[Federal Register Volume 76, Number 127 (Friday, July 1, 2011)]
[Rules and Regulations]
[Pages 38575-38576]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2011-16456]



Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

[FWS-R1-ES-2011-N020; 10120-1113-0000-C2]

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Revised Recovery 
Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis caurina)

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of document availability: revised recovery plan.


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, announce the 
availability of the Revised Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl 
(Strix occidentalis caurina), a northwestern U.S. species listed as 
threatened under the Endangered Species Act (Act). The Act requires the 
development of recovery plans for listed species, unless such a plan 
would not promote the conservation of a particular species. Recovery 
plans help guide conservation efforts by describing actions considered 
necessary for the recovery of the species, establishing criteria for 
downlisting or delisting listed species, and estimating time and cost 
for implementing the measures needed for recovery.

DATES: Effective July 1, 2011.

ADDRESSES: Electronic copies of the revised recovery plan are available 
online at: http://www.fws.gov/endangered/species/recovery-plans.html 
and http://www.fws.gov/species/nso. Loose-leaf printed copies of the 
revised recovery plan are available by request from the State 
Supervisor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Oregon Fish and Wildlife 
Office, 2600 SE 98th Avenue, Suite 100, Attention: Diana Acosta, 
Portland, OR 97266 (phone: 503/231-6179).

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Dr. Paul Henson, State Supervisor, at 
the above address and phone number.



    Recovery of endangered or threatened animals and plants and the 
ecosystems upon which they depend is a primary goal of our endangered 
species program and the Endangered Species Act (Act) (16 U.S.C. 1531 et 
seq.). Recovery means improvement of the status of listed species to 
the point at which listing is no longer necessary under the criteria 
set out in section 4(a)(1) of the Act.
    The Act requires the development of recovery plans for listed 
species unless such a plan would not promote the conservation of a 
particular species. Recovery plans help guide conservation efforts by 
describing such site-specific management actions as may be necessary to 
achieve the plan's goal for the conservation and survival of the 
species, establishing criteria for delisting in accordance with the 
provisions of section 4 of the Act, and estimating the time and cost 
for implementing those measures needed to achieve the plan's goal and 
intermediate steps toward that goal.
    Section 4(f) of the Act requires that public notice and an 
opportunity for public review and comment be provided during recovery 
plan development. In fulfillment of this requirement, we made the Draft 
Revised Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl available for public 
review and comment from September 15 through November 15, 2010 
(September 15, 2010; 75 FR 56131) and then extended the comment period 
from November 30 through December 15, 2010 (November 30, 2010; 75 FR 
74073). In addition, we reopened the comment period from April 22 
through May 23, 2011 (April 22, 2011; 76 FR 22720) on an updated 
version of Appendix C of the draft revised recovery plan, which 
describes the development of a spotted owl habitat modeling tool. As we 
prepared this final revised recovery plan, we considered information 
provided during the public comment periods. An appendix to the plan 
will guide readers to a Web address where summarized responses to 
comments can be reviewed.
    The northern spotted owl (hereafter, spotted owl) was Federally 
listed as a threatened species on June 26, 1990 (55 FR 26114). The 
current range of the spotted owl extends from southwest British 
Columbia through the Cascade Mountains, coastal ranges, and intervening 
forested lands in Washington, Oregon, and California, as far south as 
Marin County. Spotted owls

[[Page 38576]]

