Northern Spotted Owl Recovery Information Site Critical Habitat
Protecting the Northern Spotted Owl's Habitat
A critical habitat designation is for land within the range of a species at the time it is listed that has the physical or biological features essential for the conservation of a species and that may require special management. For the northern spotted owl, these features include particular forest types of sufficient area, quality, and configuration to support the needs of territorial owl pairs throughout the year distributed across the species’ range, including habitat for nesting, roosting, foraging, and dispersal.
For the current critical habitat proposal, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service integrated habitat and demographic information (relating to occupancy, survival, reproduction, and movement) to develop a modeling tool that assesses habitat quality and population dynamics across the range. This gives us a more accurate picture of where high quality spotted owl habitat still exists. It synthesizes more than 20 years’ worth of data from on-the-ground demographic surveys. All this information combined allows us to evaluate how spotted owl populations would fare under different habitat conservation scenarios. This ultimately provides an improved tool for determining what areas are in most need of special management to recover the owl. The modeling tool also can take into account different levels of barred owl impacts on spotted owl populations.
The main objectives we considered in identifying the proposed critical habitat designation were:
Ensure sufficient habitat to support stable, healthy populations across the range, and also within each of the 11 recovery units;
Ensure distribution of spotted owl populations across the range of habitat conditions used by the species;
Incorporate uncertainty, including potential effects of barred owls, climate change, and wildfire disturbance risk; and
Recognize that these protections are meant to work in concert with other recovery actions, such as barred owl management.
What is Critical Habitat?
In developing a critical habitat proposal, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service first identifies areas within the range of a species at the time it is listed that have the physical or biological features essential for the conservation of a species and that may require special management.
Critical habitat designations do not establish specific land management standards or prescriptions. Designations do not affect land ownership or establish a refuge, wilderness, reserve, preserve, sanctuary, or any other conservation area where no land management occurs. Critical habitat areas can be actively managed in ways that support species recovery.
We take other factors into account to refine proposals before they are finalized. For example, we consider the economic impacts of proposals and conservation measures already in place that may preclude the need for designating certain areas.
Federal agencies must avoid activities that jeopardize listed species and must ensure any action they authorize, fund, or carry out does not destroy or adversely modify areas of designated critical habitat. Federal agencies are required to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on proposed actions that could affect a listed species or its critical habitat. In cases where proposed actions would harm a species or its critical habitat, we work with the involved agency to develop “reasonable and prudent” alternatives so a project may go forward.
A critical habitat designation that includes private or other non-federal lands has no direct effect on land uses unless there is a federal connection, such as an activity that is authorized, funded, or permitted by a federal agency. However, identifying non-federal lands that are essential to the conservation of a species informs others as to the value of the habitat and may help facilitate voluntary conservation partnerships such as Safe Harbor agreements and Habitat Conservation Plans.