[Federal Register Volume 77, Number 233 (Tuesday, December 4, 2012)]
[Rules and Regulations]
[Pages 71875-72068]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2012-28714]



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Vol. 77

Tuesday,

No. 233

December 4, 2012

Part II





Department of the Interior





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Fish and Wildlife Service





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50 CFR Part 17





 Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Designation of Revised 
Critical Habitat for the Northern Spotted Owl; Final Rule

Federal Register / Vol. 77 , No. 233 / Tuesday, December 4, 2012 / 
Rules and Regulations

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DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR

Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

[FWS-R1-ES-2011-0112; 4500030114]
RIN 1018-AX69


Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Designation of 
Revised Critical Habitat for the Northern Spotted Owl

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Final rule.

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SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, designate revised 
critical habitat for the northern spotted owl (Strix occidentalis 
caurina) under the Endangered Species Act. In total, approximately 
9,577,969 acres (ac) (3,876,064 hectares (ha)) in 11 units and 60 
subunits in California, Oregon, and Washington fall within the 
boundaries of the critical habitat designation.

DATES: The rule becomes effective on January 3, 2013.

ADDRESSES: The final rule and the associated economic analysis and 
environmental assessment are available on the Internet at http://www.regulations.gov at Docket No. FWS-R1-ES-2011-0112. Comments and 
materials received, as well as supporting documentation used in 
preparing this final rule, are available for public inspection, by 
appointment, during normal business hours, at the U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service, Oregon Fish and Wildlife Office, 2600 SE. 98th Ave., 
Suite 100, Portland, OR 97266; telephone 503-231-6179; facsimile 503-
231-6195.
    The coordinates or plot points or both from which the maps are 
generated are included in the administrative record for this critical 
habitat designation and are available at http://www.fws.gov/oregonfwo, 
at http://www.regulations.gov at Docket No. FWS-R1-ES-2011-0112, and at 
the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Office (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION 
CONTACT). The additional tools and supporting information that we 
developed for this critical habitat designation are available at the 
Fish and Wildlife Service Web site and Field Office set out above and 
at http://www.regulations.gov.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Paul Henson, Field Supervisor, U.S. 
Fish and Wildlife Service, Oregon Fish and Wildlife Office, 2600 SE. 
98th Ave., Suite 100, Portland, OR 97266; telephone 503-231-6179; 
facsimile 503-231-6195. If you use a telecommunications device for the 
deaf (TDD), call the Federal Information Relay Service (FIRS) at 800-
877-8339.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Organization of the Final Rule

    This final rule describes the revised critical habitat designation 
for the northern spotted owl under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, 
as amended (Act) (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.). The pages that follow 
summarize the comments and information received in response to the 
proposed designation published on March 8, 2012 (77 FR 14062), and in 
response to the notice of availability of the draft economic analysis 
and draft environmental assessment of the proposed revised designation 
published on June 1, 2012 (77 FR 32483), describe any changes from the 
proposed rule, and detail the final designation for the northern 
spotted owl. To assist the reader, the content of the document is 
organized as follows:

I. Executive Summary
II. Background
    Introduction
    An Ecosystem-Based Approach to the Conservation of the Northern 
Spotted Owl and Managing Its Critical Habitat
    Critical Habitat and the Northwest Forest Plan
    Forest Management Activities in Northern Spotted Owl Critical 
Habitat
    Research and Adaptive Management
    The Biology and Ecology of the Northern Spotted Owl
III. Previous Federal Actions
IV. Changes From the Proposed Rule
V. Changes From Previously Designated Critical Habitat
VI. Critical Habitat
    Background
    Physical or Biological Features
    Physical Influences Related to Features Essential to the 
Northern Spotted Owl
    Biological Influences Related to Features Essential to the 
Northern Spotted Owl
    Physical or Biological Features by Life-History Function
    Primary Constituent Elements for the Northern Spotted Owl
    Special Management Considerations or Protection
VII. Criteria Used To Identify Critical Habitat
    Occupied Areas
    Summary of Determination of Areas That Are Essential
    Unoccupied Areas
VIII. Final Critical Habitat Designation
IX. Effects of Critical Habitat Designation
    Section 7 Consultation
    Determinations of Adverse Effects and Application of the 
``Adverse Modification'' Standard
    Section 7 Process Under This Critical Habitat Rule
X. Exemptions
XI. Exclusions
XII. Summary of Comments and Responses
    Comments From Peer Reviewers
    Comments From Federal Agencies
    Comments From State Agencies
    Comments From Counties
    Public Comments
    Economic Analysis Comments
    Environmental Assessment Comments
XIII. Required Determinations
    Regulatory Planning and Review--Executive Order 12866/13563
    Regulatory Flexibility Act (5 U.S.C. 601 et seq.)
    Energy Supply, Distribution, or Use--Executive Order 13211
    Unfunded Mandates Reform Act (2 U.S.C. 1501 et seq.)
    Takings--Executive Order 12630
    Federalism--Executive Order 13132
    Civil Justice Reform--Executive Order 12988
    Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 (44 U.S.C. 3501 et seq.)
    National Environmental Policy Act (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.)
    Government-to-Government Relationship With Tribes
XIV. References Cited
Regulation Promulgation

I. Executive Summary

    Why we need to publish a rule. This is a final rule to designate 
revised critical habitat for the northern spotted owl. Under the 
Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act), designations and 
revisions of critical habitat can only be completed through rulemaking.
    We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), listed the 
northern spotted owl as threatened on June 26, 1990 (55 FR 26114), 
because of widespread loss of habitat across its range and the 
inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms to conserve it. We 
previously designated critical habitat for the northern spotted owl in 
1992 and 2008. The 2008 designation (73 FR 47326, August 13, 2008) was 
subsequently challenged in court. In July 2009, the Federal Government 
requested voluntary remand of the 2008 revised critical habitat 
designation. On March 8, 2012, we published in the Federal Register a 
revised proposed critical habitat designation for the northern spotted 
owl (77 FR 14062). This rule complies with the court-ordered deadline 
to submit a final revised critical habitat rule for the northern 
spotted owl to the Federal Register by November 21, 2012.
    Section 4(b)(2) of the Act states that the Secretary shall 
designate critical habitat on the basis of the best available 
scientific data after taking into consideration the economic impact, 
national security impact, and any other relevant impact of specifying 
any particular area as critical habitat. The critical habitat areas we 
are designating in this rule constitute our current best assessment of 
the areas that meet the

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definition of critical habitat for the northern spotted owl.
    The rule revises our designation of critical habitat in Washington, 
Oregon, and California. Consistent with the best scientific data 
available, the standards of the Act and our regulations, we are 
designating 9,577,969 ac (3,876,064 ha) in 11 units and 60 subunits in 
California, Oregon, and Washington that meet the definition of critical 
habitat. The approximate totals by State and comparison to previous 
designations are outlined below, as follows (note some units and 
subunits overlap State boundaries; therefore, totals do not add up to 
11 units and 60 subunits):
     Approximately 2,918,067 ac (1,180,898 ha) in 4 units and 
26 subunits in Washington.
     Approximately 4,557,852 ac (1,844,496 ha) in 8 units and 
58 subunits in Oregon.
     Approximately 2,102,050 ac (850,669 ha) in 5 units and 36 
subunits in California.
     This designation increases previously designated critical 
habitat, including the addition of 272,026 ac (110,085 ha) ac of State 
lands. However, this final critical habitat designation is a decrease 
from the 13,962,449 ac (5,649,660 ha) identified as meeting the 
definition of critical habitat in the March 8, 2012 (77 FR 14062) 
proposed rule.
     We have also excluded areas of State and private land from 
this designation of critical habitat under section 4(b)(2) of the Act, 
as explained in the Exclusions section of this rule.
    The Revised Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl (USFWS 2011; 
hereafter ``Revised Recovery Plan'') recommends that land managers: (1) 
conserve older forest, high-value habitat, and areas occupied by 
northern spotted owls; and (2) actively manage forests to restore 
ecosystem health in many parts of the species' range. In developing 
this critical habitat designation, we also recognize the importance of 
the Northwest Forest Plan (NWFP) and its land management strategy for 
conservation of native species associated with old-growth and late-
successional forest, including the northern spotted owl. The 
designation of areas as critical habitat does not change land use 
allocations or Standards and Guidelines for management under the NWFP, 
nor does this rule establish any management plan or prescriptions for 
the management of critical habitat. However, we encourage land managers 
to consider implementation of forest management practices recommended 
in the Revised Recovery Plan to restore natural ecological processes 
where they have been disrupted or suppressed (e.g., natural fire 
regimes), and application of ``ecological forestry'' management 
practices (e.g., Gustafsson et al. 2012, entire; Franklin et al. 2007, 
entire; Kuuluvian and Grenfell et al. 2012 entire) within critical 
habitat to reduce the potential for adverse impacts associated with 
commercial timber harvest when such harvest is planned within or 
adjacent to critical habitat. In sum, the Service encourages land 
managers to consider the conservation of existing high-quality northern 
spotted owl habitat, the restoration of forest ecosystem health, and 
the ecological forestry management practices recommended in the Revised 
Recovery Plan that are compatible with both the goals of northern 
spotted owl recovery and Standards and Guidelines of the NWFP.
    The basis for our action. This final critical habitat designation 
is based on the current status and recent scientific research on 
northern spotted owl populations. We used the best scientific 
information available to identify those specific areas within the 
geographical area occupied by the species at the time it was listed on 
which are found those physical or biological features essential to the 
conservation of the species, and which may require special management 
considerations or protection. For the northern spotted owl, these 
features include particular forest types that are used or likely to be 
used by northern spotted owls for nesting, roosting, foraging, or 
dispersing habitat. In addition, we used the best available information 
to identify those areas that are otherwise determined to be essential 
to the conservation of the species.
    We relied on the recovery criteria set forth in the Revised 
Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl (USFWS 2011) to determine 
what is essential to the conservation of the species; therefore we have 
identified a habitat network that meets the following criteria:
     Ensures sufficient habitat to support stable, healthy 
populations across the range, and also within each of the 11 recovery 
units;
     Ensures distribution of northern spotted owl populations 
across the range of habitat conditions used by the species;
     Incorporates uncertainty, including potential effects of 
barred owls, climate change, and wildfire disturbance risk; and
     Recognizes that these protections are meant to work in 
concert with other recovery actions, such as barred owl management.
    To assist us in determining critical habitat, we integrated habitat 
and demographic information (relating to occupancy, survival, 
reproduction, and movement) to develop a modeling tool that assesses 
the distribution of habitat quality and population dynamics across the 
range, and provides a more accurate picture of where high-quality 
northern spotted owl habitat exists. This model synthesized more than 
20 years of data from on-the-ground demographic surveys, and allowed 
for analysis of how northern spotted owl populations would fare under 
different habitat conservation scenarios. We determined what is 
essential to recovery of the northern spotted owl by evaluating the 
performance of each potential critical habitat scenario considered 
against the recovery needs of the owl.
    Peer reviewers support our methods. We solicited expert opinions 
from knowledgeable individuals with scientific expertise that included 
familiarity with the species, the geographic region in which the 
species occurs, and conservation biology principles. These peer 
reviewers generally concurred with our methods and conclusions and 
provided additional information, clarifications, and suggestions to 
improve this final rule.
    Consistency with Presidential Directive. On February 28, 2012, the 
President issued a memorandum to the Secretary of the Interior 
regarding the proposed revised critical habitat for the northern 
spotted owl, specifically on minimizing regulatory burdens. The Service 
has fully addressed each of the directives in this memo and has taken 
steps to comply with this directive, including:

 We conducted and completed, as is the Service's normal 
practice, an economic analysis on the probable impacts of the proposed 
revised critical habitat.
 We provided a description of ecological forestry management 
actions that may be compatible with both northern spotted owl recovery 
and timber harvest, as recommended in the Revised Recovery Plan for the 
Northern Spotted Owl. This discussion appears in the following sections 
of this rule:
    [cir] An Ecosystem-based Approach to the Conservation of the 
Northern Spotted Owl and Managing Its Critical Habitat
    [cir] Special Management Considerations or Protection
    [cir] Determination of Adverse Effects and Application of the 
``Adverse

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Modification'' Standard.

We note, however, that this discussion of ecological forestry is 
provided to Federal, State, local and private land managers, as well as 
the public, for their consideration as they make decisions on the 
management of forest land under their jurisdictions and through their 
normal processes. This critical habitat rule itself does not take any 
action or adopt any policy, plan, or program in relation to active 
forest management.

     As per the Service's normal practice, we solicited public 
review and comment on this rulemaking action, using information thus 
gained to correct and refine our designation.
     We fully considered exclusion of private lands and State 
lands from the final revised critical habitat, consistent with the best 
available scientific and commercial information.
    The Service appreciates, and is sensitive to, the potential for 
regulatory burden that may result from our designation of critical 
habitat for the northern spotted owl under the Act. Our analysis 
indicated that the revision of critical habitat could have relatively 
little incremental effect above and beyond the conservation measures 
already required as a result of its threatened species status under the 
Act, and thus is not expected to impose substantial additional 
regulatory burdens. The Service appreciates, and relies on the many 
partners we have in conservation, including private landowners, Tribes, 
States, and local governments, and strongly desires to promote 
conservation partnerships to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, 
wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the 
American people.
    Costs and benefits. In order to identify and analyze the potential 
economic impacts of the designation of critical habitat for the 
northern spotted owl, we worked with a contractor to draft an economic 
analysis report, which was released in May of 2012 and finalized 
following consideration and incorporation of public comment. The report 
looked at a variety of economic activities including timber harvest, 
wildlife management, road construction, and other forest management 
activities, but focused primarily on timber management. It concludes 
that only a relatively small portion of the overall proposed revised 
designation may result in more than minor incremental administrative 
costs. It found that potential incremental changes in timber harvests 
on Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service lands may occur on 
approximately 1,449,534 ac (585,612 ha) proposed for designation, or 10 
percent of the total lands included in the proposed designation and 
that there is the potential for 307,308 ac (123,364 ha) of private land 
to experience incremental changes in harvests, or approximately 2 
percent of total lands proposed. No incremental changes in harvests are 
expected on State lands.

II. Background

    It is our intent to discuss only those topics directly relevant to 
the revised designation of critical habitat in this rule. For further 
details regarding northern spotted owl biology and habitat, population 
abundance and trend, distribution, demographic features, habitat use 
and conditions, threats, and conservation measures, please see the 
Northern Spotted Owl 5-year Review Summary and Evaluation, completed 
October 26, 2011, and the Revised Recovery Plan for the Northern 
Spotted Owl (USFWS 2011), completed July 1, 2011. Both of these 
documents are available on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's 
Endangered Species Web site at http://ecos.fws.gov/; under ``Species 
Search,'' enter ``northern spotted owl.'' As detailed below, Appendix C 
of the Revised Recovery Plan is particularly informative, as we used 
the habitat modeling process it describes as a tool to help identify 
areas containing the essential physical and biological features or 
areas that were otherwise essential to the conservation of the northern 
spotted owl in this revised designation of critical habitat. 
Furthermore, the recovery criteria for the northern spotted owl, as 
described in the Revised Recovery Plan (USFWS 2011, pp. I-1 to I-2), 
helped to discriminate between the various scenarios considered in the 
modeling process in terms of assessing which of the habitat networks 
evaluated included what is essential to the conservation of the 
northern spotted owl in the most efficient configuration possible.

Introduction

    The northern spotted owl inhabits structurally complex forests from 
southwestern British Columbia through Washington and Oregon to northern 
California. The northern spotted owl was listed under the Act as a 
threatened species in 1990 because of widespread loss of habitat across 
its range and the inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms to 
conserve it (55 FR 26114; June 26, 1990). Although the rate of loss of 
habitat due to timber harvest has been reduced on Federal lands over 
the past two decades, both past and current habitat loss remain a 
threat to the northern spotted owl. Despite implementation of habitat 
conservation measures in the early 1990s, Thomas et al. (1990, p. 5) 
and USDI (1992, Appendix C) foresaw that owl populations would continue 
to decline for several decades, even with habitat conservation, as the 
consequence of lag effects at both individual and population levels. 
However, many populations of northern spotted owls have declined at a 
faster rate than anticipated, especially in the northern parts of the 
subspecies' range (Anthony et al. 2006, pp. 31-32; Forsman et al. 2011, 
pp. 65, 76). We now know that the suite of threats (detailed below) 
facing the northern spotted owl differs from those at the time it was 
listed; in addition to the effects of historical and ongoing habitat 
loss, the northern spotted owl faces a new significant and complex 
threat in the form of competition from the congeneric (referring to a 
member of the same genus) barred owl (USFWS 2011, pp. I-7 to I-8).
    During the second half of the 20th century, barred owls expanded 
their range from eastern to western North America, and the range of the 
barred owl now completely overlaps that of the northern spotted owl 
(Guti[eacute]rrez et al. 1995, p. 3; Crozier et al. 2006, p. 761). 
Barred owls compete with northern spotted owls for habitat and 
resources for breeding, feeding, and sheltering, and the presence of 
barred owls has significant negative effects on northern spotted owl 
reproduction, survivorship, and successful occupation of territories 
(see Population Status and Trends, below). The loss of habitat has the 
potential to intensify competition with barred owls by reducing the 
total amount of resources available to the northern spotted owl and by 
increasing the likelihood and frequency of competitive interactions. 
While there are important differences in the ecology between barred 
owls and northern spotted owls, barred owls select very similar habitat 
for breeding, feeding, and sheltering, and loss of habitat has the 
potential to intensify competition between species. While conserving 
habitat will not completely alleviate the barred owl threat, Dugger et 
al. (2011, pp. 2464-2465) found that northern spotted owl occupancy and 
colonization rates decreased as both barred owl presence increased and 
available habitat decreased. Similar to another case in which increased 
suitable habitat was required to support two potentially competing 
raptors, these authors concluded that increased habitat protection for 
northern spotted owls

