High-severity forest fire often is presumed to adversely affect the occupancy of territories by California Spotted Owls (Strix occidentalis occidentalis) because these owls are associated with mature and old-growth forests. We used single-season, multi-state occupancy statistics to estimate site occupancy probability for Spotted Owls at 45 historically occupied sites during the breeding season immediately following the 2013 Rim Fire, which was one of the largest forest fires on record in California. We quantified how occupancy probability was influenced by the amount of high-severity fire occurring in mature forested habitat within Protected Activity Centers (PACs). The model-averaged estimate of site-occupancy probability for at least a single owl was 0.922 (±SE=0.073), which was higher than other published occupancy probability estimates for this subspecies in either burned or long-unburned sites in the Sierra Nevada. Mean site-occupancy probability for pairs was 0.866 (±0.093), and most sites (33) were occupied by pairs. The amount of high-severity fire in the PAC did not affect pair occupancy. Occupancy probability by at least a single bird was negatively correlated with the amount of high severity fire in the PAC but remained >0.89 in 100% high-severity burned PACs. These data add to observations that California Spotted Owls continue to use post-fire landscapes, even when the fires were large and where large areas burned at high severity, suggesting that owls are not generally negatively impacted by high-severity fire. Based on this and other studies of Spotted Owls, fire, and logging, we suggest land managers consider burned forest within and surrounding PACs as potentially suitable California Spotted Owl foraging habitat when planning and implementing management activities, and we recommend against logging burned forest within at least 1.5 km of nests or roosts for the conservation and recovery of this declining subspecies.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Animal Science and Zoology