U.S. Joint Fire Science Program


Date of this Version


Document Type



Fire Science Brief, Issue 15, October 2008


US government work.


Northern spotted owls are known to spend time in areas burned by wildfire, but there has been little scientifi c investigation of how and why they use these landscapes. A trio of wildfi res in southwestern Oregon during the summers of 2001 and 2002 burned through dozens of documented spotted owl territories, providing a rare opportunity to study many important aspects of how these raptors respond to wildfi re in dry forest ecosystems. For this project researchers used radio telemetry and demographic surveys to investigate habitat selection, home range size, occupancy, productivity and survival of spotted owls within and adjacent to burned areas. Results suggest that outside of large-scale stand-replacing events, wildfire is not likely a major threat to the persistence of spotted owls in this forest type—even though there are numerous negative short term impacts. Survival and occupancy rates declined after fire in two study areas. However some remaining owls used areas that burned with a broad range of severity for roosting, foraging and nesting. Several owl pairs successfully produced young following fire. Owls avoided burned areas where clear cut salvage logging had taken place. Results indicate that low-severity prescribed fire may be used to help reduce fire hazard in dry forest ecosystems occupied by spotted owls. This project provides the first concrete guidelines for fuels reduction in spotted owl territories in southwestern Oregon.