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may be necessary to provide for sustainable populations in the presence 
of barred owls in some areas (Dugger et al. 2011, p. 2467). Maintaining 
high-quality habitat has been important since the northern spotted owl 
was initially listed as a threatened species in 1990, and this 
competitive pressure from barred owls has intensified the need to 
conserve and restore large areas of contiguous, high-quality habitat 
across the range of the northern spotted owl (Dugger et al. 2011, p. 
2464; Forsman et al. 2011, p. 76; USFWS 2011, Recovery Action 32 
[RA32], p. III-67).
    It is becoming increasingly evident that solely securing habitat 
will not be effective in achieving the recovery of the northern spotted 
owl when barred owls are present (USFWS 2011, p. vi). While 
conservation of high-quality habitat is essential for the recovery and 
conservation of the owl, habitat conservation alone is not sufficient 
to achieve recovery objectives. As stated in the Revised Recovery Plan, 
``* * * addressing the threats associated with past and current habitat 
loss must be conducted simultaneously with addressing the threats from 
barred owls. Addressing the threat from habitat loss is relatively 
straightforward with predictable results. However, addressing a large-
scale threat of one raptor on another, closely related raptor has many 
uncertainties'' (USFWS 2011, p. I-8). A designation of critical habitat 
is intended to ameliorate habitat-based threats to an endangered or 
threatened species; critical habitat cannot reasonably be expected to 
fully address other, non-habitat-related threats to the species. In the 
case of the northern spotted owl, the recovery goal of supporting 
population viability and demographically stable populations of northern 
spotted owls will likely require habitat conservation in concert with 
the implementation of recovery actions that address other, non-habitat-
based threats to the species, including the barred owl. In addition, 
recovery actions include scientific evaluation of potential management 
options to reduce the impact of barred owls on northern spotted owls 
(USFWS 2011, Recovery Action 29 [RA29], p. III-65), and implementation 
of management actions determined to be effective (USFWS 2011, Recovery 
Action 30 [RA30], p. III-65).
    When developing a critical habitat rule, the Service must use the 
best scientific information available to identify critical habitat as 
defined in section (3)(5)(A) of the Act, which are (i) the specific 
areas within the geographical area occupied by the species at the time 
it was listed that provide the physical or biological features 
essential for the conservation of the species, and which may require 
special management considerations or protection, and (ii) specific 
areas outside the geographical area occupied by the species at the time 
it was listed that are otherwise determined to be essential to the 
conservation of the species. However, like most critical habitat 
designations, this rule addresses elements of risk management, because 
we must make recommendations and decisions in the face of incomplete 
information and uncertainty about factors influencing northern spotted 
owl populations. This uncertainty exists even though the northern 
spotted owl is among the most thoroughly studied of listed species. We 
understand a great deal about the habitats the subspecies prefers and 
the factors that influence its demographic trends. Nonetheless, 
considerable uncertainty remains, particularly about interactions among 
different factors that threaten the owl.
    In the face of such uncertainty, the Revised Recovery Plan proposes 
strategies to address the primary threats to the northern spotted owl 
from habitat loss and barred owls (USFWS 2011, p. I-7). The effects of 
climate change and of past management practices are changing forest 
ecosystem processes and dynamics, including patterns of wildfires, 
insect outbreaks, and disease, to a degree greater than anticipated in 
the Northwest Forest Plan (NWFP) (Hessburg et al. 2005, pp. 134-135; 
Carroll et al. 2010, p. 899; Spies et al. 2010, entire; USFWS 2011, p. 
I-8). At the same time, the expansion of barred owl populations is 
altering the capacity of intact habitat to support northern spotted 
owls. Projecting the effects of these factors and their interactions 
into the future leads to even higher levels of uncertainty, especially 
considering how the influences of different threats may vary across the 
owl's large geographical range. It is clear that ecosystem-level 
changes are occurring within the northern spotted owl's forest habitat.
    The development of a critical habitat network for the northern 
spotted owl must take into account current uncertainties, such as those 
associated with barred owl impacts and climate change predictions 
(USFWS 2011, p. III-10). These uncertainties require that we make some 
assumptions about likely future conditions in developing, modeling, and 
evaluating potential critical habitat for the northern spotted owl; 
those assumptions are identified clearly in this rule (see Criteria 
Used to Identify Critical Habitat, below) and in our supporting 
documentation (Dunk et al. 2012b, entire).
    Given the continued decline of northern spotted owl populations, 
the apparent increase in severity of the threat from barred owls, and 
information indicating a recent loss of genetic diversity for the 
subspecies, retaining both occupied northern spotted owl sites and 
unoccupied, high-value northern spotted owl habitat across the 
subspecies' range are key components for recovery (USFWS 2011, p. I-9). 
High-value habitat is defined in the Revised Recovery Plan for the 
Northern Spotted Owl (USFWS 2011) as habitat that is important for 
maintaining northern spotted owls on landscapes, including areas with 
current and historic use by northern spotted owls. We refer readers to 
the glossary (Appendix G) of the Revised Recovery Plan for definitions 
of forest stand conditions and habitat types discussed in this rule.
    Accordingly, in this rule, we have identified areas of habitat 
occupied at the time of listing that provide the physical or biological 
features essential to the conservation of the northern spotted owl, and 
that may require special management considerations or protection. When 
occupied areas were not adequate to achieve essential recovery goals, 
we also identified some unoccupied areas as critical habitat for the 
northern spotted owl only upon a determination that such areas are 
essential to the conservation of the species (see the second part of 
the definition of critical habitat in section (3)(5)(a)(ii), which 
states that critical habitat also includes ``specific areas outside the 
geographical area occupied by the species at the time of listing in 
accordance with the provisions of section 4 of this Act, upon a 
determination by the Secretary that such areas are essential for the 
conservation of the species.'') However, it is important to note that 
this revised designation of critical habitat does not include all sites 
where northern spotted owls are presently known to occur. The habitat 
modeling that we used, in part, to assist us in developing this revised 
designation was based primarily on present habitat suitability. While 
we did also consider the present known locations of northern spotted 
owls in refining the identified habitat network, not all such sites 
were included in the revised designation if those areas did not make a 
significant contribution to population viability (for example, if known 
sites were too small or isolated to play a meaningful role in the 
conservation of the species; see Criteria Used to Identify Critical 
Habitat). This is in accordance with section 3(5)(C) of

[[Page 71880]]

the Act, which specifies that ``critical habitat shall not include the 
entire geographical area which can be occupied by the threatened or 
endangered species.''
    Because of the uncertainties associated with the effects of barred 
owl interactions with the northern spotted owl and habitat changes that 
may occur as a result of climate change, active adaptive forest 
management strategies will be needed to achieve results in certain 
landscapes. Active adaptive forest management is a systematic approach 
for improving resource management by learning from the results of 
explicit management policies and practices and applying that learning 
to future management decisions (USFWS 2011, p. G-1). This critical 
habitat rule identifies key sources of uncertainty, and the need to 
learn from our management of forests that provide habitat for northern 
spotted owls. We have designated a critical habitat network that was 
developed based on what we determined to be the areas containing the 
physical and biological features essential for the conservation of the 
northern spotted owl or are otherwise essential to owl conservation, 
after taking into consideration information on essential habitats, the 
current distribution of those habitats, and the best available 
scientific knowledge about northern spotted owl population dynamics, 
while acknowledging uncertainty about future conditions in Pacific 
Northwest forests.

An Ecosystem-Based Approach to the Conservation of the Northern Spotted 
Owl and Managing Its Critical Habitat

    Section 2 of the Act states, ``The purposes of this Act are to 
provide a means whereby the ecosystems upon which endangered species 
and threatened species depend may be conserved.'' Although the 
conservation of the listed species is the specific objective of a 
critical habitat designation, the essential physical or biological 
features that serve as the basis of critical habitat are often 
essential components of the ecosystem upon which the species depends. 
In such cases, a fundamental goal of critical habitat management is not 
only to conserve the listed species, but also to conserve the ecosystem 
upon which that species depends. This is the case with the northern 
spotted owl.
    An ecosystem is defined as a biological community of interacting 
organisms and their physical environment, or as the complex of a 
community of organisms and its environment functioning as an ecological 
unit (Krebs 1972, pp. 10-11; Ricklefs 1979, pp. 31-32, 869). These 
ecosystem interactions and functions are often referred to as 
ecological relationships or processes. Thus, to conserve the northern 
spotted owl as directed by the Act, one must also conserve the 
ecological processes that occur within the ecological landscape 
inhabited by the species. These processes--such as vegetation 
succession, forest fire regimes, and nutrient cycling--create and shape 
the physical or biological features that form the foundation of 
critical habitat. The northern spotted owl was initially listed as a 
threatened species largely due to the loss or degradation of the late-
successional forest ecosystems upon which it depends. A complex 
interaction of physical or biological factors contribute to the 
development and maintenance of these ecosystems, which in turn provide 
the northern spotted owl with the environmental conditions required for 
its conservation and survival, such as large areas of suitable habitat, 
nest structures, and sufficient prey to sustain interconnected 
populations of owls across the landscape. A fundamental goal of 
critical habitat management should thus be to understand, describe, and 
conserve these processes, which in turn will maintain the physical or 
biological features essential to the conservation of the species. This 
``ecosystem approach'' will ultimately have the highest likelihood of 
conserving listed species such as the northern spotted owl in the long 
term (Knight 1998, p. 43).
    The U.S. Forest Service, which manages the great majority of areas 
being designated as revised northern spotted owl critical habitat, has 
prioritized restoring and maintaining natural ecological function and 
resiliency to its forest lands (Blate et al. 2009, entire; USDA 2010, 
entire; Tidwell 2011, entire). Active adaptive forest management within 
critical habitat, as discussed herein for the consideration of land 
managers, may be fully compatible and consistent with these landscape-
level ecosystems. Most importantly, this approach is compatible with 
the ecosystem-based approach of the Northwest Forest Plan.
    Revised critical habitat for the northern spotted owl includes a 
diverse forest landscape that covers millions of acres and contains 
several different forest ecosystems and thousands of plant and animal 
species. It ranges from moist old-growth conifer forest in the western 
portion, to a mix of conifers and hardwood trees in the Klamath region, 
to dry, fire-prone forests in the eastern Cascades. Thousands of 
species occur in these forest ecosystems, including other listed and 
sensitive species with very specific biological needs. In areas where 
prescribed management is needed to maintain ecosystem function, such 
management is often expensive, logistically difficult, and contentious 
(Thompson et al. 2009, p. 29). Many scientists believe a single-species 
approach to forest management is limited and that land managers need to 
focus on broader landscape goals that address ecosystem process and 
future habitat conditions (see, e.g., Thomas et al. 2006, p. 286; Boyd 
et al. 2008, p. 42; Hobbs et al. 2010, p. 487; Mori 2011, pp. 289-290). 
The Revised Recovery Plan (USFWS 2011) encourages the application of 
ecosystem management principles to ensure the long-term conservation of 
the northern spotted owl and its habitat, as well as other species 
dependent on these shared ecosystems.
    We reference here the recommendations for habitat management as 
made in the Revised Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl (USFWS 
2011). This discussion is provided primarily for consideration by 
Federal, State, local, and private land managers, as they make 
decisions on the management of forest land under their jurisdictions 
and through their normal processes. This critical habitat rule does not 
take any action or adopt any policy, plan or program in relation to 
active forest management.

Critical Habitat and the Northwest Forest Plan

    It is important to understand the relationship between northern 
spotted owl critical habitat and the Northwest Forest Plan (NWFP). In 
brief, the designation of areas as critical habitat does not change 
land use allocations or Standards and Guidelines for management under 
the NWFP. Critical habitat for the northern spotted owl was first 
designated in 1992 (January 15, 1992; 57 FR 1796). Since 1994, the NWFP 
has also served as an important landscape-level plan that has 
contributed to the conservation of the northern spotted owl and late-
successional forest habitat on Federal lands across the range of the 
species (Thomas et al. 2006, pp. 278-284). The NWFP introduced a system 
of reserves where conservation of late-successional forest, riparian 
habitats, northern spotted owls, and other species dependent on older 
forest would be the priority, and matrix areas where timber harvest 
would be the goal. The Standards and Guidelines for the NWFP (USDA and 
USDI 1994) prescribe an ecosystem-based approach to management for the 
Federal action

[[Page 71881]]

agencies that manage these lands, and provide guidance for activities 
conducted on different land use allocations. All Bureau of Land 
Management and U.S. Forest Service lands identified as northern spotted 
owl critical habitat in this rule fall under the NWFP, and should be 
managed consistent with its standards. Here we briefly provide a 
summary of how our designation of critical habitat has been informed by 
and relates to forest management under the NWFP.
    In developing this critical habitat designation, the Service 
recognizes the importance of the NWFP as the overarching land 
management strategy for conservation of the northern spotted owl and 
other native species associated with old-growth and late-successional 
forest. The system of reserves within the NWFP is essential for the 
conservation and development of large areas of late-successional forest 
across the landscape; however, because the NWFP was designed to benefit 
multiple species not every acre of the late-successional reserves 
(LSRs) provide high-quality habitat for northern spotted owls. In 
addition, barred owls have become increasingly abundant in the Pacific 
Northwest and likely have a large effect on the continued decline of 
northern spotted owl populations. With barred owls now sharing the 
range of the northern spotted owl, conservation of northern spotted 
owls outside NWFP reserved areas is increasingly important for species 
recovery.
    In our designation of critical habitat on Federal lands, we 
identified lands that contain the features essential to the 
conservation of the species including lands both within NWFP reserves 
and matrix that function as highly valuable northern spotted owl 
habitat. As noted above, designation as critical habitat does not 
change these land use allocations or Standards and Guidelines for 
management under the NWFP, and we fully recognize the ecological 
functions and land management goals of the different land use 
allocations as outlined under the NWFP. While the NWFP has been 
successful in conserving large blocks of late-successional forest 
(Thomas et al. 2006, p. 283, Davis et al. 2011, p. 38), concerns have 
been expressed that it provides less than the anticipated level of 
commercial timber harvest on matrix lands, does not promote active 
restoration in areas that may contain uncharacteristically high risk of 
severe fire (Spies et al. 2006, pg. 359; Thomas et al. 2006, p. 277), 
and does not promote development of complex early-seral forest in areas 
where regeneration harvest has been conducted (Betts et al. 2010, p. 
2117; Hagar 2007, p. 109; Swanson et al. 2011, p. 124) (``seral'' 
refers to developmental or successional stages of the forest community 
that influences species composition, i.e., early, mid, late seral 
stages).
    Thomas et al. (2006, pp. 284-287) provided three recommendations to 
improve the NWFP. These recommendations are highly relevant to northern 
spotted owl critical habitat conservation and management:
    1. Conserve old-growth trees and forests on Federal lands wherever 
they are found (emphasis added), and undertake appropriate restoration 
treatment in the threatened forest types.
    2. Manage NWFP forests as dynamic ecosystems that conserve all 
stages of forest development (e.g., encompassing the range of 
conditions between early-seral and old-growth), and where tradeoffs 
between short-term and long-term risks are better balanced.
    3. Recognize the NWFP as an integrated conservation strategy that 
contributes to all components of sustainability across Federal lands.
    It is our hope that management of critical habitat for the northern 
spotted owl will be compatible with these broader landscape management 
goals articulated by Thomas et al. (2006, pp. 284-287). Furthermore, 
the Standards and Guidelines for the NWFP encourage an ecosystem-based 
approach to land management (e.g., USDA and USDI 1994, p. A-1, 
Standards and Guidelines, pp. C-12, C-13). As discussed in the Revised 
Recovery Plan, recovery of the northern spotted owl will likely require 
that an ecosystem management approach that includes both passive and 
active management, to meet a variety of conservation goals that support 
long-term northern spotted owl conservation, be implemented. We fully 
support the land use allocation goals and the Standards and Guidelines 
for management under the NWFP (USDA and USDI 1994) as informed by the 
recommendations of the Revised Recovery Plan. Some general 
considerations for managing the threats to the essential physical or 
biological features for the northern spotted owl are discussed in the 
Special Management Considerations or Protections and Determinations of 
Adverse Effects and Application of the ``Adverse Modification'' 
Standard sections of this document, below, as well as in the Revised 
Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl (USFWS 2011, pp. III-11 to 
III-39).

Forest Management Activities in Northern Spotted Owl Critical Habitat

    As stated above, many areas of critical habitat do not require 
active management, and active forest management within such areas could 
negatively impact northern spotted owls. We are not encouraging land 
managers to consider active management in areas of high-quality owl 
habitat or occupied owl sites; rather, we encourage management actions 
that will maintain and restore ecological function where appropriate. 
In some areas, forest stands are not on a trajectory to develop into 
high-value habitat, ecological processes have been disrupted by human 
actions, or projected climate change is expected to further disrupt or 
degrade desired forest conditions. In these areas, land managers may 
choose to implement active management, as recommended in the Revised 
Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl (USFWS 2011), to improve 
ecological health and development of forest conditions more favorable 
to northern spotted owls and other biodiversity. For example, LSRs are 
to be managed to protect and enhance old-growth forest conditions 
(defined in the Revised Recovery Plan as forests that have accumulated 
specific characteristics related to tree size, canopy structure, snags, 
and woody debris and plant associations). According to the NWFP 
Standards and Guidelines (USDA and USDI 1994), no programmed timber 
harvest is allowed inside the reserves. However, thinning or other 
silvicultural treatments inside these reserves may occur in younger 
stands if the treatments are beneficial to the creation and maintenance 
of late-successional forest conditions. On the east of the Cascades and 
in Oregon and California Klamath Provinces, additional management 
activities may be considered both within and outside reserves to reduce 
risks of large-scale disturbance (NWFP Standards and Guidelines, p. C-
12--C-13).
    We also recognize that ecological restoration is not the management 
goal on all NWFP land use allocations (e.g., matrix) within designated 
critical habitat, and we provide a discussion of options land managers 
could consider to tailor traditional forest management activities on 
these lands to consistent with conservation of current and future 
northern spotted owl habitat (see, e.g., Gustafsson et al. 2012, 
entire; Franklin et al. 2007, entire; Kuuluvainen and Grenfell 2012, 
entire; North and Keeton 2008; Long 2009, entire; Lindenmayer et al. 
2012; entire). Our discussion of potential management considerations

