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Associations between Forest Fire and Mexican Spotted Owls

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In 1993, the US Fish and Wildlife Service listed the Mexican spotted owl (Strix occidentalis lucida) as threatened, in part because of the rising threat to its habitat from stand-replacing wildfires. In 1997, we surveyed 33 owl sites that, in the previous four years, had burned at various levels ranging from light controlled burns to stand-replacing fires. We compared owl occupancy and reproduction in these burned sites to 31 unburned owl sites with similar habitat and topography. Although unburned sites showed higher proportions of both occupancy and reproduction, the negative relationship observed between recent fire occurrence and owl occupancy rank was statistically weak (Test for Marginal Homogeneity, P = 0.110). Owls tended not to be present where pure pine stands (Pinus spp.) comprised a large proportion (38–85%) of burned sites, but no other factors relating to habitat or fire severity had a significant, biologically interpretable influence on occupancy rank. We suspect that relatively low-intensity ground fires, including most prescribed fires, probably have little or no short-term impact on Mexican spotted owl presence or reproduction, but we have no data on long-term effects of fire. We recommend proactive fuels-management treatments in areas not currently occupied by owls as a means of reducing fire risk in areas occupied by owls. Within areas occupied by owls, judicious treatments may be appropriate after case-by-case evaluations of potential benefits and risks within those sites. FOR. SCI. 50(6):765–772.

Keywords: Prescribed burn; environmental management; forest; forest management; forest resources; forestry; forestry research; forestry science; natural resource management; natural resources; occupancy; reproduction; stand-maintenance; stand-replacement

Document Type: Regular Article

Affiliations: 1: Rocky Mountain Research Station USDA Forest Service 2500 S. Pine Knoll Drive Flagstaff AZ 86001 Phone: (928) 526-4139;, Fax: (928) 556-2130, Email: 2: School of Forestry and Merriam-Powell Center for Environmental Research Northern Arizona University Flagstaff AZ 86011 Phone: (928) 523-9341, Email: 3: Rocky Mountain Research Station USDA Forest Service 2500 S. Pine Knoll Drive Flagstaff AZ 86001 Phone: (928) 556-2156, Email:

Publication date: December 1, 2004

More about this publication?
  • Forest Science is a peer-reviewed journal publishing fundamental and applied research that explores all aspects of natural and social sciences as they apply to the function and management of the forested ecosystems of the world. Topics include silviculture, forest management, biometrics, economics, entomology & pathology, fire & fuels management, forest ecology, genetics & tree improvement, geospatial technologies, harvesting & utilization, landscape ecology, operations research, forest policy, physiology, recreation, social sciences, soils & hydrology, and wildlife management.
    Forest Science is published bimonthly in February, April, June, August, October, and December.

    2015 Impact Factor: 1.702
    Ranking: 16 of 66 in forestry

    Also published by SAF:
    Journal of Forestry
    Other SAF Publications
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