Through the smoke: spotted owls, wildfire, and forest restoration
Document Type: Fact Sheet / Brief / Bulletin
Author(s): Sylvia Kantor
Publication Year: 2020

Cataloging Information

  • annual area burned
  • California spotted owl
  • fire severity
  • forest composition
  • forest structure
  • habitat
  • large fires
  • Mexican spotted owl
  • northern spotted owl
  • spotted owl
  • Strix occidentalis
  • Strix occidentalis caurina
  • Strix occidentalis lucida
  • Strix occidentalis occidentalis
Record Maintained By:
Record Last Modified: December 7, 2020
FRAMES Record Number: 62404


Wildfires in the western United States are expected to increase both in size and severity in coming decades. These trends are likely to accelerate large-scale habitat loss and fragmentation for the spotted owl in the Pacific Northwest, California, and the Southwest. All three subspecies that occupy these regions have declined over the last century, and the Mexican and northern subspecies are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in the United States. Predicted changes in the extent and severity of wildfire are driven by a combination of climate change and cumulative effects on forest composition and structure that stem from a history of land uses including fire suppression and timber harvest. High fuel loads and connected canopies make the matrix among patches of old-growth forest. Owls prefer these old-growth forests for nesting, which are prone to stand replacing megafires. Scientists at the Rocky Mountain Research Station are helping managers better understand how climate change, wildfire, and forest management interact to drive forest changes. It is important to define what those changes mean for the ecology and conservation of the Mexican spotted owl. In the Southwest, scientists and managers are working together to find ways to reduce the risk of future megafires while also maintaining critical nesting habitat.

Online Link(s):
Link to this document (5.6 MB; pdf)
Kantor, Sylvia. 2020. Through the smoke: spotted owls, wildfire, and forest restoration. Science You Can Use Bulletin 46. Fort Collins, CO: USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. 9 p.