[[Page 71882]]

for the northern spotted owl are intended to be fully compatible with 
the objectives and Standards and Guidelines of the NWFP as informed by 
the conservation guidelines presented in the 2011 Revised Recovery Plan 
for the Northern Spotted Owl (USFWS 2011) to provide a means whereby 
the ecosystems on which northern spotted owls depend will be conserved.
    Mimicking natural disturbance regimes, such as fire, is an 
important strategy in North American forest management (Seymour and 
Hunter 1999, p. 56; Long 2009, p. 1868; Gustafsson et al. 2012, p. 635; 
Kuuluvainen and Grenfell 2012, entire). This change is occurring in 
response to: (1) The simplification of forests in terms of structure, 
age-class diversity, and species composition as a result of management 
for timber production, and (2) a recognition of fundamental changes in 
ecosystem function and processes due to land management practices, 
especially fire and successional patterns (Franklin et al. 2002, pp. 
402-408; Hessburg et al. 2005, pp. 134-135; Drever et al. 2006, p. 
2291). Although human disturbance is unlikely to precisely mimic 
natural forest disturbance, it can be used to better maintain the 
resilience of landscapes and wildlife populations to respond to natural 
disturbance and climate change (Lindenmayer et al. 2008, p. 87). In 
general, prescriptions (e.g., vegetation management, prescribed fire, 
etc.) that apply ecological forestry principles to address the 
restoration and conservation of broader ecological processes in areas 
where this is needed, while minimizing impacts to structurally diverse 
or mature and old forest that does not require such management can be 
compatible with maintaining the critical habitat's essential features 
in the long term at the landscape scale (USFWS 2011, p. III-14). The 
Service has recently consulted on these types of management actions in 
occupied northern spotted owl habitat on Bureau of Land Management 
(BLM) and U.S. Forest Service (USFS) lands.
    Specifically prescribing such management is beyond the scope or 
purpose of this document, and should instead be developed by the 
appropriate land management agency at the appropriate land management 
scale (e.g., National Forest or Bureau of Land Management District) 
(USDA 2010, entire; Fontaine and Kennedy 2012, p. 1559; Gustafsson et 
al. 2012, pp. 639-641, Davis et al. 2012, entire) through the land 
managing agencies' planning processes and with technical assistance 
from the Service, as appropriate. Furthermore, we encourage an active 
adaptive forest management approach, should agencies choose to 
implement ecological forestry practices, as we continue to learn from 
continuing research on these methods (see Research and Adaptive 
Management, below).
    Some general considerations for managing for the conservation of 
essential physical or biological features within northern spotted owl 
critical habitat are discussed in more detail in the Special Management 
Considerations or Protections and Determinations of Adverse Effects and 
Application of the ``Adverse Modification'' Standard sections of this 
document, below. In sum, vegetation and fuels management in dry and 
mixed-dry forests may be appropriate both within and outside designated 
critical habitat where the goal of such treatment is to conserve 
natural ecological processes or restore them (including fire) where 
they have been modified or suppressed (Allen et al. 2002, pp. 1429-
1430; Spies et al. 2006, pp. 358-361; Fielder et al. 2007, entire; 
Prather et al. 2008, entire; Lindenmayer et al. 2009, p. 274; Tidwell 
2011, entire; Stephens et al. 2009, pp. 316-318; Stephens et al. 2012a, 
p. 13; Stephens et al. 2012b, pp. 557-558; Franklin et al. 2008, p. 46; 
Miller et al. 2009, pp. 28-30; Fule et al. 2012, pp. 75-76). These 
types of management are encouraged in the NWFP (USDA and USDI 1994, p. 
C-13). Likewise, in some moist and mixed forests, management of 
northern spotted owl critical habitat should be compatible with broader 
ecological goals, such as the retention of high-quality older forest, 
the continued treatment of young or homogenous forest plantations to 
enhance structural diversity, heterogeneity and late-successional 
forest conditions, and the conservation or restoration of complex 
early-seral forest habitat, where appropriate (Spies et al. 2007b, pp. 
57-63; Betts et al. 2010, pp. 2117, 2126-2127; Swanson et al. 2011, 
entire).
    In general, actions that promote ecological restoration and those 
that apply ecological forestry principles at appropriate scales as 
described above and in the Revised Recovery Plan for the Northern 
Spotted Owl (USFWS 2011, pp. III-11 to III-41) may be, in the right 
circumstances, consistent with the conservation of the northern spotted 
owl and the management of its critical habitat. However, we emphasize 
that this rule does not take any action or adopt any policy, plan or 
program in relation to active forest management. The discussion is 
provided only for consideration by Federal, State, local and private 
land managers, as well as the public, as they make decisions on the 
management of forest land under their jurisdictions and through their 
normal processes.

Research and Adaptive Management

    The Service supports the goals of maintaining and restoring 
ecological function and development of future northern spotted owl 
habitat. We encourage land managers to consider a stronger focus on 
ecological forestry in areas where commercial harvest and restoration 
are planned. We recognize the need to balance both the conservation of 
current owl sites and the development of future owl habitat. However, a 
better understanding of how ecological forestry approaches affect owls 
and their prey is needed. Studies have shown negative effects of 
commercial thinning and other conventional forestry practices on both 
northern spotted owls (Forsman et al. 1984, pp. 16-17; Meiman et al. 
2003, p. 1261) and their prey (Waters et al. 1994, p. 1516; Luoma et 
al. 2003, pp. 343-373; Wilson 2010, entire).This need was recognized in 
Recovery Action 11 of the Revised Recovery Plan, which states ``When 
vegetation management treatments are proposed to restore or enhance 
habitat for northern spotted owls (e.g., thinnings, restoration 
projects, prescribed fire, etc.), consider designing and conducting 
experiments to better understand how these different actions influence 
the development of northern spotted owl habitat, northern spotted owl 
prey abundance and distribution, and northern spotted owl demographic 
performance at local and regional scales.'' Furthermore, the recovery 
strategy outlined in the Revised Recovery Plan (USFWS 2011) identifies 
monitoring and research, as well as active adaptive forest management, 
as important steps in achieving recovery goals.
    Given these concerns, and recognizing that appropriate management 
actions will vary depending upon site-specific conditions, we provide 
the following suggestions regarding active forest management for 
consideration by land managers within critical habitat as consistent 
with the recommendations of the Revised Recovery Plan for the Northern 
Spotted Owl:
    1. Focus active management in younger forest, lower quality owl 
habitat, or where ecological conditions are most departed from the 
natural or desired range of variability.
    2. In moist forests on Federal lands, follow NWFP guidelines as 
informed by the Revised Recovery Plan and focus on areas outside of 
LSRs (i.e., matrix). In dry forests, follow NWFP guidelines and focus 
on lands in or outside of reserves

[[Page 71883]]

that are most ``at-risk'' of experiencing uncharacteristic disturbance 
and where the landscape management goal is to restore more natural or 
resilient forest ecosystems (see, e.g., Davis et al. 2012, entire; 
Franklin et al. 2008, p. 46).
    3. Avoid or minimize activities in active northern spotted owl 
territories (or the high-quality habitat within these territories).
    4. Ensure transparency of process so the public can see what is 
being done, where it is done, what the goal of the action is, and how 
well the action leads to the desired goal.
    5. Practice active adaptive forest management by incorporating new 
information and learning into future actions to make them more 
effective, focusing on how these actions affect northern spotted owls 
and their prey.
    Towards this objective of learning critical new scientific insights 
from research and adaptive management, we especially encourage research 
and active adaptive forest management on the seven Forest Service 
Experimental Forests (H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest, Pringle Falls 
Experimental Forest, South Umpqua Experimental Forest, and Cascades 
Head Experimental Forest in Oregon; Wind River Experimental Forest and 
Entiat Experimental Forest in Washington; and Yurok Redwood 
Experimental Forest in California) within designated northern spotted 
owl critical habitat. We acknowledge the specific value and 
contributions of research done within experimental forests in 
furtherance of the research and active adaptive forest management 
objectives in the Revised Recovery Plan. These Experimental Forests 
have four principal scientific advantages that support the specific 
kinds of research needed to better understand how management affects 
and potentially enhances northern spotted owl habitat:
    (1) These sites are intended for and enabled to conduct 
manipulative research to test forest management strategies in a 
rigorous scientific manner;
    (2) They have long-term baseline datasets that enable detailed 
climate/environmental change assessments;
    (3) The sites represent a diversity of forest types within the 
range of northern spotted owl; and
    (4) Experimental forests have been the subject of intensive, long-
term study that can serve as a backdrop for new research.
    Essential research and active adaptive forest management questions, 
detailed in the Revised Recovery Plan, that could be conducted on 
Experimental Forests include (but are not limited to):
    (a) What vegetation management treatments best accelerate the 
development of forest structure associated with northern spotted owl 
habitat functions while maintaining or restoring natural disturbance 
and provide greater ecosystem resiliency?
    (b) What are the effects of wildland and prescribed fire on the 
structural elements of northern spotted owl habitat?
    (c) Can strategically-placed restoration treatments be used to 
reduce the risk of northern spotted owl habitat being burned by high 
severity fire within dry forest ecosystems?
    (d) What are the effects of epidemic forest insect outbreaks on 
northern spotted owl occupancy and habitat use immediately following 
the event and at specified time periods after treatment?
    Sound scientific information represents a vital component of our 
path to recovery for the northern spotted owl (and almost all 
threatened or endangered species). We believe it would be 
counterproductive to inhibit or curtail research that is designed to 
benefit the northern spotted owl and the ecosystem in which it is 
found, and therefore support research activities within experimental 
forests.

The Biology and Ecology of the Northern Spotted Owl

Physical Description and Taxonomy
    The northern spotted owl is a medium-sized owl and the largest of 
the three subspecies of northern spotted owls currently recognized by 
the American Ornithologists' Union (Guti[eacute]rrez et al. 1995, p. 
2). It is dark brown with a barred tail and white spots on the head and 
breast, and has dark brown eyes that are surrounded by prominent facial 
disks. The taxonomic separation of these three subspecies is supported 
by numerous factors (reviewed in Courtney et al. 2004, pp. 3-3 to 3-
31), including genetic (Barrowclough and Guti[eacute]rrez 1990, p. 739; 
Barrowclough et al. 1999, p. 922; Haig et al. 2004, p. 1353; 
Barrowclough et al. 2005, p. 1113), morphological (Guti[eacute]rrez et 
al. 1995, pp. 2 to 3), behavioral (Van Gelder 2003, p. 30), and 
biogeographical characteristics (Barrowclough et al. 1999, p. 928).
Distribution and Habitat
    The current range of the northern 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, California. The subspecies is 
listed as a threatened species under the Act throughout its range (55 
FR 26114; June 26, 1990). Within the United States, the northern 
spotted owl ranges across 12 ecological regions, based on recognized 
landscape subdivisions exhibiting different physical and environmental 
features, often referred to as ``physiographic provinces'' (Franklin 
and Dyrness 1988, pp. 5-26; Thomas et al. 1990, p. 61; USDA and USDI 
1994, p. A-3). These include the Olympic Peninsula, Western Washington 
Lowlands, Western Washington Cascades, Eastern Washington Cascades, 
Oregon Coast Ranges, Western Oregon Cascades, Willamette Valley, 
Eastern Oregon Cascades, Oregon Klamath, California Klamath, California 
Coast Ranges, and California Cascades Provinces (based on USDA and USDI 
1994, p. A-3). Very few northern spotted owls are found in British 
Columbia, in the Western Washington Lowlands or Willamette Valley; 
therefore, the subspecies is restricted primarily to 10 of the 12 
provinces within its range.
    For the purposes of developing this rule, and based on Appendix C 
of the Revised Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl (USFWS 2011, 
pp. C-7 to C-13), we have divided the range of the northern spotted owl 
into 11 different regions. We used these 11 regions in the habitat 
modeling that informed this revised designation of critical habitat. 
The regions used here are more ``owl specific'' than the physiographic 
provinces used in the past. In addition to regional patterns of 
climate, topography, and forest communities, which the physiographic 
provinces also considered, the 11 regions are based on specific 
patterns of northern spotted owl habitat relationships and prey base 
relationships across the range of the species. The 11 regions include 
the North Coast Olympics; West Cascades North; West Cascades Central; 
West Cascades South; East Cascades North; East Cascades South; Oregon 
Coast; Klamath West; Klamath East; Redwood Coast; and Inner California 
Coast Ranges. We additionally grouped these 11 regions into 4 broad 
ecological zones (West Cascades/Coast Ranges of Oregon and Washington; 
East Cascades; Redwood; and Klamath and Northern California Interior 
Coast Ranges). A map of the 11 regions used for the purposes of habitat 
modeling, as well as the 4 ecological zones, is provided in Figure 1 of 
this document. We used these 11 regions as the organizing units for our 
designation of critical habitat, and the 4 ecological zones for the 
identification of region-specific primary constituent

[[Page 71884]]

elements (PCEs) for the northern spotted owl.
    Northern spotted owls generally rely on older forested habitats 
because such forests contain the structures and characteristics 
required for nesting, roosting, and foraging, and dispersal. Forest 
characteristics associated with northern spotted owls usually develop 
with increasing forest age, but their occurrence may vary by location, 
past forest practices, and stand type, history, and condition. Although 
northern spotted owl habitat is variable over its range, some general 
attributes are common to the owl's life-history requirements throughout 
its range. To support northern spotted owl reproduction, a home range 
requires appropriate amounts of nesting, roosting, and foraging habitat 
arrayed so that nesting pairs can survive, obtain resources, and breed 
successfully. In northern parts of the range where nesting, roosting, 
and foraging habitat have similar attributes, nesting is generally 
associated with late-seral or old-growth forest in the core area 
(Swindle et al. 1999, p. 1216). In some southern portions of the range, 
northern spotted owl survival is positively associated with the area of 
old forest habitat in the core, but reproductive output is positively 
associated with amount of edge between older forest and other habitat 
types in the home range (Franklin et al. 2000, pp. 573, 579). This 
pattern suggests that where dusky-footed woodrats (Neotoma fuscipes) 
are the primary prey species, core areas that have nesting habitat 
stands interspersed with varied types of foraging habitat may be 
optimal for northern spotted owl survival and reproduction. Both the 
amount and spatial distribution of nesting, roosting, foraging, and 
dispersal habitat influence reproductive success and long-term 
population viability of northern spotted owls.
    Population growth can occur only if there is adequate habitat in an 
appropriate configuration to allow for the dispersal of owls across the 
landscape. This includes support of dispersing juveniles, as well as 
nonresident subadults and adults that have not yet recruited into the 
breeding population. The survivorship of northern spotted owls is 
likely greatest when dispersal habitat most closely resembles nesting, 
roosting, and foraging habitat, but owls may use other types of habitat 
for dispersal on a short-term basis. Dispersal habitat, at a minimum, 
consists of stands with adequate tree size and canopy cover to provide 
protection from avian predators and at least minimal foraging 
opportunities (57 FR 1805, January 15, 1992). In this rule, we consider 
canopy cover as a vertical measurement of the amount of canopy that 
would cover the ground.
    The three essential functions served by habitat within the home 
range of a northern spotted owl are:
    (1) Nesting. Nesting habitat is essential to provide structural 
features for nesting, protection from adverse weather conditions, and 
cover to reduce predation risks. Habitat requirements for nesting and 
roosting are nearly identical. However, nesting habitat is specifically 
associated with a high incidence of large trees with various 
deformities (large cavities, broken tops, mistletoe (Arceuthobium spp.) 
infections, and other evidence of decadence) or large snags suitable 
for nest placement. Additional features that support nesting and 
roosting typically include a moderate to high canopy cover; a 
multilayered, multispecies canopy with large overstory trees; large 
accumulations of fallen trees and other woody debris on the ground; and 
sufficient open space below the canopy for northern spotted owls to fly 
(Thomas et al. 1990, p. 164). Forested stands with high canopy cover 
also provide thermal cover (Weathers et al. 2001, p. 686) and 
protection from predators. Patches of nesting habitat, in combination 
with roosting habitat, must be sufficiently large and contiguous to 
maintain northern spotted owl core areas and home ranges, and must be 
proximate to foraging habitat. Ideally, nesting habitat also functions 
as roosting, foraging, and dispersal habitat.
    (2) Roosting. Roosting habitat is essential to provide for 
thermoregulation, shelter, and cover to reduce predation risk while 
resting or foraging. As noted above, the same habitat generally serves 
for both nesting and roosting functions; technically ``roosting 
habitat'' differs from nesting habitat only in that it need not contain 
those specific structural features used for nesting (cavities, broken 
tops, and mistletoe platforms), but does contain moderate to high 
canopy cover; a multilayered, multispecies canopy; large accumulations 
of fallen trees and other woody debris on the ground; and open space 
below the canopy for northern spotted owls to fly. In practice, 
however, roosting habitat is not segregated from nesting habitat. 
Nesting and roosting habitat will also function as foraging and 
dispersal habitat.
    (3) Foraging. Foraging habitat is essential to provide a food 
supply for survival and reproduction. Foraging habitat is the most 
variable of all habitats used by territorial northern spotted owls, and 
is closely tied to the prey base, as described below. Nesting and 
roosting habitat always provides for foraging, but in some cases owls 
also use more open and fragmented forests, especially in the southern 
portion of the range where some younger stands may have high prey 
abundance and structural attributes similar to those of older forests, 
such as moderate tree density, subcanopy perches at multiple levels, 
multilayered vegetation, or residual older trees. Foraging habitat 
generally has attributes similar to those of nesting and roosting 
habitat, but foraging habitat may not always support successfully 
nesting pairs (USDI 1992, pp. 22-25). Foraging habitat can also 
function as dispersal habitat. The primary function of foraging habitat 
is to provide a food supply for survival and reproduction.
    Because northern spotted owls show a clear geographical pattern in 
diet, and different prey species prefer different habitat types, prey 
distribution contributes to differences in northern spotted owl 
foraging habitat selection across the range. In the northern portion of 
their range, northern spotted owls forage heavily in older forests or 
forests with similar complex structure that support northern flying 
squirrels (Glaucomys sabrinus) (Carey et al. 1992, p. 233; Rosenberg 
and Anthony 1992, p. 165). In the southern portion of their range, 
where woodrats are a major component of their diet, northern spotted 
owls are more likely to use a variety of stands, including younger 
stands, brushy openings in older stands, and edges between forest types 
in response to higher prey density in some of these areas (Solis 1983, 
pp. 89-90; Sakai and Noon 1993, pp. 376-378; Sakai and Noon 1997, p. 
347; Carey et al. 1999, p. 73; Franklin et al. 2000, p. 579). Both the 
amount and distribution of foraging habitat within the home range 
influence the survival and reproduction of northern spotted owls.
Dispersal Habitat and Habitat for Nonresident Owls
    Successful dispersal of northern spotted owls is essential to 
maintaining genetic and demographic connections among populations 
across the range of the species. Habitats that support movements 
between larger habitat patches that provide nesting, roosting, and 
foraging habitats for northern spotted owls act to limit the adverse 
genetic effects of inbreeding and genetic drift and provide demographic 
support to declining populations (Thomas et al. 1990, pp. 271-272). 
Dispersing juvenile northern spotted owls experience high mortality 
rates (more than 70 percent in some studies (Miller 1989, pp. 32-41;

[[Page 71885]]