generally rely on older forested habitats, because such forests contain 
the structures and characteristics required for nesting, roosting, and 
foraging. Features that support nesting and roosting typically include 
a moderate to high forest canopy closure (60 to 90 percent); a 
multilayered, multispecies forest canopy with large overstory trees; a 
high incidence of large trees with various deformities (large cavities, 
broken tops, mistletoe infections, and other evidence of decadence); 
large snags (dead trees); large accumulations of fallen trees and other 
woody debris on the ground; and sufficient open space below the forest 
canopy for spotted owls to fly. Foraging habitat generally has 
attributes similar to nesting and roosting habitat, but may also 
include areas with less structural diversity and lower canopy cover. 
Habitat characteristics are known to vary across the range of the 
    The spotted owl was listed as threatened throughout its range due 
to the loss of suitable habitat to timber harvesting, exacerbated by 
catastrophic events such as fire and wind storms. Today we recognize 
past habitat loss, current habitat loss, and competition from barred 
owls (Strix varia) as the most pressing threats to spotted owl 
persistence. The recovery actions in this revised recovery plan are 
designed to address these and other threats within the range of the 
spotted owl.
    In May of 2008, we published the Recovery Plan for the Northern 
Spotted Owl and announced its availability in the Federal Register (May 
21, 2008; 73 FR 29471). The 2008 recovery plan formed the basis for our 
revised designation of spotted owl critical habitat, which we published 
in the Federal Register on August 13, 2008 (73 FR 47325). Both the 2008 
critical habitat designation and the 2008 recovery plan were challenged 
in court: Carpenters' Industrial Council v. Salazar, Case No. 1:08-cv-
01409-EGS (D.DC). In addition, on December 15, 2008, the Inspector 
General of the Department of the Interior issued a report entitled 
``Investigative Report of The Endangered Species Act and the Conflict 
between Science and Policy,'' which concluded that the integrity of the 
agency decisionmaking process for the spotted owl recovery plan was 
potentially jeopardized by improper political influence. As a result, 
the Federal government filed a motion in the lawsuit for remand of the 
2008 recovery plan and critical habitat designation. On September 1, 
2010, the Court issued an opinion remanding the 2008 recovery plan to 
us for issuance of a revised plan within 9 months. On October 12, 2010, 
the Court remanded the 2008 critical habitat designation and ordered 
the Service to issue a new proposed critical habitat rule for public 
comment by November 15, 2010, and a final rule by November 15, 2012. On 
May 6, 2011, the Court granted our request for an extension of the due 
date for issuance of the final revised recovery plan until July 1, 
2011. This notice announces the availability of the final revision to 
the 2008 recovery plan.
    The revised recovery plan is based on a review of all relevant 
biology, including new scientific information that has become available 
and critical peer review comments we received on the 2008 recovery plan 
from three professional scientific associations: The Wildlife Society, 
the American Ornithologists' Union, and The Society for Conservation 
Biology. Like several previous plans for conserving and recovering the 
spotted owl, the 2008 recovery plan recommended a network of large 
habitat blocks, or Managed Owl Conservation Areas (MOCAs), intended to 
support long-term recovery of the species. The peer review comments, 
however, were critical of this network for several reasons, including 
that we did not use updated modeling techniques to design the network 
and assess its efficacy.
    The revised recovery plan prioritizes recovery tasks aimed at: (1) 
Maintaining and managing for an adequate amount of spotted owl habitat 
across the species' range; (2) restoring natural processes in the dry 
forest landscapes such that the impacts of habitat loss through climate 
change are minimized; and (3) conducting large-scale experiments on the 
effects of barred owl removal in areas where the two species co-occur. 
The goal of this recovery plan is to improve the status of the spotted 
owl so that it no longer requires the protections of the Endangered 
Species Act.
    The revised recovery plan is different from the 2008 recovery plan 
in several respects. We initiated a scientifically rigorous, multi-
step, range-wide modeling effort to allow comparison of estimated 
spotted owl population performance among alternative habitat 
conservation scenarios and other conservation strategies. We are 
withdrawing our previous recommendation to implement the MOCA network 
identified in the 2008 recovery plan and instead recommend continuing 
to rely upon the Northwest Forest Plan and designated critical habitat. 
Until spotted owl population trends improve, the revised recovery plan 
also recommends conserving spotted owl sites and high value spotted owl 
habitat to provide additional demographic support to the spotted owl 
population and refugia from barred owls. The revised recovery plan also 
recognizes the possibility of needing additional conservation 
contributions from non-Federal lands. Finally, the revised recovery 
plan affirms our support for forest restoration management actions that 
address concerns about climate change and health of forest ecosystems 
and promote long-term spotted owl recovery.


    The authority for this action is section 4(f) of the Endangered 
Species Act, 16 U.S.C. 1533(f).

    Dated: June 6, 2011.
Robyn Thorson,
Regional Director, Region 1, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 2011-16456 Filed 6-30-11; 8:45 am]