USA US Forest Service (USFS) manages 11 million acres of public forest land in California’s Sierra Nevada. The USFS has a new California spotted owl conservation strategy and is revising its forest management plans for Sierra Nevada national forests. These documents will guide how national forests are managed for the coming decades, and they are deeply misinformed about fire.
The status of spotted owls tells the USFS how its management activities affect old-growth species. Since 1993 when the USFS began managing for California spotted owl habitat, populations of spotted owls have crashed on USFS lands. In contrast, spotted owl populations are stable in National Parks Service (NPS) lands. Both USFS and NPS lands have wildfires, but NPS lands are not logged. Logging on 1.2 million acres of USFS land in the Sierra Nevada between 1994 and 2014 is driving spotted owl declines.
In Bond’s summary paper, published by Elsevier Press as a Reference Module in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences, she presents a data-driven narrative describing how forest fires, including big, severe megafires, have no strong negative effects on spotted owl populations. For example, in the largest and most comprehensive Sierra Nevada study to date, burned and unburned owl territories had the same probability of being occupiedeven when about a third of the territories’ area burned at high severity. “The lack of effect was remarkable because we found it repeatedly,” said Bond. “We kept investigating different aspects and the story didn’t change. Owls were harmed by logging, not by fire.”