Franklin et al. 1999, pp. 25, 28; 55 FR 26115; June 26, 1990)) from 
starvation, predation, and accidents (Miller 1989, pp. 41-44; Forsman 
et al. 2002, pp. 18-19). Juvenile dispersal is thus a highly vulnerable 
life stage for northern spotted owls, and enhancing the survivorship of 
juveniles during this period could play an important role in 
maintaining stable populations of northern spotted owls.
    Successful juvenile dispersal may depend on locating unoccupied 
suitable habitat in close proximity to other occupied sites (LaHaye et 
al. 2001, pp. 697-698). Dispersing juveniles are likely attracted to 
conspecific calls, and may look for suitable sites preferentially in 
the vicinity of occupied territories. When all suitable territories are 
occupied, dispersers may temporarily pursue a nonresident (nonbreeding) 
strategy; such individuals are sometimes referred to as ``floaters'' 
(Forsman et al. 2002, pp. 15, 26). Floaters prospect for territorial 
vacancies created when residents die or leave their territories. 
Floaters contribute to stable or increasing populations of northern 
spotted owls by quickly filling territorial vacancies. Where large 
blocks of habitat with multiple breeding pairs occur, the opportunities 
for successful recruitment of dispersers and floaters are enhanced due 
to the within-block production of potential replacement birds (Thomas 
et al. 1990, pp. 295, 307).
    Juvenile dispersal occurs in steps (Forsman et al. 2002, pp. 13-
14), between which dispersing juveniles settle into temporary home 
ranges for up to several months (Forsman et al. 2002, p. 13). Natal 
dispersal distances, measured from natal areas to eventual home range, 
tend to be larger for females (about 15 mi (24 km)) than males (about 
8.5 mi (13.7 km)) (Courtney et al. 2004, p. 8-5). Forsman et al. (2002, 
pp. 15-16) reported dispersal distances of 1,475 northern spotted owls 
in Oregon and Washington for the period from 1985 to 1996. Median 
maximum dispersal distance (the straight-line distance between the 
natal site and the farthest location) for radio-marked juvenile male 
northern spotted owls was 12.7 mi (20.3 km), and that of female 
northern spotted owls was 17.2 mi (27.5 km) (Forsman et al. 2002, Table 
2).
    Northern spotted owls can utilize forests with the characteristics 
needed for nesting, roosting, foraging, and dispersal, and likely 
experience greater survivorship under such conditions. However, 
dispersing or nonresident individuals may also make use of other 
forested areas that do not meet the requirements of nesting or roosting 
habitat on a short-term basis. Such short-term dispersal habitats must, 
at minimum, consist of stands with adequate tree size and canopy cover 
to provide protection from avian predators and at least minimal 
foraging opportunities.
Population Status and Trends
    Demographic data from studies initiated as early as 1985 have been 
analyzed every 5 years to estimate northern spotted owl demographic 
rates and population trends (Anderson and Burnham 1992, entire; Burnham 
et al. 1994, entire; Franklin et al. 1999, entire; Anthony et al. 2006, 
entire; Forsman et al. 2011, entire). The most current evaluation of 
population status and trends is based on data through 2008 (Forsman et 
al. 2011, p. 1). Based on this analysis, populations on 7 of 11 study 
areas (Cle Elum, Rainier, Olympic Peninsula, Oregon Coast Ranges, H.J. 
Andrews, Northwest California, and Green Diamond) were declining 
(Forsman et al. 2011, p. 64, Table 22).
    Estimates of realized population change (cumulative population 
change across all study years) indicated that, in the more rapidly 
declining populations (Cle Elum, Rainier, and Olympic Peninsula), the 
2006 populations were 40 to 60 percent of the population sizes observed 
in 1994 or 1995 (Forsman et al. 2011, pp. 47-49). Populations at the 
remaining areas (Tyee, Klamath, Southern Oregon Cascades, and Hoopa) 
showed declining population growth rates as well, although the 
estimated rates were not significantly different from stable 
populations (Forsman et al. 2011, p 64). A meta-analysis combining data 
from all 11 study areas indicates that rangewide the population 
declined at a rate of about 2.9 percent per year for the period from 
1985 to 2006. Northern spotted owl populations on Federal lands had 
better demographic rates than elsewhere, but still declined at a mean 
annual rate of about 2.8 percent per year for 1985-2006 (Forsman et al. 
2011, p. 67).
    In addition to declines in population growth rates, declines in 
annual survival were reported for 10 of the 11 study areas (Forsman et 
al. 2011, p. 64, Table 22). Number of young produced each year showed 
declines at 5 areas (Cle Elum, Klamath, Southern Oregon Cascades, 
Northwest California, and Green Diamond), was relatively stable at 3 
areas (Olympic Peninsula, Tyee, Hoopa), and was increasing at 2 areas 
(Oregon Coast Ranges, H. J. Andrews) (Forsman et al. 2011, p. 64 Table 
22).
    As noted above, the barred owl has emerged as a greater threat to 
the northern spotted owl than was previously recognized. The range of 
the barred owl has expanded in recent years and now completely overlaps 
that of the northern spotted owl (Crozier et al. 2006, p. 761). The 
presence of barred owls has significant negative effects on northern 
spotted owl reproduction (Olson et al. 2004, p. 1048), survival 
(Anthony et al. 2006, p. 32), and number of territories occupied (Kelly 
et al. 2003, p. 51; Olson et al. 2005, p. 928). The determination of 
population trends for the northern spotted owl has become complicated 
by the finding that northern spotted owls are less likely to call when 
barred owls are also present; therefore, they are more likely to be 
undetected by standard survey methods (Olson et al. 2005, pp. 919-929; 
Crozier et al. 2006, pp. 766-767). As a result, it is difficult to 
determine whether northern spotted owls no longer occupy a site, or 
whether they may still be present but are not detected. The 2011 
Revised Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl concludes that 
``barred owls are contributing to the population decline of northern 
spotted owls, especially in Washington, portions of Oregon, and the 
northern coast of California.'' (USFWS 2011, p. B-12).
    British Columbia has a small population of northern spotted owls. 
This population has declined at least 49 percent since 1992 (Courtney 
et al. 2004, p. 8-14), and by as much as 90 percent since European 
settlement (Chutter et al. 2004, p. 6) to a 2004 breeding population 
estimated at about 23 birds (Sierra Legal Defence [sic] Fund and 
Western Canada Wilderness Committee 2005, p. 16) on 15 sites (Chutter 
et al. 2004, p. 26). Chutter et al. (2004, p. 30) suggested immediate 
action was required to improve the likelihood of recovering the 
northern spotted owl population in British Columbia. In 2007, the 
Northern Spotted Owl Population Enhancement Team recommended to remove 
northern spotted owls from the wild in British Columbia. Personnel in 
British Columbia captured and brought into captivity the remaining 16 
known wild northern spotted owls. Prior to initiating the captive-
breeding program, the population of northern spotted owls in Canada was 
declining by as much as 35 percent per year (Chutter et al. 2004, p. 
6). The amount of previous interaction between northern spotted owls in 
Canada and the United States is unknown (Chutter et al. 2004, p. 24). 
Although the status of the northern spotted owl in Canada is 
informative in terms of the overall declining trend of the northern 
spotted owl throughout its range, and consequently the increased need 
for conservation in those areas

[[Page 71886]]

where it persists, the Service does not designate critical habitat in 
foreign countries (50 CFR 424.12(h)).
Life History
    Northern spotted owls are a long-lived species with relatively 
stable and high rates of adult survival, lower rates of juvenile 
survival, and highly variable reproduction. Franklin et al. (2000, p. 
576) suggested that northern spotted owls follow a ``bet-hedging'' 
life-history strategy, where natural selection favors individuals that 
reproduce only during favorable conditions. For such species, 
population growth rate is more susceptible to changes in adult survival 
than to recruitment of new individuals into the population. For 
northern spotted owls, recent demographic analyses have indicated 
declining trends in both adult survival and recruitment across much of 
the species range (Forsman et al. 2011, p. 64, Table 22).
    Northern spotted owls are highly territorial (Courtney et al. 2004, 
p. 2-7). They maintain large home ranges; however, they actively defend 
a smaller area, and overlap between the outer portions of the home 
ranges of adjacent pairs is common (Forsman et al. 1984, pp. 5, 17, 22-
24; Solis and Guti[eacute]rrez 1990, p. 742; Forsman et al. 2005, p. 
374). Pairs are nonmigratory and remain on their home range throughout 
the year, although they often increase the area used for foraging 
during fall and winter (Forsman et al. 1984, p. 21; Sisco 1990, p. 9), 
likely in response to potential depletion of prey in the core of their 
home range (Carey et al. 1992, p. 245; Carey 1995, p. 649; but see 
Rosenberg et al. 1994, entire). The northern spotted owl shows strong 
year-round fidelity to its territory, even when not nesting (Solis 
1983, pp. 23-28; Forsman et al. 1984, pp. 52-53) or after natural 
disturbance alters habitat characteristics within the home range (Bond 
et al. 2002, pp. 1024-1026). A discussion of northern spotted owl home 
range size and use is included in the Primary Constituent Elements 
section of this rule.
Prey
    Northern spotted owl diets vary across owl territories, years, 
seasons, and geographical regions (Forsman et al. 2001, pp. 146-148; 
2004, pp. 217-220). However, four to six species of nocturnal mammals 
typically dominate their diets (Forsman et al. 2004, p. 218), with 
northern flying squirrels being a primary prey species in all areas. In 
Washington, diets are dominated by northern flying squirrels, snowshoe 
hare (Lepus americanus), bushy-tailed woodrats (Neotoma cinerea), and 
boreal red-backed voles (Clethrionomys gapperi) (Forsman et al. 2001, 
p. 144). In Oregon and northern California, northern flying squirrels 
in combination with dusky-footed woodrats, bushy-tailed woodrats, red 
tree voles (Arborimus longicaudus), and deer mice (Peromyscus 
maniculatus) comprise the majority of diets (Courtney et al. 2004, pp. 
41-31 to 4-32; Forsman et al. 2004, p. 221). Northern spotted owls are 
also known to prey on insects, other terrestrial mammals, birds, and 
juveniles of larger mammals (e.g., mountain beaver (Aplodontia rufa) 
(Forsman et al. 2001, p. 146; 2004, p. 223).
    Northern flying squirrels are positively associated with late-
successional forests with high densities of large trees and snags 
(Holloway and Smith 2011, p. 671). Northern flying squirrels typically 
use cavities in large snags as den and natal sites, but may also use 
cavities in live trees, hollow branches of fallen trees, crevices in 
large stumps, stick nests of other species, and lichen and twig nests 
they construct (Carey 1995, p. 658), as well as mistletoe brooms when 
snags are not abundant (Lehmkuhl et al. 2006, p. 593). Fungi 
(mychorrhizal and epigeous types) are prominent in their diet; however, 
seeds, fruits, nuts, vegetation matter, insects, and lichens may also 
represent a significant proportion of their diet (summarized in 
Courtney et al. 2004, App. 4 p. 3-12). Northern flying squirrel 
densities tend to be higher in older forest stands with ericaceous 
shrubs (e.g., Pacific rhododendron (Rhododendron macrophyllum)) and an 
abundance of large snags (Carey 1995, p. 654), and higher tree canopy 
cover (Lehmkuhl et al. 2006, p. 591) likely because these forests 
produce a higher forage biomass. Wilson (2012, pp. i-ii) reported that 
dense mid-story canopy conditions can also be a limiting factor for 
flying squirrel abundance. Flying squirrel density tends to increase 
with stand age (Carey 1995, pp. 653-654; Carey 2000, p. 252), although 
managed and second-growth stands sometimes also show high densities of 
squirrels, especially when canopy cover is high (e.g., Rosenberg and 
Anthony 1992, p. 163; Lehmkuhl et al. 2006, pp. 589-591). The main 
factors that may limit northern flying squirrel densities are the 
availability of den structures and food, especially hypogeous (below 
ground) fungi or truffles (Gomez et al. 2005, pp. 1677-1678), as well 
as protective cover from predators (Wilson 2010, p. 115).
    For northern spotted owls in Oregon, both dusky-footed and bushy-
tailed woodrats are important prey items (Forsman et al. 2004, pp. 226-
227), whereas in Washington owls rely primarily on the bushy-tailed 
woodrat (Forsman et al. 2001, p. 144). Habitats that support bushy-
tailed woodrats usually include early-seral mixed-conifer/mixed-
evergreen forests close to water (Carey et al. 1999, p. 77). Bushy-
tailed woodrats reach high densities in both old forests with openings 
and closed-canopy young forests (Sakai and Noon 1993, pp. 376-378; 
Carey et al. 1999, p. 73), and use hardwood stands in mixed-evergreen 
forests (Carey et al. 1999, p. 73). Bushy-tailed woodrats are important 
prey species south of the Columbia River and may be more limited by 
abiotic features, such as the availability of suitable rocky areas for 
den sites (Smith 1997, p. 4) or the presence of streams (Carey et al. 
1992, p. 234; 1999, p. 72). Dense woodrat populations in shrubby areas 
are likely a source of colonists to surrounding forested areas (Sakai 
and Noon 1997, p. 347); therefore, forested areas with nearby open, 
shrubby vegetation generally support high numbers of woodrats. The main 
factors that may limit woodrats are access to stable, brushy 
environments that provide food, cover from predation, materials for 
nest construction, dispersal ability, and appropriate climatic 
conditions (Carey et al. 1999, p. 78), and arboreal and terrestrial 
cover in the form of large snags, mistletoe, and soft logs (Lehmkuhl et 
al. 2006, p. 376).
Home Range and Habitat Use
    Territorial northern spotted owls remain resident on their home 
range throughout the year; therefore, these homes ranges must provide 
all the habitat components needed for the survival and successful 
reproduction of a pair of owls. Northern spotted owls exhibit central-
place foraging behavior (Rosenberg and McKelvey 1999, p. 1036), with 
much activity centered within a core area surrounding the nest tree 
during the breeding season. During fall and winter as well as in 
nonbreeding years, owls often roost and forage in areas of their home 
range more distant from the core. In nearly all studies of northern 
spotted owl habitat use, the amount of mature and old-growth forest was 
greater in core areas and home ranges than at random sites on the 
landscape (Courtney et al. 2004, pp. 5-6, 5-13; also see USFWS 2011, 
Appendix G for definitions of mature and old-growth forest), and 
forests were less fragmented within northern spotted owl home ranges 
(Hunter et al. 1995, p. 688). The amount of habitat at the core area 
scale shows the strongest relationships with home range

[[Page 71887]]

occupancy (Meyer et al. 1998, p. 34; Zabel et al. 2003, p. 1036), 
survival (Franklin et al. 2000, p. 567; Dugger et al. 2005, p. 873), 
and reproductive success (Ripple et al. 1997, pp. 155-156; Dugger et 
al. 2005, p. 871). A more complete description of the home range is 
presented in Population Spatial Requirements, below.
    The size, configuration, and characteristics of vegetation patches 
within home ranges affect northern spotted owl survival and 
reproduction, a concept referred to as habitat fitness potential 
(Franklin et al. 2000, p. 542). Among studies that have estimated 
habitat fitness potential, the effects of forest fragmentation and 
heterogeneity vary geographically. In the California Klamath Province, 
locations for nesting and roosting tend to be centered in larger 
patches of old forest, but edges between forest types may provide 
increased prey abundance and availability (Franklin et al. 2000, p. 
579). In the central Oregon Coast Range, northern spotted owls appear 
to benefit from a mixture of older forests with younger forest and 
nonforested areas in their home range (Olson et al. 2004, pp. 1049-
1050), a pattern similar to that found in the California Klamath 
Province. Courtney et al. (2004, p. 5-23) suggest that although in 
general large patches of older forest appear to be necessary to 
maintain stable populations of northern spotted owls, home ranges 
composed predominantly of old forest may not be optimal for northern 
spotted owls in the California Klamath Province and Oregon Coast Ranges 
Province.
    The northern spotted owl inhabits most of the major types of 
coniferous forests across its geographical range, including Sitka 
spruce (Picea sitchensis), western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla), mixed 
conifer and mixed evergreen, grand fir (Abies grandis), Pacific silver 
fir (A. amabilis), Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), redwood 
(Sequoia sempervirens)/Douglas-fir (in coastal California and 
southwestern Oregon), white fir (A. concolor), Shasta red fir (A. 
magnifica var. shastensis), and the moist end of the ponderosa pine 
(Pinus ponderosa) zone (Forsman et al. 1984, pp. 15-16; Thomas et al. 
1990, p. 145). Habitat for northern spotted owls has traditionally been 
described as consisting of four functional types: Nesting, roosting, 
foraging, and dispersal habitats. Recent studies continue to support 
the practical value of discussing northern spotted owl habitat usage by 
classifying it into these functional habitat types (Irwin et al. 2000, 
p. 183; Zabel et al. 2003, p. 1028; Buchanan 2004, p. 1334; Davis and 
Lint 2005, p. 21; Forsman et al. 2005, p. 372), and data from studies 
are available to describe areas used for these types of activities, so 
we retain it here to structure our discussion of the physical or 
biological features of habitat essential to the conservation of the 
northern spotted owl.
    Recent habitat modeling efforts have also accounted for differences 
in habitat associations across regions, which have often been 
attributed to regional differences in forest environments and factors 
including available prey species (USFWS 2011, p. C-7). These recent 
advances allowed for modeling of northern spotted owl habitat by 
regions to account for: (1) The degree of similarity between nesting/
roosting and foraging habitats based on prey availability; (2) 
latitudinal patterns of topology and climate; (3) regional patterns of 
topography, climate, and forest communities; and (4) geographical 
distribution of habitat elements that influence the range of conditions 
occupied by northern spotted owls (USFWS 2011, p. C-8). Detailed 
characterizations of each of these functional habitat types and their 
relative distribution are described in Physical or Biological Features, 
below.
Climate Change
    There is growing evidence that recent climate change has impacted a 
wide range of ecological systems (Stenseth et al. 2002, entire; Walther 
et al. 2002, entire; Adahl et al. 2006, entire; Karl et al. 2009, 
entire; Moritz et al. 2012, entire; Westerling et al. 2011, p. S459; 
Marlon et al. 2012, p. E541). Climate change, combined with effects 
from past management practices, is exacerbating changes in forest 
ecosystem processes and dynamics to a greater degree than originally 
anticipated under the NWFP. Environmental variation affects all 
wildlife populations; however, climate change presents new challenges 
as systems may change beyond historical ranges of variability. In some 
areas, changes in weather and climate may result in major shifts in 
vegetation communities that can persist in particular regions.
    Climate change will present unique challenges to the future of 
northern spotted owl populations and their habitats. Northern spotted 
owl distributions (Carroll 2010, entire) and population dynamics 
(Franklin et al. 2000, entire; Glenn et al. 2010, entire; et al. 2011a, 
entire; Glenn et al. 2011b, entire) may be directly influenced by 
changes in temperature and precipitation. In addition, changes in 
forest composition and structure as well as prey species distributions 
and abundance resulting from climate change may impact availability of 
habitat across the historical range of the subspecies. The Revised 
Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl provides a detailed 
discussion of the possible environmental impacts to the habitat of the 
northern spotted owl from the projected effects of climate change 
(USFWS 2011, pp. III-5 to III-11).
    Because both northern spotted owl population dynamics and forest 
conditions are likely to be influenced by large-scale changes in 
climate in the future, we have attempted to account for these 
influences in our designation of critical habitat by recognizing that 
forest composition may change beyond the range of historical variation, 
and that climate changes may have unpredictable consequences for both 
Pacific Northwest forests and northern spotted owls. This critical 
habitat designation recognizes that forest management practices that 
promote ecosystem health under changing climate conditions will be 
important for northern spotted owl conservation.

