GAVIN M. JONES https://orcid.org/0000-0002-5102-1229
DAMON B. LESMEISTER https://orcid.org/0000-0003-1102-0122
JEREMY T. ROCKWEIT https://orcid.org/0000-0002-8109-0532
HO YI WAN https://orcid.org/0000-0002-2146-8257
Date of this Version
Jones, G. M., R. J. Gutiérrez, W. M. Block, P. C. Carlson, E. J. Comfort, S. A. Cushman, R. J. Davis, S. A. Eyes, A. B. Franklin, J. L. Ganey, S. Hedwall, J. J. Keane, R. Kelsey, D. B. Lesmeister, M. P. North, S. L. Roberts, J. T. Rockweit, J. S. Sanderlin, S. C. Sawyer, B. Solvesky, D. J. Tempel, H. Y. Wan, A. L. Westerling, G. C. White, and M. Z. Peery. 2020. Spotted owls and forest fire: Comment. Ecosphere 11(12): e03312.
Western North American forest ecosystems are experiencing rapid changes in disturbance regimes because of climate change and land use legacies (Littell et al. 2018). In many of these forests, the accumulation of surface and ladder fuels from a century of fire suppression, coupled with a warming and drying climate, has led to increases in the number of large fires (Westerling 2016) and the proportion of areas burning at higher severity (Safford and Stevens 2017, Singleton et al. 2018). While the annual area burned by fire is still below historical levels (Taylor et al. 2016), some forest types in the west are burning at higher severities when compared to pre- European settlement periods (Mallek et al. 2013, Safford and Stevens 2017). As such, they face an increased risk of conversion to non-forest ecosystems (e.g., shrublands, non-native grasslands) following large, severe fires because of compromised seed sources, post-fire soil erosion and loss, high-severity re-burn, and climatic thresholds (Coppoletta et al. 2016, Stevens et al. 2017, Rissman et al. 2018, Shive et al. 2018, Wood and Jones 2019). Restoration methods such as mechanical thinning and prescribed and managed wildland fire that reduce accumulated surface and ladder fuels (e.g., removal of smalland medium-sized trees, especially non-fire adapted species) may reduce the spatial extent of severe fires and increase forest resilience to fire in a changing climate (Agee and Skinner 2005, Stephens et al. 2013, Hessburg et al. 2016, Tubbesing et al. 2019) and, in doing so, promote key ecosystem services (Hurteau et al. 2014, Kelsey et al. 2017, Wood and Jones 2019). ...
The existing body of evidence suggests that spotted owls respond largely in a neutral or positive manner to lower-severity fire and smaller patches of high-severity fire that fall within the historical range of variability but that spotted owls can respond negatively to larger patches of high-severity fire. Thus, management actions that can demonstrably reduce the extent of severe fire within spotted owl habitat in a changing climate may contribute to owl conservation if those actions do not remove critical structural habitat elements positively associated with spotted owl vital rates (e.g., large, old trees) (Jones et al. 2016, 2018, Jones 2019). It is critical that future analyses examining the effects of fire on spotted owls provide sufficient context and nuance to ensure they will be beneficial to scientists and managers seeking to understand how to minimize the loss of essential owl nesting and roosting habitat to the increasing threat of high-severity fire in a changing climate.
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