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Siskiyou Mountain Range

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KFA Report: Klamath-Siskiyou Northern Spotted Owl Impacts 2013-2018

The northern spotted owl is an iconic species of the Pacific Northwest that is currently declining at a precipitous rate throughout most of its range.

The Northern spotted owl is an iconic species of the Pacific Northwest and a habitat specialist utilizing late successional and old growth forests from western British Columbia to northwestern California. Although inquisitive and gentle in its demeanor, the Northern spotted owl has become fiercely controversial throughout its range, and the old forest habitat that it depends on has been in steady decline.

Between 1950 and the mid-1990s, the timber industry and our federal land
management agencies liquidated the owl’s ancient forest habitat across the West Coast and throughout its range. During this period of widespread clearcut logging, on both public and private land, the once-vast tracts of ancient forest in the Pacific Northwest were dramatically reduced, creating islands of complex forest habitat in a sea of young plantation stands. Much of the most important Northern spotted owl habitat at low
elevations, on favorable slope positions, and in productive forest
habitat was the first to be logged, and once removed, these old forest
habitats take hundreds of years to regenerate into the complex, old forest the Northern spotted owl requires for nesting, roosting and foraging (NRF)

Given the long periods of time required to regenerate high quality Northern spotted owl habitat, the loss of habitat associated with historic and contemporary logging has become a semi-permanent impact and continues to limit population viability.

In 1990, with the species declining throughout its range and much of its habitat heavily fragmented, the Northern spotted owl was listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The listing of the Northern spotted owl significantly altered the trajectory of public forest lands by limiting the rate of old-forest logging. Yet, in recent years, the downgrading, degrading and removal of suitable Northern spotted owl habitat in federal timber sales has become increasingly routine. 

Along with other serious and compounding threats such as competition from barred owls, anticoagulant rodenticide use associated with trespass marijuana operations, and climate change, habitat loss from commercial logging has pushed the owl to the verge of extinction throughout large portions of its range. Scientists have found that the majority of suitable habitat in the upper third of the Northern spotted owl’s range and in the Oregon Coast Range is currently unoccupied (Dugger et al. 2016), and new research predicts that the Northern spotted owl could go extinct in portions of its range within a few short decades (Yackulic et al. 2019).

While most of the population is in a free fall, Northern spotted owl
populations in the Siskiyou Mountains, which were thought to be relatively stable in 2013 and currently play a critical role in maintaining population viability, are also significantly declining (Duggar et al. 2016). Yet, the rate of population decline in northwestern Oregon and western Washington is roughly twice as steep as declines in the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains. Northern spotted owl occupancy is also higher in the Klamath-Siskiyou than in Washington, the Oregon Coast Range and much of the Oregon Cascades (Duggar et al. 2016). In fact, the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains
in both Oregon and California and the adjacent North Coast of
California maintain the strongest “source populations” of Northern spotted
owl remaining on the West Coast. These source populations represent the “principal zones of productivity” for the Northern spotted owl and are vital to Northern spotted owl recovery by encouraging dispersal
into otherwise unoccupied habitat and by augmenting at-risk populations
(Schumaker et.
al. 2014).

The mixed conifer forests of the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains are “source” populations for the Northern spotted owl and are very important for population viability throughout the owl’s range. This particular stand was targeted by the Medford District BLM for heavy industrial logging in the Pickett West Timber Sale. KFA monitoring identified this as a unit of concern and it was later withdrawn from the Pickett West Timber Sale.

With the stakes higher than ever before and the threats closing in on
whole populations of the Northern spotted owl, our federal land managers
have continued to downgrade, degrade and remove suitable habitat. US
Fish and Wildlife has also approved literally hundreds of “take”
permits in our region, allowing land managers to implement timber sales and other land
management projects that are expected to harass, harm, displace or kill Northern spotted owls by severely degrading habitat conditions. 

Recently, Klamath Forest Alliance (KFA) conducted a detailed analysis of all
timber sales and land management projects conducted on federal land in
the Klamath-Siskiyou region from 2013 to 2018. This included the
Klamath, Six Rivers, Mendocino, Shasta-Trinity and Rogue River-Siskiyou
National Forests, as well as the Medford District BLM. 

simulations included in the 2012 Final Critical Habitat Analysis
estimate that 2,680 Northern spotted owls may be present in the
Klamath-Siskiyou region (assuming each female is part of a pair). From
2013 to 2018, federal land managers in the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains received 211 Northern spotted owl take permits, potentially removing 8% of the population in just five years. Obviously this level of “take” is unsustainable and will quickly
lead to significant declines in the regional Northern spotted owl

The Westside Project implemented by the Klamath National Forest after the 2014 Happy Camp Fire clearcut thousands of acres of fire affected forest. In this project alone, US Fish and Wildlife Service allowed the Klamath National Forest to “take” up to 103 Northern spotted owls through extreme and widespread habitat degradation.