III. Previous Federal Actions

    The northern spotted owl was listed as a threatened species on June 
26, 1990 (55 FR 26114); a description of the relevant previous Federal 
actions up to the time of listing can be found in that final rule. On 
January 15, 1992, we published a final rule designating 6,887,000 ac 
(2,787,000 ha) of Federal lands in Washington, Oregon, and California 
as critical habitat for the northern spotted owl (57 FR 1796). On 
January 13, 2003, we entered into a settlement agreement with the 
American Forest Resources Council, Western Council of Industrial 
Workers, Swanson Group Inc., and Rough & Ready Lumber Company, to 
conduct a 5-year status review of the northern spotted owl and consider 
potential revisions to its critical habitat (Western Council of 
Industrial Workers (WCIW) v. Secretary of the Interior, Civ. No. 02-
6100-AA (D. Or). On April 21, 2003, we published a notice initiating 
the 5-year review of the northern spotted owl (68 FR 19569), and 
published a second information request for the 5-year review on July 
25, 2003 (68 FR 44093). We completed the 5-year review on November 15, 
2004, concluding that the northern spotted owl should remain listed as 
a threatened species under the Act (USFWS 2004, entire). On November 
24, 2010, we published in the Federal Register a notice initiating a 
new 5-year review for the northern spotted owl (75 FR 71726); the 
information solicitation period for this review was reopened from April 
20, 2011, through May 20, 2011 (76 FR

[[Page 71888]]

22139), and the completed review was signed on September 29, 2011, 
concluding that the northern spotted owl was appropriately listed as a 
threatened species.
    In compliance with the settlement agreement in the WCIW case, as 
amended, we published a proposed revised critical habitat rule in the 
Federal Register on June 12, 2007 (72 FR 32450). On May 21, 2008, we 
published a notice announcing the availability of a Recovery Plan for 
the Northern Spotted Owl (73 FR 29471; May 21, 2008). We also announced 
the availability of a draft economic analysis on the proposed critical 
habitat designation and the reopening of the public comment period on 
the proposed revised critical habitat designation. The 2008 recovery 
plan formed the basis for the current designation of northern spotted 
owl critical habitat. We published a final rule revising the critical 
habitat designation 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 in 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 decision-making process for 
the northern 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 the 
critical habitat designation which was based on it. 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 September 15, 2010, we published a Federal Register notice (75 
FR 56131) announcing the availability of the Draft Revised Recovery 
Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl, and opened a 60-day comment period 
through November 15, 2010. On November 12, 2010, we announced by way of 
press release an extension of the comment period until December 15, 
2010. On November 30, 2010, we announced in the Federal Register the 
reopening of the public comment period until December 15, 2010 (75 FR 
74073). At that time we also announced the availability of a synopsis 
of the population response modeling results for public review and 
comment. The supporting information regarding the modeling process was 
posted on our Web site (http://www.fws.gov/oregonfwo/). Of the 
approximately 11,700 comments received on the Draft Revised Recovery 
Plan, many requested the opportunity to review and comment on more 
detailed information on the habitat modeling process in Appendix C. On 
April 22, 2011, we reopened the comment period on Appendix C of the 
Draft Revised Recovery Plan (76 FR 22720); this comment period closed 
on May 23, 2011. 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. We published the notice of availability of the 
final Revised Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl in the Federal 
Register on July 1, 2011 (76 FR 38575).
    On October 12, 2010, the Court remanded the 2008 critical habitat 
designation, which had been based on the 2008 Recovery Plan for the 
Northern Spotted Owl, and adopted the Service's proposed schedule to 
issue a new proposed revised critical habitat rule for public comment 
by November 15, 2011, and a final rule by November 15, 2012. The Court 
subsequently extended the date for delivery of the proposed rule to the 
Federal Register to February 28, 2012. A proposed revision to the 
designated critical habitat for the northern spotted owl was signed on 
February 28, 2012 and published in the Federal Register on March 8, 
2012 (77 FR 14062), with a 3-month public comment period. On May 8, 
2012, we announced an extension of the comment period through July 6, 
2012 (77 FR 27010). A June 1, 2012 Federal Register notice announced 
the availability of the associated draft economic analysis and draft 
environmental assessment (conducted under NEPA), and invited the public 
to comment on these documents through July 6, 2012 (77 FR 32483). We 
held seven public information meetings and one public hearing. Two 
public information meetings were held each night in Redding, 
California, on June 4, 2012; in Tacoma, Washington, on June 12, 2012; 
and in Roseburg, Oregon, on June 27, 2012. One public information 
meeting was held in Portland, Oregon on June 20, 2012 and the public 
hearing was held in Portland, Oregon, on June 20, 2012. On July 20, 
2012, the Service sent letters to all potentially affected Counties and 
State fish and wildlife agencies in Washington, Oregon and California 
advising them of the additional opportunity to comment until August 20, 
2012, to ensure that they were able to thoroughly review and comment on 
the proposed rule as provided by Section 4(b)(5)(A)(ii) of the Act. In 
order to allow sufficient time for interagency review, the Court 
extended the time for delivery of the final rule to the Federal 
Register to November 21, 2012.

IV. Changes From the Proposed Rule

    In preparing this final revised critical habitat designation for 
the northern spotted owl, we reviewed and considered comments from the 
public, peer reviewers, and other interested parties on the proposed 
revised designation of critical habitat published on March 8, 2012 (77 
FR 14062). We also reviewed and considered comments on the draft 
environmental assessment and draft economic analysis. As a result of 
these comments and a reevaluation of the revised proposed critical 
habitat boundaries, we have made changes in this final designation, as 
follows:
    (1) We responded to peer-review, public, stakeholder, and internal 
comments on a wide variety of topics to clarify and strengthen the 
supporting rationale of this final designation, clarify our meanings 
and descriptions, and to refine specific aspects of the rule to include 
emerging research or provide additional explanation. Included in these 
types of changes from the proposed to final rule are the following:
     Clarifications to the language to specify that northern 
spotted owl occupancy data are not needed or appropriate for an 
analysis of the effects of an action on northern spotted owl critical 
habitat.
     Clarifications to the language to more clearly describe 
the potential management of hazard trees in critical habitat along 
roadways.
     In the Special Management Considerations section, we 
reference Recovery Action 10 from the Revised Recovery Plan for the 
Northern Spotted Owl (USFWS 2011), which focuses on retaining existing 
northern spotted owls on the landscape. We have edited those references 
to clarify that management of critical habitat and the section 7 
evaluation under the Act that management should focus on the habitat's 
ability to support nesting northern spotted owls instead of focusing on 
individual northern spotted owls.
     To determine how to conduct those evaluations under 
section 7 of the Act, the proposed revised critical habitat recommended 
assessing the impacts of a timber management project in the context of 
500 ac (200 ha) around where the impacts would occur. After numerous 
discussions with section 7 practitioners in different parts of the

[[Page 71889]]

range of the species, we are recommending that the effects 
determination for a section 7 consultation be conducted at a scale 
consistent with ``the localized biology of the life-history needs of 
the northern spotted owl (such as the stand scale, a 500-acre (200-ha) 
circle, or other appropriate, localized scale).'' Please see detailed 
discussion of the distinction between effects determination and the 
adverse modification standard in the section Determinations of Adverse 
Effects and Application of the ``Adverse Modification'' Standard.
     We have clarified that our discussion of ecological 
forestry and active management is intended for land managers to 
consider when developing management plans or planning projects, as in 
many areas this approach may be consistent with critical habitat for 
the northern spotted owl, but that such management is not mandated by 
the Service and is not required as the result of this rulemaking. We 
have also clarified this issue in the final rule language by stating 
that we have made the 16 U.S.C. 1532(5)(A)(i) determination that 
essential biological and physical features in occupied areas may 
require special management considerations or protection, but that the 
rule does not require land managers to implement, or preclude land 
managers from implementing, such measures.
     We have provided land managers with a discussion of 
relevant emerging science and greater detail regarding the appropriate 
application of active management and ecological forestry to benefit 
forest ecosystem restoration, as recommended in the Revised Recovery 
Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl. In addition, we received extensive 
comments regarding the appropriateness of developing diverse early-
seral forest at the expense of older forest stands. We have clarified 
language regarding development of diverse, early-seral forest to 
indicate that: (1) We do not recommend these actions in older forest 
stands or areas that currently function as owl habitat; and (2) this 
type of management is most appropriate where more traditional forestry 
methods have typically been conducted on matrix lands. As stated in 
both the proposed rule and in this final rule, our first recommendation 
for northern spotted owl critical habitat is the conservation of old 
growth trees and forests on Federal lands wherever they are found, and 
to undertake appropriate restoration treatment in the threatened forest 
types.
     We have clarified the relationship between this revised 
designation of critical habitat for the northern spotted owl and the 
Northwest Forest Plan. Numerous commenters were concerned that this 
critical habitat would undermine the Standards and Guidelines of the 
Northwest Forest Plan, or enable timber harvest activities in Late-
Successional Reserves that would not otherwise be permissible. We have 
added language to the preamble to clarify that the revised designation 
of critical habitat does not supersede the Standards and Guidelines of 
the Northwest Forest Plan. Our discussion of potential active 
management within critical habitat is intended to encourage land 
managers to consider the range of management flexibility already 
contained in the Northwest Forest Plan.
    (2) In the proposed rule we requested specific information 
regarding the amount and distribution of northern spotted owl habitat 
that should be included in the designation. We refined the designation 
based on input from peer-review, public comment, and comments from 
Federal land management agencies, combined with further evaluation of 
modeled population response to the potential revisions of the critical 
habitat network, and including the following.

    (A) Formal comments from the Forest Service requested that we 
consider large numbers of specific areas to be removed from, or 
added to, critical habitat, submitted to us in the form of GIS data. 
This proposal would have greatly reduced matrix lands in moist 
forest areas (Western Cascades, Oregon Coast Range, and North Coast 
Olympics) and eliminated Adaptive Management Areas and Experimental 
Forests from critical habitat. In addition, BLM requested removal of 
approximately 300,000 acres of selected BLM lands in western Oregon. 
We evaluated a new map of relative habitat suitability (Composite 8, 
as described in our Modeling Supplement, Dunk et al. 2012b) that 
incorporated all of these requested changes. Population modeling 
results for Composite 8 indicated that many of the lands proposed 
for removal were essential to conservation of the northern spotted 
owl because the rangewide population declined by 39 percent and 
population risk increased by 44 percent. To bring the spotted owl 
population results back up to levels comparable to proposed critical 
habitat, the final critical habitat designation includes areas 
recommended by those agencies for elimination (and that had been 
removed in our test of Composite 8) because we determined they are 
essential to the conservation of the species. To increase efficiency 
and ensure that the designation included only occupied habitat 
containing the features essential to conservation or habitat that is 
otherwise essential to the species' conservation, we further refined 
the boundaries of some subunits by moving the boundaries to include 
more high-value habitat while simultaneously and less lower-value 
habitat in the network. To the greatest degree possible, wherever 
possible we removed matrix lands and incorporated habitat in LSRs in 
this process.
    (B) In response to peer review comments about connectivity and 
population issues we identified specific areas providing high-
suitability habitat that were required to better achieve population 
objectives in specific lower-performing modeling regions. The 
additional areas consisted solely of Federal lands, primarily USFS 
LSR lands, that were essential to provide connectivity between 
populations in the Oregon Coast Ranges and adjacent regions with 
larger spotted owl populations, as pointed out in peer review and 
public comments, and supported by results of population modeling. In 
many cases, areas added were specifically identified by the USFS or 
BLM as lands that should be added to compensate for removal of 
other, lower value lands. To the degree possible, we attempted to 
situate additions within LSRs and balanced additions by removing 
lower-quality areas in matrix land allocations. In some cases, 
additions were made to balance areas removed in (A) above. No 
additional State or private lands were designated in this process, 
and all areas are within the critical habitat units as described in 
the proposed rule.
    The changes described in (A) and (B) above had the desired 
effect of bringing population results back up to levels similar to 
proposed critical habitat, while simultaneously reducing the area of 
matrix and lower-quality habitat in the designation thus ensuring 
that only essential habitat is designated. Overall, about 318,296 
acres of BLM and USFS lands were removed from critical habitat, 74 
percent (236,887 acres) of which were matrix lands of relatively 
lower value to northern spotted owls.
    (C) We identified and removed lands based on information we 
received during the public comment period indicating that they did 
not meet the definition of critical habitat. In general, lands 
removed had recently lost their ability to function as northern 
spotted owl habitat either through stand-replacing wildfire or 
through timber harvest conducted after 2006 (the date of our most 
recent comprehensive vegetation layer). When such lands were 
identified, we removed them from critical habitat because they were 
unlikely to support northern spotted owls, and did not contain the 
PCEs or could not be otherwise considered essential.
    (D) We further refined the critical habitat boundaries to better 
conform to identifiable landscape features or administrative 
boundaries, and to improve consistency with our goal of prioritizing 
high value Federal lands to include in critical habitat while 
removing relatively lower value lands in all ownerships. The USFS 
provided a number of specific suggestions in their public comment 
for this type of refinement. Overall, these refinements resulted in 
a small net reduction of critical habitat area.
    (E) Correcting ownership boundary errors identified in peer-
review and public comment. When the underlying land ownership was 
corrected, we determined that some lands originally labeled as 
private lands were in fact Federal or State lands.

    In the State of Washington, in response to public comment and upon

[[Page 71890]]

further review using the underlying aerial photo imagery from the 2011 
National Agricultural Imagery Program (NAIP) and Ruraltech's 2007 
forestland parcel data, we determined that the vast majority of Small 
Forest Landowner parcels we examined had either highly fragmented, 
little, or no northern spotted owl habitat currently present. Based on 
the combination of parcel size, current habitat conditions, and spatial 
distribution, we concluded that private lands identified as Small 
Forest Landowner parcels in the State of Washington do not provide the 
PCEs for northern spotted owls, nor are they essential to the 
conservation of the species; thus, these areas do not meet the 
definition of critical habitat, and we have removed them from the final 
designation of critical habitat.
    Also in the State of Washington, we corrected ownership of 
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) lands. In the 
proposed rule, we identified 1,752 ac (709 ha) as under the ownership 
of WDFW. In this rule, we have corrected this acreage to 8,328 ac 
(3,370 ha). This correction reflects a land transfer between WDFW and 
the Washington Department of Natural Resources, as well as a mistaken 
usage of a mineral rights GIS layer instead of a landownership layer.
    Additional changes that were made were minor and included 
corrections of mapping errors, removing lower value areas that were 
inadvertently included, or correctly identifying administrative 
boundaries. Changes in total area are detailed in Table 1, below, and 
are shown by land ownership.

  Table 1--Lands in the Proposed Revised Critical Habitat Determined Not To Contain the Physical and Biological
  Features Essential to Conservation of the Northern Spotted Owl or Not Otherwise Essential to its Conservation
                              and Therefore Not Included in Final Critical Habitat
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                   State                               Ownership                  Acres             Hectares
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Washington.................................  USFS.........................             11,864              4,793
Oregon.....................................  USFS.........................             55,788             22,538
                                             BLM..........................             62,862             25,396
                                             STATE........................             14,114              5,702
California.................................  USFS.........................             64,114             25,902
                                             BLM..........................             17,152              6,929
                                            --------------------------------------------------------------------
    Total..................................  .............................            225,894             91,261
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    (3) We have exempted 14,313 ac (5,782 ha) of Department of Defense 
lands at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington from critical habitat 
for the northern spotted owl, in accordance with section 4(a)(3) of the 
Act (see Exemptions). These lands comprised subunit NCO-3 in the 
proposed revision of critical habitat, and represented the only 
entirely unoccupied unit of critical habitat proposed for the northern 
spotted owl.
    (4) In the proposed revised rule (77 FR 14062; March 8, 2012), we 
identified numerous areas under consideration for exclusion from the 
final designation, and solicited public comment on whether the benefits 
of exclusion of these lands would outweigh the benefits of inclusion, 
for example, based on active conservation agreements or conservation 
plans. We did a thorough evaluation of all the areas identified in the 
proposed rule, as well as others identified through our review and 
through information received from the public, and found that the 
benefits of exclusion for many of these areas outweighed the benefits 
of inclusion in critical habitat and that excluding these areas will 
not lead to the extinction of the species. Therefore, the Secretary is 
exercising his discretion to exclude specific areas covered under 
conservation agreements, programs, and partnerships under section 
4(b)(2) of the Act (see Exclusions section of this document). The total 
area excluded from the final critical habitat designation under section 
4(b)(2) of the Act are given in Table 2, below, again shown by land 
ownership.

 Table 2--Areas Excluded From Final Critical Habitat Under Section 4(b)(2) or Exempted Under Section 4(a)(3) of
                                                     the Act
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                      Proposed     Proposed                             Excluded or  Excluded or
         State (Ownership)              area         area      Final area   Final area    exempted     exempted
                                           (ac)         (ha)         (ac)         (ha)         (ac)         (ha)
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Washington:
    USFS..........................    3,601,564    1,455,032    2,909,739    1,177,528      680,197      274,800
    NPS...........................      835,510      337,546            0            0      835,510      337,546
    Other Federal (Joint Base            14,313        5,782            0            0       14,313        5,782
     Lewis-McChord; 4(a)(3)
     exemption)...................
    STATE.........................      226,708       91,590        8,328        3,370      218,380       88,225
    PRIVATE.......................      178,310       72,037            0            0      178,310       72,037
Oregon: *
    USFS..........................    3,555,630    1,436,475    3,114,637    1,260,448      458,965      185,422
    BLM...........................    1,297,529      524,202    1,230,417      497,932       25,785       10,417
    NPS...........................       35,161       14,205            0            0       35,161       14,205
    STATE.........................      228,733       92,408      212,798       86,116            0            0
California:
    USFS..........................    2,367,916      956,638    1,933,411      782,423      389,387      157,312
    BLM...........................      186,082       75,177       98,195       39,738       70,735       28,577
    NPS...........................      127,913       51,677            0            0      127,913       51,677
    STATE.........................      215,333       86,995       70,444       28,508      144,889       58,487

[[Page 71891]]

 
    PRIVATE.......................    1,091,747      441,066            0            0    1,091,747      441,066
                                   -----------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Grand Totals..............   13,962,449    5,640,829    9,577,969    3,876,064    4,271,291    1,725,553
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
(* Please note that no private lands in Oregon were proposed or included in this final designation.)

