The old-growth forests of the Pacific Northwest are some of America’s most amazing natural assets. The legacy of these forests was called to the forefront more than 20 years ago when the northern spotted owl was listed under the Endangered Species Act as a threatened species in Washington, Oregon, and California. This triggered intense debates about the sustainability of the social, economic, and conservation values of these forests.
The spotted owl came to symbolize the need for strong protections for forest-dwellers and their habitat, leading to the groundbreaking Northwest Forest Plan in 1994. The Northwest Forest Plan also affirmed the importance of sustainable timber harvest, a mainstay for people in this region for more than a century. The Northwest Forest Plan set up late-successional reserves for wildlife conservation and “matrix” lands for timber production on federal forests throughout the spotted owl's range.
Today, the spotted owl is stable in a few areas and declining in most others. The two main threats to its survival are habitat loss and competition from the barred owl, a relative from eastern North America that has progressively encroached into the spotted owl’s range. It will take time, but the habitat threat should lessen as forests recover. The magnitude of the barred owl threat has increased significantly as their populations continue to expand throughout the forests of the Pacific Northwest. Addressing these threats, and restoring the health of forest ecosystems through active management, is the focus of spotted owl recovery.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, along with our recovery partners, is working to embed spotted owl recovery within a broader vision for a healthy, resilient Northwest forest landscape—building on the original tenets of the Northwest Forest Plan. Our efforts will help restore vitality to our great Northwest forests—and help safeguard all their lasting values.