Our findings demonstrate that the level of take and habitat loss associated with federal land management
projects in the Klamath-Siskiyou region is significant and has not been
adequately analyzed on the regional scale. Despite recommendations to
maintain high quality habitat in the 2012 Northern Spotted Owl Recovery
Plan, in recent demographic meta-analysis (Dugger et al 2016), and
in numerous recent research papers (Yackulic 2019., Forsman et al. 2011., Franklin et al. 2000., Duggar et al. 2005, 2011, 2016., Olson et al. 2004.), widespread take and habitat loss is still occurring in some of the Northern
spotted owl’s most important habitats. 

Our analysis concludes that between 2013 and 2018, project effects in the Klamath-Siskiyou region accounted for:

  • 211 Northern spotted owl “take” permits
  • 5,684 acres of nesting, roosting and foraging habitat (NRF) removed
  • 12,408 acres of NRF downgraded
  • 10,277 acres of NRF degraded
  • 5,104 acres of post-fire foraging 1 (previous NRF habitat) removed
  • 2,511 acres of post-fire foraging 2 removed
  • 10,263 acres of dispersal habitat removed
  • 5,270 acres of dispersal habitat degraded
  • A total of 51,517 acres of habitat negatively affected by project activities.  

In 2012, our friends at the Environmental Protection and Information Center (EPIC) petitioned the US Fish and Wildlife Service to uplist the status of the Northern spotted owl from “threatened” to “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act. In 2015, the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced that changes in the protective status of the Northern spotted owl “may” be warranted.

According to the Biological Opinion for the Upper Briggs Project, logging and project activities would result in the “take” of four Northern spotted owls in the Briggs Creek Watershed on the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. An Environmental Assessment for the project was released in April of 2018 declaring a need to reduce fire risks. In the summer of 2018, the Taylor-Klondike Fire burned at low severity through much of the Briggs Creek watershed, including proposed timber sale units. This photograph shows unit 23 in the Upper Briggs Project following understory fire effects in the Taylor-Klondike Fire. KFA post-fire monitoring documented the continued presence of a Northern spotted owl in unit 23. Although the owl and its habitat survived the Taylor-Klondike Fire unscathed, it is proposed for “take” in the Upper Briggs Project. A Decision for the Upper Briggs Project is pending, stay tuned!

The findings of our recent analysis support this petition for “uplisting.” They also demonstrate a need for an immediate moratorium on take permits in the Klamath-Siskiyou region. We believe the current risk of extinction in large portions of the owl’s range and the continuing loss of habitat in the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains jeopardizes population viability. The compounding and significant threats facing the Northern spotted owl are creating conditions ripe for extinction, rather than recovery, and require immediate corrective measures, including a change in protective status from “threatened” to “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act. 

Please consider a donation to the Klamath Forest Alliance so we can continue working to defend wildlife and wild places in the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains. We need your help!

Duggar, K.M., et al. 2016. The Effects of Habitat, Climate, and Barred Owls on Long-Term Demography of Northern Spotted Owls. Condor 118:57-116. 

Duggar, K.M., R.G. Anthony., L.S. Andrews. 2011. Transient Dynamics of Invasive Competition: Barred Owls, Spotted Owls and the Demons of Competition Present. Ecological Applications 21: 2459-2468.

Duggar, K.M., F. Wagner., R.G. Anthony., and G.S. Olson. 2005. The Relationship Between Habitat Characteristics and Demo-graphic Performance of Northern Spotted Owls in Southern Oregon. The Condor 107: 863-878. 

Forsman, E.D., R.G. Anthony., K.M. Duggar., E.M. Glenn., A.B. Franklin., G.C. White., C.J. Schwartz., K.P. Burnham., et al. 2011. Population Demography of Northern Spotted Owls. Studies in Avian Biology 40.  

Franklin, A.B., D.R. Anderson, R.J. Gutierrez., and K.P. Burnham. 2000. Climate, Habitat Quality and Fitness in Northern Spotted Owl Populations in Northwestern California. Ecological Monographs 70:539-590.

Olson, G.S., E.M. Glenn., R.G. Anthony, E.D. Forsman., J.A.  Reid., P.J. Loschl., and W.J. Ripple. 2004. Modeling Demographic Performance of Northern Spotted Owls Relative to Forest Habitat in Oregon. Journal of Wildlife Management 68: 1039-1053. 

Schumaker, N.H., A. Brookes., J.R. Dunk., B. Woodbridge, J.A. Heinreichs, J.J. Lawler, C.Carroll, D. LaPlante. 2014. Mapping Sources, Sinks, and Connectivity Using a Simulation Model of Northern Spotted Owls. Landscape Ecology. 29: 579-592.

Yackulic, C.B., et al. 2019. The Past and Future Role of Competition and Habitat in the Range-Wide Occupancy Dynamics of Northern Spotted Owls.