    Note the difference in area between the proposed and final rules 
will not align exactly with the sum total of areas removed because they 
did not meet the definition of critical habitat and areas excluded or 
exempted from the final designation. Some minor discrepancies in area 
are due to mapping errors in the proposed designation have been 
corrected here, and may not be readily apparent through simple addition 
or subtraction of the total areas identified under various land 
categories. For example, the proposed rule mistakenly identified 16,031 
ac (6,487 ha) of lands under the ownership of SDS and Broughton Lumber 
Companies in Washington as under consideration for exclusion. The 
accurate area included within the proposed critical habitat was, in 
fact, 2,035 ac (824 ha), and it is that area, which was excluded from 
this final designation, reflected in this final rule. The difference of 
nearly 14,000 ac (5,655 ha) will not be reflected in the difference 
between areas proposed and areas excluded in the final rule, as it was 
not really in the proposed critical habitat to begin with (and thus, 
was not excluded).
    The number of subunits in the final critical habitat designation 
have changed as a result of exclusions under section 4(b)(2) or 
exemptions under section 4(a)(3). There were 11 critical habitat units 
and 63 subunits in the proposed rule. Eleven critical habitat units and 
60 subunits comprise the final designation. In the North Coast 
Olympics, subunit NCO-3, composed entirely of Department of Defense 
lands at Joint-Base Lewis McChord, was exempted from the final 
designation under section 4(a)(3) of the Act (see Exemptions). In the 
Redwood Coast Region, subunits RDC-3 and RDC-4 were made up of private 
lands excluded under section 4(b)(2) of the Act (see Exclusions).
    (5) Not all areas identified for potential exclusion in the 
proposed revised rule were excluded from the final designation. Based 
on the best available scientific information, we have found that the 
benefits of excluding other areas proposed or considered for exclusion 
do not outweigh the benefits of including them in the designation for 
the reasons discussed below. Therefore, the Secretary has determined 
not to exercise his discretion to exclude these lands. These areas are 
identified in Table 3 and are discussed further, below.

  Table 3--Lands That Were Proposed for Exclusion, or Otherwise Considered for Exclusion, Which Are Retained in
                       the Final Critical Habitat Designation for the Northern Spotted Owl
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                Type                      State               Landowner                Acres         Hectares
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
State Lands.........................  WA             Washington Department of              8,328           3,370
                                                      Fish and Wildlife Lands
                                                      \1\.
State Lands.........................  OR             Oregon Department of                212,798          86,116
                                                      Forestry.
State Lands.........................  CA             California State Forests...          49,760          20,137
                                      CA             Local Government Lands \2\.          20,684           8,371
                                                                                 -------------------------------
     Total..........................  .............  ...........................         291,570         117,994
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
(a) State, County, and Municipal Lands Not Excluded.

California

    We retained a relatively limited area of State, County, and 
municipally owned or managed lands in California. Retained areas 
include lands managed as State Forests, County Parks, and a Municipal 
Water District. No habitat conservation plans (HCPs) or sage harbor 
agreements (SHAs) are currently in place on these lands. Most of these 
lands are in areas that have repeatedly been identified as critical to 
maintaining linkages among northern spotted owl populations in 
California. These State and County lands play an essential conservation 
role in this area of limited Federal ownership. Retaining these lands 
in the critical habitat designation promotes movement of northern 
spotted owls, and maintains the potential for genetic interchange. 
Including these lands would increase the awareness of State, County and 
local agencies about the status of and threats to spotted owls, the 
conservation actions needed for recovery, and the essential 
conservation role this habitat plays. It also increases the potential 
for educating visitors to State Forests and County Parks and Open Space 
areas about northern spotted owl conservation needs. Excluding these 
lands would have little impact on regulatory burdens because (a) 
current management of these lands is generally consistent with 
maintenance of habitat values, limiting the potential for adverse 
effects to critical habitat, and (b) management activities typically do 
not involve a Federal nexus. Therefore, the Secretary has chosen not to 
exclude the following California State, County, or municipal lands from 
the final designation of critical habitat for the northern spotted owl:
    California Demonstration State Forests--Two California State 
Forests are included in the final critical habitat designation: (1) 
Jackson Demonstration State Forest (DSF), within subunit 2 in the 
Redwood Coast CHU in Mendocino County, California; and (2) Las Posadas 
DSF within subunit 6 of the Interior Coastal California CHU in Napa 
County, California. The California Department of Forestry and Fire 
Protection (CALFIRE) requested that the Jackson DSF be

[[Page 71892]]

excluded from the final critical habitat designation for the northern 
spotted owl.
    CALFIRE developed the Las Posadas DSF Management Plan (California 
Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, 1992) for the Las Posadas 
DSF and characterizes current management on the forest as 
``custodial.'' Goals for fish and wildlife under the plan include 
maintenance of the ``* * * Forest's status as one of the last 
relatively undisturbed fish and wildlife habitats in Napa County.'' 
However, the management plan is quite dated, having been approved in 
1992. There is acknowledgment of the presence of northern spotted owl 
activity sites in the management plan, but no specific provisions for 
owl management or conservation actions in the plan. There have been no 
publicly-available amendments or updates to the plan since its 
enactment in 1992 and the timeframe in which any revisions to the plan 
may take place is uncertain. The designation of critical habitat on 
these lands would perform an important educational function in 
highlighting their essential role in owl conservation as the State 
updates its plan and conducts management activities. Habitat within the 
plan area is not typical forested habitat often associated with the 
northern spotted owl but includes oak woodlands and grasslands in this 
southern part of the species range and represents a unique ecological 
setting for the species; the educational benefit of including this area 
in critical habitat is therefore high, as landowners may not be aware 
that the northern spotted owl inhabits this atypical habitat type. 
After reviewing the information available, we find that the benefits of 
including these areas as critical habitat will assist in maintaining 
linkages and movement among and between northern spotted owl 
populations, and heightening the awareness and educating visitors of 
the conservation role this habitat plays for recovery of the northern 
spotted owl. As a result we are not excluding the areas designated as 
critical habitat within the Las Posadas DSF.
    CALFIRE has also developed a management plan for the Jackson DSF 
(Jackson Demonstration State Forest Management Plan (dated January 
2008) and CALFIRE has requested that the area be excluded from the 
final designation. In their request for exclusion CALFIRE stated that 
the designation of the Jackson DSF as critical habitat was unnecessary 
given: (1) Extensive conservation planning and environmental assessment 
has already been completed for the area; (2) the designation would 
potentially have negative impacts on the mission of the Jackson DSF on 
implementing restoration and research projects; (3) that the draft 
economic analysis for the proposed critical habitat concluded that the 
designation would not affect timber harvest on State lands; and (4) 
designation does not provide meaningful wildlife benefits any different 
from those already in place.
    The Service responds, as follows, to the four elements in CALFIRE'S 
request for exclusion. (1) While there are efforts by CALFIRE in the 
development of a forest management plan and environmental assessment 
for the Jackson DSF, the plan does not specifically provide for 
northern spotted owl conservation. We believe that the Jackson DSF 
Management Plan (CALFIRE, 2008) could provide potential benefits to the 
northern spotted owl, in that there is a high likelihood that land 
allocations stated in the plan, along with the long-term desired 
conditions for forest composition will improve habitat over time. 
However, we find that: (a) Existing management direction in the Plan 
relating to the northern spotted owl is vague; (b) the stated 
conservation policy for the owl is limited to a take-avoidance 
strategy; and (c) while CALFIRE collects monitoring data on northern 
spotted owl activity sites on a continuous basis, there is no apparent 
strategy for evaluating that information or applying it to the benefit 
of the species. The only overt policy statement in the 2008 Plan 
regarding the northern spotted owl states that ``* * * forest 
management objectives * * * are to maintain or increase the number and 
productivity of nesting owl pairs through forest management practices 
that enhance nesting/roosting opportunities and availability of a 
suitable prey base.'' The terms ``maintain'' and ``increase'' are not 
supported with measurable standards or targets; and there are no 
remedial measures or mechanisms in the 2008 Plan that are triggered by 
a decrease in activity sites or demographic productivity. The northern 
spotted owl conservation strategy in the 2008 Plan is predicated on 
take-avoidance (CALFIRE 2008, pp. 109 and 267). Take avoidance alone is 
not a sufficient conservation strategy and it will not necessarily 
satisfy CALFIRE's direction to maintain or increase owl activity sites 
or demographic performance. If there are local variations in the 
``true'' optimal forest conditions that support owl occupancy, strict 
adherence to the take-avoidance provisions may not be satisfactory and 
occupancy rates may decrease, and there are no corrective mechanisms in 
the 2008 Plan to account for this possibility. This dual problem of the 
suitability and occupancy of activity sites is further complicated by 
barred owl intrusion, and likewise is not addressed by total reliance 
on a take-avoidance strategy. In addition, in the monitoring chapter 
for the 2008 Plan we find that there is continuous monitoring of 
northern spotted owl activity sites (CALFIRE 2008, p. 149), but it is 
not spelled out in detail. (For example, it does not include the detail 
and adaptability (i.e., adaptive management provisions) as are 
specified for instream conditions and fisheries (CALFIRE 2008, pp. 153-
154). In addition, the 2008 Plan does not appear to contain guidance on 
how to process, evaluate, and interpret the continuous data that is 
currently being collected on northern spotted owl activity sites, or on 
how to apply that information to agency decision-making in the event 
that activity sites and demographic performance are not maintained or 
increased under the existing management direction. In summary, although 
the 2008 Jackson DSF Management Plan can potentially produce positive 
long-term outcomes for the northern spotted owl, it contains an 
incomplete conservation plan for the species.
    (2) We do not agree with CALFIRE's contention that the designation 
would potentially have negative impacts on its ability to implement 
restoration and research projects. The fact that a Federal agency 
(i.e., U.S. Forest Service) is a research cooperator does not, by 
itself, create a section 7 nexus. The Service contacted the senior 
Forest Service scientist connected with the research program at Jackson 
DSF who described the Forest Service research activities as simply a 
scientific examination of the State's proposed actions. At this time, 
we see no Federal regulatory mechanism in connection with the Jackson 
DSF's existing cooperative research program that would trigger 
consultation under section 7 of the Act. Therefore, we believe any 
regulatory burden from designation would be minimal.
    (3) The Service agrees with CALFIRE's observation, in their July 6, 
2012 correspondence, that the economic analysis rightly concluded that 
critical habitat designation would have no effect on Jackson DSF 
harvest levels. The only potential effect on harvest schedules would 
occur if Federal permits or grants-of-funds were connected to the 
harvest activity.
    (4) We disagree with CALFIRE's position that ``designation would

[[Page 71893]]

provide no meaningful wildlife benefits from those already in place.'' 
Our response to item 1, above, indicates that there are potentially 
meaningful informational benefits that may assist implementation of the 
existing Jackson DSF Management Plan. We believe designating these 
lands as critical habitat would serve a very important informational 
function as the management plan is implemented; it would highlight the 
fact that this habitat is essential to the conservation of the northern 
spotted owl.
    While acknowledging that the 2008 Management Plan contains many 
features that have the potential to benefit the northern spotted owl 
over the long term, and also recognizing that there several remediable 
omissions in that Plan, the Secretary has elected not to exclude 
Jackson Demonstration State Forest from critical habitat designation 
under section 4(b)(2) of the Act because we believe that the 
educational and informational benefits of inclusion outweigh the 
benefits of exclusion.
    Mount Tamalpais Municipal Watershed of the Marin Municipal Water 
District--We are not excluding the Mount Tamalpais Watershed 
(Watershed) from critical habitat designation. The Watershed (18,500 ac 
(7,487 ha)) is administered by the Marin Municipal Water District 
(MMWD) in Marin County, California. The Watershed is flanked on all 
sides by public parks, county-administered open space areas, grazing 
land, and residential areas within the triangle formed by U.S. Highway 
101, California State Route 1 and Sir Francis Drake Boulevard. The MMWD 
currently does not operate under a conservation plan such as an HCP or 
SHA.
    A key management consideration for the MMWD is the practical need 
to limit sediment delivery thereby extending the service life of the 
five reservoirs within the Watershed (Kent, Alpine, Bon Tempe, 
Lagunitas, and Phoenix Lakes). To that end, the policy of the MMWD is 
to maintain land in a natural condition and limit human activities to 
those that have the least impact on the Watershed. Within specified 
constraints, permitted public activities include hiking, bicycling, 
horseback riding, fishing and picnicking. Camping, swimming and boating 
are prohibited. There is limited public motor vehicle access into the 
Watershed on Panoramic Highway, Ridgecrest Boulevard and the Fairfax-
Bolinas Road. These roads mostly access scenic vistas and day use areas 
around the reservoirs. The remainder of the road network in the 
Watershed is dedicated for firefighter access and administrative use, 
and is closed to public motor vehicles. The MMWD has produced several 
current management plans addressing specific subject areas, including 
public access, vegetation management, road and trail management, and 
long term fire and fuels management. Several elements in those plans 
are compatible with long-term northern spotted owl conservation. 
However, there is no explicit discussion about long-term owl management 
in any of the MMWD's planning documents. The upcoming Vegetation 
Management Plan (projected in 2013) may provide additional information 
that is relevant to northern spotted owl habitat management. We are not 
aware of any substantial benefits to excluding these areas from 
critical habitat and find that there would be significant educational 
benefits to including them in the designation in that it would 
highlight the significance this area has for northern spotted owl 
conservation in future planning efforts.
    Marin County Parks and Open Space Department--We have included in 
the designation six Open Space Preserves (OSPs) totaling 3,626 ac 
(1,467 ha) administered by the Marin County (California) Parks and Open 
Space Department (Department). We have designated three contiguous OSPs 
adjacent to the Mount Tamalpais Watershed and south of the communities 
of Lagunitas and Fairfax including Gary Giacomini (1,476 ac (597 ha)), 
White Hill (390 ac (158 ha)), and Cascade Falls (498 ac (202 ha)). We 
have also designated three contiguous OSPs adjacent the Watershed and 
west of the community of Corte Madera including Baltimore Canyon (193 
ac (78 ha)), Blithedale Summit (899 ac (364 ha), and Camino Alto (170 
ac (69 ha). The Parks Department currently does not operate under a 
conservation plan such as an HCP or SHA.
    Park management emphasizes non-motorized public use. Five of the 
six OSPs are served only by fire roads that are closed to public motor 
vehicle access. The exception is the Camino Alto OSP which is flanked 
on the east by a public street. Several land management elements in the 
park system strategic plan (Marin County Parks and Open Space 
Department, 2008) are compatible with northern spotted owl. However, 
there is no explicit discussion about long term owl management in this 
planning document. We are not aware of any substantial benefits to 
excluding these areas from critical habitat and find that there would 
be significant educational benefits to including them in the 
designation.
    Sonoma County Regional Parks Department--Lands within Hood Mountain 
Regional Park, administered by the Sonoma County (California) Regional 
Parks Department (SCRPD), are included in the designation in subunit 6 
of the Interior California Coast CHU. The proposed critical habitat 
designation includes all, or portions of, four assessor's parcels 
totaling 460 ac (186 ha) within the park boundary. The SCRPD does not 
operate under an HCP or SHA.
    Hood Mountain Regional Park is minimally roaded; the Sonoma County 
General Plan of 2008 indicates a modest program of trail construction 
and management within the countywide regional parks system. Public 
information materials, along with maps showing the local road network, 
and the types and locations of facilities within Hood Mountain Regional 
Park, indicate that the SCRPD is emphasizing non-motorized recreation 
and protection of undeveloped land. Through public information sources 
in Sonoma County, we located a mission statement for the SCRPD but were 
unable to find any planning or guidance documents to indicate how the 
regional parks system would be managed over the long term. The absence 
of planning direction and the reasons for inclusion are similar to 
those for the Marin Municipal Water District and for the Marin County 
Parks and Open Space Department. We are not aware of any substantial 
benefits to excluding these areas from critical habitat and find that 
there would be significant educational benefits to including them in 
the designation.

Oregon

    In Oregon, we considered excluding 228,733 ac (92,565 ha) of State 
lands managed by the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF). These lands 
contain both demographically productive sites for northern spotted owls 
and provide connectivity linkages among northern spotted owl 
populations in the Oregon Coast and North Coast-Olympic Modeling 
Regions. These lands are not currently managed under any sort of 
conservation plan or agreement with the Service, but are managed by ODF 
for multiple benefits including commodity production.
    The State of Oregon has indicated that the designation of their 
lands as critical habitat would have ``virtually no impact--positive or 
negative * * *'' on either the management of their lands or their 
ability to pursue HCPs, SHAs or other conservation agreements (ODF in 
litt.). This is because there is rarely a Federal nexus that would 
trigger Service regulatory authority, such as the section

[[Page 71894]]

7 consultation process and the adverse modification analysis. Thus, 
there would be little negative impact of including State lands in the 
critical habitat designation.
    Inclusion of these lands in the critical habitat designation 
highlights their essential conservation role and provides opportunities 
for educating visitors to these areas, nearby landowners, and ODF about 
the potential conservation contribution of these lands to northern 
spotted owls. If ODF were to pursue some sort of conservation 
agreement, this critical habitat designation would provide a blueprint 
not only for the lands that would be essential to include in such an 
effort but also the types of management that would be appropriate 
there. If ODF does not pursue such an effort this designation clearly 
indicates the value of these lands for the conservation of the northern 
spotted owl. We believe the value of the information included in the 
designation would provide an opportunity for management direction that 
focuses on benefits to the species.
    Because we are unaware of any negative impacts of including these 
ODF lands, the benefits of exclusion do not outweigh the benefits of 
inclusion for these lands, and the Secretary has chosen not to exercise 
his discretion to exclude these State of Oregon lands from the final 
designation.

Washington

    In Washington we proposed or considered excluding 226,869 ac 
(91,811 ha) of State lands managed by the Washington Department of 
Natural Resources (225,013 ac; 91,059 ha), Washington State Parks (104 
ac; 42 ha), and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (8,328 ac; 
3,370 ha). We excluded the lands managed by the Washington Department 
of Natural Resources from the final designation based on their HCP, and 
excluded 104 ac (42 ha) of State Parks and Department of Fish and 
Wildlife Lands (see Exclusions). We retained 8,328 ac (3,370 ha) of 
State-owned lands managed by the State Department of Fish and Wildlife 
for wildlife habitat in the final designation. No conservation 
agreements are currently in place on these lands, but some could be 
covered by an HCP which is currently under development. Most of these 
lands are located in the central Cascades in an area that has 
repeatedly been identified as critical to maintaining linkages among 
spotted owl populations in Washington. These State lands play an 
essential conservation role in this area of limited or checkerboard 
Federal ownership. Retaining these lands in the critical habitat 
designation promotes movement of northern spotted owls between the 
northern and southern Cascades Range, as well as between the western 
and eastern slopes of the Cascades. Including these State lands would 
increase the awareness of State agencies about the essential 
conservation role these lands play and the conservation actions needed 
for recovery. Excluding these lands would impose little regulatory 
burden because (a) management of these lands is consistent with 
maintenance of habitat values, limiting the potential for adverse 
effects to critical habitat, and (b) management activities typically do 
not involve a Federal nexus. Therefore, the Secretary has chosen not to 
exercise his discretion to exclude lands managed by the Washington 
Department of Fish and Wildlife from the final designation of critical 
habitat for the northern spotted owl.

