicates that since monitoring began in 1985, Spotted Owl populations declined 55-77 percent in Washington, 31-68 percent in Oregon, and 32-55 percent in California. In addition, population declines are now occurring in study areas in southern Oregon and northern California that were previously experiencing little to no detectable decline through 2009.

* “Take” is defined by the Endangered Species Act as harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect any threatened or endangered species. This includes significant habitat modification or degradation that results in death or injury to listed species by significantly impairing behavioral patterns such as breeding, feeding, or sheltering. In this case, the take of 74 adult owls and 12-29 juveniles could result from the Westside project by reducing the amount of nesting, roosting, and foraging habitat below recommended minimums, and the loss of young due to disturbance during the breeding season.


American Bird Conservancy is the Western Hemisphere's bird conservation specialist—the only organization with a single and steadfast commitment to achieving conservation results for native birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. With a focus on efficiency and working in partnership, we take on the toughest problems facing birds today, innovating and building on sound science to halt extinctions, protect habitats, eliminate threats, and build capacity for bird conservation.


of NORTH AMERICA and the Caribbean

by Scott Weidensaul

Peterson Reference Guide to Owls of North America and the Caribbean (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, October 13, 2015), the newest addition to the trusted Peterson Reference Guide series, is a comprehensive guide to owls in North America. Owls are perhaps the most intriguing of all birds — instantly recognizable and endlessly fascinating, owls have captured the human imagination for millennia, and the Snowy Owl irruption in the winter of 2014 brought with it a new surge of curiosity and enthusiasm for these impressive and mysterious birds.

Seasoned birder and naturalist Scott Weidensaul has been banding owls for many years and in fact banded many of the Snowy Owls in the 2014 irruption. He brings his expertise to the Peterson Reference Guide to Owls of North America and the Caribbean by providing the most up-to-date information about owls’ natural history, biology, ecology, migration, and conservation status.

The guide is packed with detailed information about identification, calls, habitat, nesting, and behavior, and is also the only North American owl book to include the Caribbean, covering 39 species of owls in total including many little-known tropical species.

Heard more often than seen, many owls are best identified by vocalizations; this is the only owl guide to include access to a collection of recordings. Hundreds of colored photographs accompany entries on each species of owl, including the most accurate color range maps showing breeding, wintering, and migration routes. Peterson Reference Guide to Owls of North America and the Caribbean is a definitive work useful for serious birders and ornithologists while equally accessible to the non-expert.

Scott Weidensaul
has written more than two dozen books on natural history, his most recent being Of a Feather: A Brief History of American Birding. He is also the author of the Pulitzer Prize–finalist Living on the Wind: Across the Hemisphere with Migratory Birds, and The Ghost with Trembling Wings, about the search for species that may or may not be extinct. He lectures widely on wildlife and environmental topics and is an active field researcher, specializing in birds of prey and hummingbirds. He lives in the Appalachians of eastern Pennsylvania.



Habitat Protection Urgently Needed to Compensate for Barred Owl Competition

Northern Spotted Owl by Chris Warren

Northern Spotted Owl by Chris Warren

Washington, DC, December 10, 2015: TheNorthern Spotted Owlis in decline across its entire range, and its rate of decline is increasing—that is the conclusion of a major demographic study produced by federal scientists, published Wednesday, December 9, 2015, in the journal “The Condor.” The study examined survey results from monitoring areas across the range of the imperiled owl.

This research indicates that since monitoring began in 1985, Spotted Owl populations declined 55-77 percent in Washington, 31-68 percent in Oregon, and 32-55 percent in California. In addition, population declines are now occurring in study areas in southern Oregon and northern California that were previously experiencing little to no detectable decline through 2009.

“This study confirms that immediate action is needed to reduce the impact of Barred Owls and to protect all remaining Spotted Owl habitat. It also points to the need to restore additional habitat by maintaining and expanding the successful reserve network of the Northwest Forest Plan,” said Steve Holmer, senior policy advisor with American Bird Conservancy.

While habitat loss continues to threaten the Spotted Owl, new threats have emerged. Barred Owls, whose range has increased in recent years to coincide with the Northern Spotted Owl, can outcompete the Spotted Owl for food and territory. The study says:

We observed strong evidence that Barred Owls negatively affected Spotted Owl populations, primarily by decreasing apparent survival and increasing local territory extinction rates.… In the study areas where habitat was an important source of variation for Spotted Owl demographics, vital rates were generally positively associated with a greater amount of suitable owl habitat.


However, Barred Owl densities may now be high enough across the range of the Northern Spotted Owl that, despite the continued management and conservation of suitable owl habitat on federal lands, the long-term prognosis for the persistence of Northern Spotted Owls may be in question without additional management intervention.

The Importance of Spotted Owl Habitat

Dr. Katie Dugger, a research biologist at the USGS Oregon Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit of Oregon State University and lead author on the report, said: “The amount of suitable habitat required by Spotted Owls for nesting and roosting is important because Spotted Owl survival, colonization of empty territories, and number of young produced tends to be higher in areas with larger amounts of suitable habitat, at least in some study areas."

Much attention has turned to the increased threat posed by Barred Owls since the Northern Spotted Owl was listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. However, Holmer stressed that adequate habitat is the only long-term solution to the Barred Owl threat.

“Science shows that Northern Spotted Owls and Barred Owls can coexist where there is enough high-quality habitat,” he said. “A large amount of owl habitat will become available as the Northwest Forest Plan continues to restore the old-growth ecosystem.”

Northern Spotted Owl & the Northwest Forest Plan

The Northern Spotted Owl is a rare raptor often associated with the complex features and closed canopy of mature or old-growth forests. Since it is associated with older forests, the owl serves as an “indicator species”—its presence indicates that the forest is healthy and functioning properly.

Historically, Spotted Owl decline has been traced to habitat loss caused primarily by logging. Because the owl is dependent on older forest types, logging of old-growth forests is particularly harmful. Once these forests are logged, it can take many decades before suitable habitat regrows.

The Northern Spotted Owl's1990 listing intensified issues concerning federal forest management. As a consequence of prior overcutting of owl habitat and a lack of compliance by the land-management agencies with wildlife protection requirements, logging of federal forests was largely halted across the owl’s range.

In reaction to the stalemate over federal forest management, in 1994, the Clinton Administration established the Northwest Forest Plan, a landscape-level resource management plan that established a series of forest reserves across the range of the Northern Spotted Owl. The plan was intended to both protect remaining owl habitat and to encourage development of future habitat.

After 20 years, USDA Forest Service monitoring reports indicate the plan is meeting its objectives to restore wildlife habitat as well as to improve water quality; forests of the Northwest are also now storing carbon instead ofacting as a source of emissions.

“The monitoring reports confirm that the system of reserves has slowed the decline of the owl,” Holmer said. “But the Spotted Owl’s continued decline makes clear that this reserve system is not enough due to competition from Barred Owls. Urgent action is needed to address the Barred Owl threat and to protect all Spotted Owl habitat on federal land.”