Westside Project Threatens Over 100 Northern Spotted Owls in California

Spotted Owl, Chris Warren

Northern Spotted Owl by Chris Warren

Contact: Steve Holmer, American Bird Conservancy, 202-888-7490

(Washington, D.C., March 9, 2016) Fourteen timber sales in the Klamath National Forest approved by the USDA Forest Service late last month have received permission from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to take* up to 103 Northern Spotted Owls, a subspecies already in steep decline. The Westside project, approved on Feb. 29, proposes extensive post-fire salvage logging, 70 percent of which is in forest reserves designated by the Northwest Forest Plan as areas for wildlife conservation and forest restoration.

“According to analysis by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, habitat will be removed from up to 57 areas where Northern Spotted Owls are known to nest,” said George Fenwick, President of American Bird Conservancy. “The large number of Spotted Owls being put at risk by this project—and the amount of habitat being taken from the owl reserves—is an unreasonable risk to the population and should not have been approved.”

The project, which is in a 187,000-acre area in northern California affected by wildfires in 2014, is inconsistent with government research indicating the owls will often continue nesting in burned forests. They also frequently forage in these areas due to abundant prey. The Northern Spotted Owl's Recovery Plan calls for conserving large standing dead trees used by the owls for nesting.

“These large snags take a long time to form on the landscape and are currently in short supply,” said Steve Holmer, ABC's Senior Policy Advisor. “If the Westside plan proceeds, this essential owl habitat will be lost.”

According to the Forest Service, the Westside timber sales are intended to protect public safety, reduce hazardous fuels, and provide for economic use of burned timber. The sales include 5,570 acres of salvage harvest, 12,700 acres of tree planting, 320 miles of roadside hazard treatment, and 24,450 acres of hazardous fuels reduction, including 11,180 acres of prescribed burn.

“We at American Bird Conservancy urge the Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reconsider the salvage portion of the Westside decision,” said Fenwick. “We ask them to adopt a more conservative approach to managing Northern Spotted Owl Critical Habitat and to ensure that similar projects putting so many of the threatened owls at risk are not approved in the future.

“A better post-fire management strategy has already been suggested by the Karuk Tribe,” Fenwick continued. “This strategy focuses on protecting human safety by removing hazard trees along roads and targeting fire risk-reduction activities around nearby communities.”

The Northern Spotted Owl population is in steep decline, according to the latest population study released last year by the Forest Service. This research indicates that since monitoring began in 1985, Spotted Owl populations declined 55-77 percent in Washington, 31-68 percent in Oregon, and 32-55 percent in California. In addition, population declines are now occurring in study areas in southern Oregon and northern California that were previously experiencing little to no detectable decline through 2009.

* “Take” is defined by the Endangered Species Act as harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect any threatened or endangered species. This includes significant habitat modification or degradation that results in death or injury to listed species by significantly impairing behavioral patterns such as breeding, feeding, or sheltering. In this case, the take of 74 adult owls and 12-29 juveniles could result from the Westside project by reducing the amount of nesting, roosting, and foraging habitat below recommended minimums, and the loss of young due to disturbance during the breeding season.


American Bird Conservancy is the Western Hemisphere's bird conservation specialist—the only organization with a single and steadfast commitment to achieving conservation results for native birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. With a focus on efficiency and working in partnership, we take on the toughest problems facing birds today, innovating and building on sound science to halt extinctions, protect habitats, eliminate threats, and build capacity for bird conservation.