Summary of Changes From the Proposed Rule

    The areas identified in this final rule constitute a revision from 
the areas we designated as critical habitat for the northern spotted 
owl in 2008 (August 13, 2008; 73 FR 47326), which was a revision of the 
areas we initially designated as critical habitat for the northern 
spotted owl in 1992 (January 15, 1992; 57 FR 1796; see Changes from 
Previously Designated Critical Habitat, below). This final rule 
supersedes and replaces both of these earlier designations. The changes 
to the proposed revised critical habitat designation identified above 
result in a final designation of 9,577,969 ac (3,876,064 ha), a 
decrease of 4,197,484 ac (1,689,072 ha) from the 13,962,449 ac 
(5,649,660 ha) identified as meeting the definition of critical habitat 
in the March 8, 2012 (77 FR 14062) proposed rule (Table 4, below).

  Table 4--Differences Between Proposed and Final Revised Critical Habitat. Totals Many Not Sum Due to Rounding
 (Rounded to Nearest 100 Units). Small Differences Between the Proposed and Final Revised Critical Habitat That
     Are Not Noted as Additions or Deletions Are the Result of Corrections of the GIS Map and Rounding Error
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                     Proposed        Proposed                          Final
              Critical habitat unit                    acres         hectares      Final  acres      hectares
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
East Cascades North.............................       1,919,469         775,465       1,345,523         544,514
East Cascades South.............................         526,810         212,831         368,381         149,078
Inner California Coast Ranges...................       1,276,450         515,686         941,568         381,039
Klamath East....................................       1,111,679         449,118       1,052,731         426,025
Klamath West....................................       1,291,606         521,809       1,197,389         484,565
North Coast Olympic.............................       1,595,821         644,712         824,500         333,663
Oregon Coast Ranges.............................         891,154         360,026         859,864         347,975
Redwood Coast...................................       1,550,747         626,502         180,855          73,189
West Cascades Central...........................       1,353,045         546,630         909,687         368,136
West Cascades North.............................         820,832         331,616         542,274         219,450
West Cascades South.............................       1,624,836         656,434       1,355,198         548,429
                                                 ---------------------------------------------------------------
    Total.......................................      13,962,449       5,640,829       9,577,969       3,876,064
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

V. Changes From Previously Designated Critical Habitat

    In 2008, we designated 5,312,300 ac (2,149,800 ha) of Federal lands 
in California, Oregon, and Washington as critical habitat for the 
northern spotted owl (73 FR 47326; August 13, 2008). In this revision, 
we are designating 9,577,969 ac (3,876,064 ha) as critical habitat for 
the northern spotted owl. We have revised the designation of critical 
habitat for the northern spotted owl to be consistent with the most 
current assessment of the conservation needs of the species, as 
described in the 2011 Revised Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted 
Owl (USFWS 2011, Appendix B). In this final designation, 4,085,808

[[Page 71895]]

ac (1,653,468 ha) are the same as in the 2008 designation. Of the 
current designation, 5,679,162 ac (2,298,275 ha) are lands not formerly 
designated in 2008, and 1,229,119 ac (497,405 ha) of lands that were 
included in the former designation are not included here, for reasons 
detailed below.
    This revision of critical habitat represents an increase in the 
total land area identified from previous designations in 1992 and 2008. 
This increase in area is due, in part, to: (a) The unanticipated steep 
decline of the northern spotted owl and the impact of the barred owl, 
requiring larger areas of habitat to maintain sustainable spotted owl 
populations in the face of competition with the barred owl (e.g., 
Dugger et al. 2011, p. 2467); (b) the recommendation from the 
scientific community that the conservation of more occupied and high-
quality habitat is essential to the conservation of the species 
(Forsman et al. 2011, p. 77); (c) the need to provide for redundancy in 
northern spotted owl populations, by maintaining sufficient suitable 
habitat for northern spotted owls on a landscape level in areas prone 
to frequent natural disturbances, such as the drier, fire-prone regions 
of its range (in other words, ``back-up'' areas of habitat so that owls 
have someplace to go if their habitat burns or trees die due to insect 
infestation, etc.) (Noss et al. 2006, p. 484; Thomas et al. 2006, p. 
285; Kennedy and Wimberly 2009, p. 565); and (d) in contrast to the 
previous critical habitat designation, the inclusion of some State 
lands in areas where Federal lands are not sufficient to meet the 
conservation needs of the northern spotted owl.
    The new delineation of areas determined to provide the physical or 
biological features essential for the conservation of the northern 
spotted owl, or otherwise determined to be essential for the 
conservation of the species, was based, in part, on an improved 
understanding of the forest characteristics and spatial patterns that 
influence habitat usage by northern spotted owls which were 
incorporated into the latest population evaluation and mapping 
technology. The modeling process we used to evaluate alternative 
critical habitat scenarios differed fundamentally from the conservation 
planning approach used to inform the 1992 and 2008 designations of 
critical habitat for the northern spotted owl. These past designations 
relied on a priori (predefined) rule sets derived from the best 
scientific information and expert judgment available at that time 
regarding the size of reserves or habitat conservation blocks, target 
number of spotted owl pairs per reserve or block, and targeted spacing 
between reserves or blocks (USFWS 2011, p. C-4), which we then assessed 
and refined based on local conditions. This revised designation 
reflects our use of a series of spatially explicit modeling processes 
to determine those specific areas where biological features are 
essential to the conservation of the northern spotted owl, and in the 
case of unoccupied habitat, to determine the areas that are otherwise 
essential to the conservation of the owl, as described in Criteria Used 
to Identify Critical Habitat. These models enabled us to compare 
potential critical habitat scenarios in a repeatable and scientifically 
accepted manner (USFWS 2011, p. C-4), using current tools that 
capitalize on new spatial information and algorithms (rule sets to 
solve problems) for identifying the most efficient habitat network 
containing what is essential for conservation.
    The areas designated are lands that were occupied at the time of 
listing and that currently provide suitable nesting, roosting, 
foraging, or dispersal habitat for northern spotted owls, or that are 
otherwise essential to the conservation of the species. However, as 
noted above, not every site of known owl occupancy, either at present 
or at the time of listing, is included in the designation. We did not 
include owl sites if they were isolated from other known occurrences or 
in areas of marginal habitat quality such that they were unlikely to 
make a significant contribution to the conservation of the species, and 
therefore were not considered to provide the essential features.
    The critical habitat network development and evaluation strategy we 
used attempted to maximize the efficiency of the network by 
prioritizing Federal lands. Utilization of new scientific information 
and advanced modeling techniques accounts for many of the changes in 
the revised critical habitat; in particular, the location of areas 
essential to northern spotted owls may have shifted from previous 
designations based on the best information available regarding the 
spatial distribution of high-value habitat. These advances include 
improvements in remotely-sensed vegetation data, use of models that 
better identify spatial configurations of habitat features important to 
owls, and assessment of relative population performance of northern 
spotted owls under different critical habitat designations. In 
addition, negative effects of barred owls on northern spotted owl 
populations were incorporated into the modeling process.
    Late-successional reserves (LSRs) were not prioritized in this 
approach based solely on their status as a reserved land allocation, 
but were included in the 2012 designation only where the habitat 
quality was high enough to meet the selection criteria. In contrast, 
the 2008 critical habitat identified lands in part based on status as 
LSRs. However, LSRs were not originally designed under the NWFP solely 
to meet the needs of the northern spotted owl, but may include areas 
designated for other late-successional forest species. Therefore, not 
all LSRs contain habitat of sufficient quality to be included in the 
critical habitat network for the northern spotted owl. Connected to the 
decision to designate lands in part because of their status as LSRs, we 
did not include NWFP matrix on Forest Service lands in 2008. In this 
designation we have included NWFP matrix lands where they contain high 
quality habitat essential to the species' conservation. As described in 
the section Changes from the Proposed Rule, we tested a habitat network 
that did not include many of these high-value matrix lands; doing so 
led to a significant increase in the risk of extinction for the 
species, therefore these lands are retained in this final designation.
    Table 5 shows a comparison of areas included in the 2008 
designation and those included in this revision to critical habitat. 
The process we used to determine occupied areas containing essential 
features and unoccupied areas essential to the conservation of the 
species is described in Criteria Used to Identify Critical Habitat.

    Table 5--Comparison of Area Included in 2008 Critical Habitat and 2012 Critical Habitat by Region. The 11
          Regions Are Described in Detail in the Proposed Revised Critical Habitat Designation Section
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                       2012 Critical habitat        2008 Final critical habitat
                 Modeling region                 ---------------------------------------------------------------
                                                       acres         hectares          acres         hectares
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
North Coast Olympics............................         824,500         333,663         485,039         196,289

[[Page 71896]]

 
Oregon Coast....................................         859,864         347,975         507,082         205,209
Redwood Coast...................................         180,855          73,189          70,153          28,390
West Cascades North.............................         542,274         219,450         390,232         157,921
West Cascades Central...........................         909,687         368,136         546,333         221,093
West Cascades South.............................       1,355,198         548,429         700,421         283,450
East Cascades North.............................       1,345,523         544,514         687,702         278,303
East Cascades South.............................         368,381         149,078         207,291          83,888
Klamath East....................................       1,052,731         426,025         667,795         270,247
Klamath West....................................       1,197,389         484,565         667,795         270,247
Inner California Coast Ranges...................         941,568         381,039         535,863         216,856
                                                 ---------------------------------------------------------------
    Grand total.................................       9,577,969       3,876,064       5,312,327       2,149,823
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The reduction in the number of critical habitat units from 33 in 
2008 to 11 in 2012 is a reflection, in part, of our decision to 
aggregate habitat by regions. The 2008 designation included 33 critical 
habitat units; the 2012 revision includes 11 critical habitat units 
with 60 subunits.
    Our determination of PCEs in this revised designation incorporates 
new information resulting from research conducted since the last 
revision in 2008. This new information, along with relevant older 
studies, allowed us to include a higher level of specificity in the 
PCEs in this revision. This final rule also includes two changes in 
overall organization. The 2008 revised designation considered nesting 
and roosting habitat as separate PCEs. In this designation, we have 
combined these habitat types, because northern spotted owls generally 
use the same habitat for both nesting and roosting; they are not 
separate habitat types, and function differs only based on whether a 
nest structure is present. At the scale of a rangewide designation of 
critical habitat, nesting and roosting habitats cannot be 
systematically distinguished, and, therefore, we combined them in our 
analysis and resulting rulemaking. For project planning and management 
of northern spotted owls at the local scale, the distinction between 
nesting and roosting habitat remains useful, especially in portions of 
the subspecies' range where nesting structures are conspicuous (e.g., 
mistletoe brooms). The second organizational change was to subdivide 
the range of the northern spotted owl into four separate regions, and 
to describe PCEs for foraging habitat separately for each of these to 
provide more appropriate region-specific information.

VI. Critical Habitat

Background

    Critical habitat is defined in section 3 of the Act as:
    (1) The specific areas within the geographical area occupied by the 
species, at the time it is listed in accordance with the Act, on which 
are found those physical or biological features;
    (a) Essential to the conservation of the species; and
    (b) Which may require special management considerations or 
protection; and
    (2) Specific areas outside the geographical area occupied by the 
species at the time it is listed, upon a determination that such areas 
are essential for the conservation of the species.
    Conservation, as defined under section 3 of the Act, means to use 
and the use of all methods and procedures that are necessary to bring 
an endangered or threatened species to the point at which the measures 
provided pursuant to the Act are no longer necessary. Such methods and 
procedures include, but are not limited to, all activities associated 
with scientific resources management such as research, census, law 
enforcement, habitat acquisition and maintenance, propagation, live 
trapping, and transplantation, and, in the extraordinary case where 
population pressures within a given ecosystem cannot be otherwise 
relieved, may include regulated taking.
    Critical habitat receives protection under section 7 of the Act 
through the requirement that Federal agencies ensure, in consultation 
with the Service, that any action they authorize, fund, or carry out is 
not likely to result in the destruction or adverse modification of 
critical habitat. The designation of critical habitat does not affect 
land ownership or establish a refuge, wilderness, reserve, preserve, or 
other conservation area. Such designation does not allow the government 
or public to access private lands. Such designation does not require 
implementation of restoration, recovery, or enhancement measures by 
non-Federal landowners. Where a landowner requests Federal agency 
funding or authorization for an action that may affect a listed species 
or critical habitat, the consultation requirements of section 7(a)(2) 
of the Act would apply, but even in the event of a destruction or 
adverse modification finding, the obligation of the Federal action 
agency and the landowner is not to restore or recover the species, but 
to implement reasonable and prudent alternatives to avoid destruction 
or adverse modification of critical habitat.
    Under the first prong of the Act's definition of critical habitat, 
areas within the geographical area occupied by the species at the time 
it was listed are included in a critical habitat designation if they 
contain physical or biological features: (1) Which are essential to the 
conservation of the species, and (2) which may require special 
management considerations or protection. For these areas, critical 
habitat designations identify, to the extent known using the best 
scientific and commercial data available, those physical or biological 
features that are essential to the conservation of the species (such as 
space, food, cover, and protected habitat). In identifying those 
physical or biological features within an area, we focus on the 
principal biological or physical constituent elements (PCEs--primary 
constituent elements such as roost sites, nesting grounds, rainfall, 
canopy cover, soil type) that are essential to the conservation of the 
species.

[[Page 71897]]

    Under the second prong of the Act's definition of critical habitat, 
we can designate critical habitat in areas outside the geographical 
area occupied by the species at the time it is listed, upon a 
determination that such areas are essential for the conservation of the 
species. For example, an area that was not occupied at the time of 
listing but is essential to the conservation of the species may be 
included in the critical habitat designation. We designate critical 
habitat in areas outside the geographical area occupied by a species 
only when a designation limited to its range would be inadequate to 
ensure the conservation of the species (50 CFR 424.12(e)).
    Section 4 of the Act requires that we designate critical habitat on 
the basis of the best scientific and commercial data available. 
Further, our Policy on Information Standards Under the Endangered 
Species Act (published in the Federal Register on July 1, 1994 (59 FR 
34271)), the Information Quality Act (section 515 of the Treasury and 
General Government Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2001 (Pub. L. 
106-554; H.R. 5658)), and our associated Information Quality 
Guidelines, provide criteria, establish procedures, and provide 
guidance to ensure that our decisions are based on the best scientific 
data available. They require our biologists, to the extent consistent 
with the Act and with the use of the best scientific data available, to 
use primary and original sources of information as the basis for 
recommendations to designate critical habitat.
    When we are determining which areas should be designated as 
critical habitat, our primary source of information is generally the 
information developed during the listing process for the species. 
Additional information sources may include the recovery plan for the 
species, articles in peer-reviewed journals, conservation plans 
developed by States and counties, scientific status surveys and 
studies, biological assessments, other unpublished materials, or 
experts' opinions or personal knowledge.
    Habitat is dynamic, and northern spotted owls may move from one 
area to another over time. We recognize that critical habitat 
designated at a particular point in time may not include all of the 
habitat areas that we may later determine are necessary for the 
recovery of the species. For these reasons, a critical habitat 
designation does not signal that habitat outside the designated area is 
unimportant or may not be needed for recovery of the species. Areas 
that are important to the conservation of the species, both inside and 
outside the critical habitat designation, will continue to be subject 
to: (1) Conservation actions implemented under section 7(a)(1) of the 
Act, (2) regulatory protections afforded by the requirement in section 
7(a)(2) of the Act for Federal agencies to insure their actions are not 
likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered or 
threatened species, and (3) the prohibitions of section 9 of the Act on 
taking any individual of the species, including taking caused by 
actions that affect habitat. Federally funded or permitted projects 
affecting listed species outside their designated critical habitat 
areas may still result in jeopardy findings in some cases. These 
protections and conservation tools will continue to contribute to 
recovery of this species. Similarly, critical habitat designations made 
on the basis of the best available information at the time of 
designation will not control the direction and substance of future 
recovery plans, habitat conservation plans (HCPs), or other species 
conservation planning efforts if new information available at the time 
of these planning efforts calls for a different outcome.

Physical or Biological Features

    In accordance with section 3(5)(A)(i) and 4(b)(1)(A) of the Act and 
regulations at 50 CFR 424.12, in determining which areas within the 
geographical area occupied by the species at the time of listing to 
designate as critical habitat, we consider the physical or biological 
features essential to the conservation of the species and which may 
require special management considerations or protection. These include, 
but are not limited to:
    (1) Space for individual and population growth and for normal 
behavior;
    (2) Food, water, air, light, minerals, or other nutritional or 
physiological requirements;
    (3) Cover or shelter;
    (4) Sites for breeding, reproduction, or rearing (or development) 
of offspring; and
    (5) Habitats that are protected from disturbance or are 
representative of the historical, geographical, and ecological 
distributions of a species.
    For the northern spotted owl, the physical or biological features 
essential to the conservation of the species are forested areas that 
are used or likely to be used for nesting, roosting, foraging, or 
dispersing. The specific characteristics or components that comprise 
these features include, for example, specific ranges of forest stand 
density and tree size distribution; coarse woody debris; and specific 
resources, such as food (prey and suitable prey habitat), nest sites, 
cover, and other physiological requirements of northern spotted owls 
and considered essential for the conservation of the species. Below, we 
describe the life-history needs of the species and the broader physical 
or biological features essential to the conservation of the northern 
spotted owl, which informed our identification of the primary 
constituent elements (PCEs). The following information is based on 
studies of the habitat, ecology, and life history of the species, as 
described in the final listing rule for the northern spotted owl, 
published in the Federal Register on June 26, 1990 (55 FR 26114); the 
Revised Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl released on June 30, 
2011 (USFWS 2011); the Background section of this document; and the 
following information.
    Although the northern spotted owl is typically considered a habitat 
and prey specialist, it uses a relatively broad array of forest types 
for nesting, roosting, foraging, and dispersal. The diversity of forest 
types used is a reflection of the large geographical range of this 
subspecies, and the strong gradation in annual precipitation and 
temperature associated with both coastal mountain ranges and the 
Cascade Range. While the northern spotted owl is unquestionably 
associated with old-growth forests, habitat selection and population 
performance involves many additional features (Loehle et al. 2011, p. 
20). This description of physical or biological features summarizes 
both variation in habitat use and particular features or portions of 
the overall gradient of variation that northern spotted owls 
preferentially select, and that we, therefore, consider essential to 
their conservation. We begin by considering the broad-scale patterns of 
climate, elevation, topography, and forest community type that act to 
influence northern spotted owl distributions and space for population 
growth and dispersal. We then discuss the abundance and pattern of 
habitats used for nesting, roosting, and foraging at the landscape 
scale that influence the availability and occupancy of breeding sites 
and the survival and fecundity of northern spotted owls. Thus, we begin 
by considering factors that operate at broader spatial scales and 
proceed to factors that influence habitat quality at the forest stand 
scale. When we discuss the physical or biological features, we focus on 
features that are common range wide, but also summarize specific

