Short-term effects of wildfires on spotted owl survival, site fidelity, mate fidelity, and reproductive success

Monica L. Bond, Ralph J Gutierrez, Alan B. Franklin, William S. LaHaye, Christopher A. May, Mark E. Seamans

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

43 Scopus citations

Abstract

The effects of wildfire on wildlife are important considerations for resource managers because of recent interest in the role of fire in shaping forested landscapes in the western United States. This is particularly true of wildfire effects on spotted owls (Strix occidentails) because of the uncertainty of impacts of controlled burning within spotted owl habitat. Therefore, we documented minimum survival, site fidelity, mate fidelity, and reproductive success for 21 spotted owls after large (>540 ha) wildfires occurred within 11 owl territories in California, Arizona, and New Mexico. In each territory, fire burned through the nest and primary roost sites. Eighteen owls (86%) were known to be alive at least 1 year after the fires, which was similar to reported annual adult survival probabilities for the species. Of 7 pairs of which both members were later resighted, all were located together on the same territories during the breeding season following fires, and 4 pairs produced a total of 7 fledglings. No pair separations were observed after fire. On 8 territories where fire severities were mapped, 50% experienced predominantly low- to moderate-severity fires while 50% experienced high-severity fires that burned large (>30%) areas of the territories. We hypothesize that wildfires may have little short-term impact on survival, site fidelity, mate fidelity, and reproductive success of spotted owls. Further, prescribed burning could be an effective tool in restoring habitat to natural conditions with minimal short-term impact on resident spotted owls. While we do not advocate wholesale prescribed burning in spotted owl territories at this time, we believe our observations justify large-scale experiments on effects of prescribed burning on spotted owls to corroborate our observations and to establish cause-and-effect relationships.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1022-1028
Number of pages7
JournalWildlife Society Bulletin
Volume30
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2002

Keywords

  • Prescribed burning
  • Spotted owl
  • Strix occidentalis
  • Wildfire

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    Bond, M. L., Gutierrez, R. J., Franklin, A. B., LaHaye, W. S., May, C. A., & Seamans, M. E. (2002). Short-term effects of wildfires on spotted owl survival, site fidelity, mate fidelity, and reproductive success. Wildlife Society Bulletin, 30(4), 1022-1028.