[[Page 71898]]

features or patterns of habitat selection that characterize particular 
regions.
Physical Influences Related to Features Essential to the Northern 
Spotted Owl
    Climate, elevation, and topography are features of the physical 
environment that influence the capacity of a landscape to support 
habitat with high value for northern spotted owls and the type of 
habitat needed by the species. The distribution and amount of habitat 
on the landscape reflects interactions among these physical elements. 
Several studies have found that physical aspects of the environment, 
such as topographic position, aspect, and elevation, influence the 
northern spotted owl's selection of habitat (e.g., Clark 2007, pp. 97-
111; Stalberg et al. 2009, p. 80). These features are also factors in 
determining the type of habitats essential to northern spotted owl 
conservation.
    Climate--Population processes for northern spotted owls are 
affected by both large-scale fluctuations in climate conditions and by 
local weather variation (Glenn 2009, pp. 246-248). The influence of 
weather and climate on northern spotted owl populations has been 
documented in northern California (Franklin et al. 2000, pp. 559-583), 
Oregon (Olson et al. 2004, pp. 1047-1052; Dugger et al. 2005, pp. 871-
877; Glenn et al. 2010, pp. 2546-2551), and Washington (Glenn et al. 
2010, pp. 2546-2551). Climate and weather effects on northern spotted 
owls are mediated by vegetation conditions, and the combination of 
climate and vegetation variables improves models designed to predict 
the distribution of northern spotted owls (e.g., Carroll 2010, pp. 
1434-1437).
    Climate niche models for the northern spotted owl identified winter 
precipitation as the most important climate variable influencing 
ability to predict the distribution of northern spotted owl habitat 
(Carroll 2010, p. 1434). This finding is consistent with previous 
demographic studies that suggest there are negative effects of winter 
and spring precipitation on survival, recruitment, and dispersal 
(Franklin et al. 2000; pp. 559-583). Niche modeling suggested that 
precipitation variables, both in winter and in summer, were more 
influential than winter and summer temperatures (Carroll 2010, p. 1434-
1436).
    Wet, cold weather during the winter or nesting season, particularly 
the early nesting season, has been shown to negatively affect northern 
spotted owl reproduction (Olson et al. 2004, p. 1039; Dugger et al. 
2005, p. 863; Glenn et al. 2011b, p. 1279), survival (Franklin et al. 
2000, p. 539; Olson et al. 2004, p. 1039; Glenn et al. 2011a, p. 159), 
and recruitment (Franklin et al. 2000, p. 559; Glenn et al. 2010, p. 
2546). Cold, wet weather may reduce reproduction or survival during the 
breeding season, due to declines or decreased activity in small mammal 
populations, so that less food is available during this period when 
metabolic demands are high (Glenn et al. 2011b, pp. 1290-1294). Wet, 
cold springs or intense storms during this time may increase the risk 
of starvation in adult birds (Franklin et al. 2000, pp. 559-590). Cold, 
wet weather may also limit abundance of prey (Lehmkuhl et al. 2006, pp. 
589-595), and reduce the male northern spotted owl's ability to bring 
food to incubating females or nestlings (Franklin et al. 2000, pp. 559-
590). Cold, wet nesting seasons have been shown to increase the 
mortality of nestlings due to chilling (Franklin et al. 2000, pp. 559-
590), and reduce the number of young fledged per pair per year 
(Franklin et al. 2000, p. 559, Olson et al. 2004, p. 1047; Glenn et al. 
2011b, p. 1279). Wet, cold weather may decrease survival of dispersing 
juveniles during their first winter, thereby reducing recruitment 
(Franklin et al. 2000, pp. 559-590).
    Habitat quality may offset the negative effects of climate 
extremes. Franklin et al. (2000, pp. 582-583) argued that northern 
spotted owl populations are regulated or limited by both habitat 
quality and environmental factors, such as weather. Abundance and 
availability of prey may ultimately limit northern spotted owl 
populations, and abundance of prey is strongly associated with habitat 
conditions. As habitat quality decreases, other factors, such as 
weather, have a stronger influence on demographic performance. In 
essence, the presence of high-quality habitat appears to buffer the 
negative effects of cold, wet springs and winters on survival of 
northern spotted owls, as well as ameliorate the effects of heat. High-
quality northern spotted owl habitat was defined in a northern 
California study area as a mature or old-growth core within a mosaic of 
old and younger forest (Franklin et al. 2000, p. 559). The high-quality 
habitat can help maintain a stable prey base, thereby reducing the cost 
of foraging during the early breeding season, when energetic needs are 
high (Carey et al. 1992, pp. 223-250; Franklin et al. 2000, p. 559). In 
addition, mature and old forest with high canopy cover typically 
remains cooler during summer months than younger stands.
    Drought or hot temperatures during the previous summer have also 
been associated with reduced northern spotted owl recruitment and 
survival (Glenn et al. 2010, p. 2546). Drier, warmer summers and 
drought conditions during the growing season strongly influence primary 
production in forests, food availability, and the population sizes of 
small mammals (Glenn et al. 2010, p. 2546). Northern flying squirrels 
(one of the northern spotted owl's primary prey), for example, forage 
primarily on ectomycorrhizal fungi (truffles), many of which grow 
better under moist conditions (Lehmkuhl et al. 2004, pp. 58-60). Drier, 
warmer summers, or the high-intensity fires, which such conditions 
support, may change the range or availability of these fungi, affecting 
northern flying squirrels and the northern spotted owls that prey on 
them. Periods of drought are associated with declines in annual 
survival rates for other raptors, due to a presumed decrease in prey 
availability (Glenn et al. 2010, pp. 2546-2551).
    Mexican northern spotted owls (Strix occidentalis lucida) and 
California northern spotted owls (S. o. occidentalis) have a narrow 
temperature range in which body temperature can be maintained without 
additional metabolic energy expenditure (Ganey et al. 1993, pp. 653-
654; Weathers et al. 2001, pp. 682-686). Others (e.g., Franklin et al. 
2000, entire) have assumed the northern spotted owl to be similar in 
this regard. While winter temperatures are relatively mild across much 
of the northern spotted owl's range, heat stress has been identified as 
a potential stressor at temperatures exceeding 30 [deg]C 
(86[emsp14][deg]F; Weathers et al. 2001, p. 678). The northern spotted 
owl's selection for areas with older-forest characteristics has been 
hypothesized to be related, in part, to its needing cooler areas in 
summer to avoid heat stress (Barrows and Barrows 1978, entire).
    Elevation and Topography--Elevation and corresponding changes in 
temperature or moisture regimes constrain the development of vegetation 
communities selected by northern spotted owls, and may exceed the 
bounds of physiological tolerance of northern spotted owls or their 
prey as well. Several studies have noted the avoidance or absence of 
northern spotted owls above location-specific elevational limits 
(Blakesley et al. 1992, pp. 390-391; Hershey et al. 1998, p. 1406; 
LaHaye and Guti[eacute]rrez 1999, pp. 326, 328). In some locations, 
elevational limits occur despite the presence of forests that appear to 
have the structural characteristics typically associated with northern 
spotted owl habitat. Where

[[Page 71899]]

forest structure is not the apparent cause of elevational limits, the 
mechanistic bases of these limits are unknown, but they could be 
related to prey availability, presence of competitors, or extremes of 
temperature or precipitation. Habitat for northern spotted owls can 
occur from sea level to the lower elevation limit of subalpine 
vegetation types. This upper elevation limit varies with latitude from 
about 3,000 feet (ft) (900 meters (m)) above sea level in coastal 
Washington and Oregon (Davis and Lint 2005, p. 32) to about 6,000 ft 
(1,800 m) above sea level near the southern edge of the range (derived 
from Davis and Lint 2005, p. 32).
    Topography also influences the distribution of northern spotted owl 
habitat and patterns of habitat selection. The effects of topography 
are strongest in drier forests, where aspect and insolation (amount of 
solar radiation received in an area) contribute to moisture stress that 
can limit forest density and tree growth. In drier forests east of the 
Cascades and in the Klamath region, suitable habitat can be 
concentrated at intermediate topographic positions, on north-facing 
aspects, and in concave landforms that retain moisture. This leads to a 
distribution of suitable habitat characterized by ribbon-like bands and 
discrete patches. Ribbons occur along drainages and valley bottoms, 
along the north faces of ridges that trend from east to west, and at 
intermediate topographic positions between drier pine-dominated forests 
at lower elevations, and subalpine forest types at higher elevations. 
Discrete patches also occur on top of higher plateaus. Northern spotted 
owl populations inhabiting drier forests have higher fecundity and 
lower survival rates than owls in other regions (Hicks et al. 2003, pp. 
61-62; Anthony et al. 2006, pp. 28, 30). The naturally fragmented 
distribution of suitable habitat in drier forests, and increased 
predation risk associated with traversing this landscape, may be one of 
many features that contributed to the evolution of these life-history 
characteristics.
    Slope may also influence the distribution of suitable habitat. 
Intermediate slopes have been associated with northern spotted owl 
sites in some studies (e.g., Gremel 2005, p. 37; Gaines et al. 2010, 
pp. 2048-2050; USFWS 2011, Appendix C), but the mechanisms underlying 
this association are unclear, potentially including a variety of 
features from soil depth to competition with barred owls.
    Disturbance Regimes--Natural disturbances and anthropogenic (human-
caused) activities continuously shape the amount and distribution of 
northern spotted owl habitat on the landscape. In moist forests west of 
the Cascades in Washington and Oregon, and in the Redwood region in 
California, anthropogenic activities have a dominant influence on 
distribution patterns of remaining habitat, with natural disturbances 
typically playing a secondary role. In contrast, drier forests east of 
the Cascades and in the Klamath region have dynamic disturbance regimes 
that continue to exert a strong influence on northern spotted owl 
habitat. Climate change may modify disturbance regimes across the range 
of the northern spotted owl, resulting in substantial changes to the 
frequency and extent of habitat disruption by natural events.
    In drier forests, low- and mixed-severity fires historically 
contributed to a high level of spatial and temporal variability in 
landscape patterns of disturbed and recovering vegetation. However, 
anthropogenic activities have so altered these historical patterns and 
composition of vegetation, fuels, and associated disturbance regimes, 
that contemporary landscapes no longer function as they did 
historically (Hessburg et al. 2000a, pp. 77-78; Hessburg and Agee 2003, 
pp. 44-51; Hessburg et al. 2005, pp. 122-127, 134-136; Skinner et al. 
2006, pp. 176-179; Skinner and Taylor 2006, pp. 201-203).
    Fire exclusion, combined with the removal of fire-tolerant 
structures (e.g., large, fire-tolerant tree species such as ponderosa 
pine, western larch (Larix occidentalis), and Douglas-fir), have 
reduced the resiliency of the landscape to fire and other disturbances, 
(Agee 1993, pp. 280-319; Hessburg et al. 2000a, pp. 71-80; Hessburg and 
Agee 2003, pp. 44-46). Understory vegetation in these forests has 
shifted in response to fire exclusion from grasses and shrubs to shade-
tolerant conifers, reducing fire tolerance of these forests, and 
increasing drought stress on dominant tree species.
    Anthropogenic activities have also fundamentally changed the 
spatial distribution of fire-intolerant stands among the fire-tolerant 
stands, changing the pattern of fire activity across the landscape. 
Past management has altered the natural disturbance regime, homogenized 
the formerly patchy vegetative network, and reduced the complexity that 
was more prevalent during the presettlement era (Skinner 1995, pp. 224-
226; Hessburg and Agee 2003, pp. 44-45; Hessburg et al. 2007, p. 21; 
Kennedy and Wimberly 2009, pp. 564-565). This alteration in the 
disturbance regime further affects forest structure and composition. 
Patches of fire-intolerant vegetation that had been spatially separated 
have become more contiguous and are more prone to conducting fire, 
insects, and diseases across larger swaths of the landscape (Hessburg 
et al. 2005, pp. 71-74, 77-78). This homogenized landscape may be 
altering the size and intensity of current disturbances and further 
altering landscape functionality (e.g., Everett et al. 2000, pp. 221-
222).
    The intensity and spatial extent of natural disturbances that 
affect the amount, distribution, and quality of northern spotted owl 
habitat in dry forests are also influenced by local topographic 
features, elevation, and climate (Swanson et al. 1988, entire). At 
local scales, these factors can be used to identify areas that are 
insulated from recent or existing disturbance, and consequently tend to 
persist without disturbance for longer periods (Camp et al. 1997, 
entire). These disturbance refugia are locations where northern spotted 
owl habitat has a higher likelihood of developing and persisting in 
drier forests. As a result of these unevenly distributed disturbance 
regimes, especially in the drier forests within its range, habitat for 
the northern spotted owl naturally occurs in a patchy mosaic in various 
stages of suitability in these regions. Sufficient area to provide for 
these habitat dynamics and to allow for the maintenance of adequate 
quantities of suitable habitat on the landscape at any one point in 
time is, therefore, essential to the conservation of the northern 
spotted owl in the dry forest regions.
    Pattern and Distribution of Habitat--Historically, forest types 
occupied by the northern spotted owl were fairly continuous, 
particularly in the wetter parts of its range in coastal northern 
California and most of western Oregon and Washington. Suitable forest 
types in the drier parts of the range (interior northern California, 
Klamath region, interior southern Oregon, and east of the Cascade crest 
in Oregon and Washington) occur in a mosaic pattern interspersed with 
infrequently used vegetation types, such as open forests, shrubby 
areas, and grasslands. As described above, natural disturbance 
processes in these drier regions likely contributed to a pattern in 
which patches of habitat in various stages of suitability shift 
positions on the landscape through time. In the Klamath Mountains 
Provinces of Oregon and California, and to a lesser extent in the Coast 
and Cascade Provinces of California, large areas of serpentine soils 
exist that are typically not capable of supporting northern spotted owl 
habitat (Davis and Lint 2005, pp. 31-33).

[[Page 71900]]

Biological Influences Related to Features Essential to the Northern 
Spotted Owl
    Forest Community Type (Composition)--Across their geographical 
range, northern spotted owl use of habitat spans several scales, with 
increasing levels of habitat selection specificity at each scale. We 
refer to these scales as the ``landscape,'' ``home range,'' and ``core 
area'' scales. Nest stands within core areas are even more narrowly 
selected (see Functional Categories of Northern Spotted Owl Habitat, in 
the Background section, above).
    Landscapes supporting populations of northern spotted owls are the 
broadest scale we considered, encompassing areas sufficient to support 
numerous reproductive pairs (roughly 20,000 to 200,000 ac (8,100 to 
81,000 ha). At the landscape scale, the northern spotted owl inhabits 
most of the major types of coniferous forests across its geographical 
range, including Sitka spruce, western hemlock, mixed conifer and mixed 
evergreen, grand fir, Pacific silver fir, Douglas-fir, redwood/Douglas-
fir (in coastal California and southwestern Oregon), white fir, Shasta 
red fir, and the moist end of the ponderosa pine zone (Forsman et al. 
1984, pp. 8-9; Franklin and Dyrness 1988, entire; Thomas et al. 1990, 
p. 145). These forest types may be in early-, mid-, or late-seral 
stages, and must occur in concert with at least one of the physical or 
biological features characteristic of breeding and nonbreeding 
(dispersal) habitat, described below.
    Landscape-level patterns in tree species composition and topography 
can influence the distribution and density of northern spotted owls. 
These differences in northern spotted owl distribution occur even when 
different forest types have similar structural attributes, suggesting 
that northern spotted owls may prefer specific plant associations or 
tree species. Some forest types, such as pine-dominated and subalpine 
forests, are infrequently used, regardless of their structural 
attributes. In areas east of the Cascade Crest, northern spotted owls 
select forests with high proportions of Douglas-fir trees. The effects 
of tree species composition on habitat selection also extend to 
hardwoods within conifer-dominated forests (e.g., Meyer et al. 1998, p. 
35). For example, our habitat modeling indicated that habitat value in 
the central Western Cascades was negatively related to proportion of 
hardwoods present. At the home range and core area scales, locations 
occupied by northern spotted owls consistently have greater amounts of 
mature and old-growth forest compared to random locations or unused 
areas. The proportion of older or structurally complex forest within 
the home range varies greatly by geographical region, but typically 
falls between 30 and 78 percent (Courtney et al. 2004, p. 5-6). In 
studies where circles of different sizes were compared, differences 
between northern spotted owl sites and random locations diminished as 
circles of increasing size were evaluated (Courtney et al. 2004, p. 5-
7), suggesting habitat selection is stronger at the core area scale 
than at the home range and landscape scales.
    Population Spatial Requirements--We have described a range of 
climatic, elevational, topographic, and compositional factors, and 
associated disturbance dynamics typical of different regions, that 
constrain the amount and distribution of northern spotted owl habitat 
across landscapes. Within this context, areas that contain the physical 
or biological features described below must provide habitat in an 
amount and distribution sufficient to support persistent populations, 
including metapopulations of reproductive pairs, and opportunities for 
nonbreeding and dispersing owls to move among populations to be 
considered essential to the conservation of the northern spotted owl.
    Northern spotted owls maintain large home ranges that vary in size 
across nearly an order of magnitude across the species' range, from 
about 1,400 to 14,000 ac (570 to 5,700 ha), depending on geographic 
latitude and prey resources (see Home Range Requirements, below). 
Overlap occurs among adjoining territories, but the large size of 
territories nonetheless means that populations of northern spotted owls 
require landscapes with large areas of habitat suitable for nesting, 
roosting, and foraging. For example, in the northern parts of the 
subspecies' range where territories are largest, a population of 20 
resident pairs would require at least 100,000 ac (about 40,500 ha) of 
habitat that is relatively densely distributed and of high quality.
    As described in the Background section above, several studies have 
examined patterns of northern spotted owl habitat selection at the 
territory scale and the consequences on fitness of habitat 
configuration within a territory. We do not know if the features that 
contribute to enhancing northern spotted owl occupancy and reproductive 
success at the territory scale can be scaled up to predict what 
landscape-scale patterns of habitat are most conducive to stable or 
increasing northern spotted owl populations. Studies that use 
populations as units of analysis in order to investigate the effects of 
the landscape-scale configuration of habitat on the performance of 
northern spotted owl populations have only begun recently. Past models 
of northern spotted owl population dynamics have included predictions 
about the effects of habitat configuration on population performance, 
but these predictions have not been tested or validated by empirical 
studies (Franklin and Guti[eacute]rrez 2002; p. 215). Recent 
demographic analyses suggested that recruitment was positively related 
to the proportion of study areas covered by suitable habitat (see 
Forsman et al. 2011, pp. 59-62), but this covariate was not associated 
with other aspects of demographic performance, and few other covariates 
were investigated.
    When the northern spotted owl was listed as threatened in 1990 (55 
FR 26114; June 26, 1990), habitat loss and fragmentation of old-growth 
forest were identified as major factors contributing to declines in 
northern spotted owl populations. As older forests were reduced to 
smaller and more isolated patches, the ability of northern spotted owls 
to successfully disperse and establish territories was likely reduced 
(Lamberson et al. 1992, pp. 506, 508, 510-511). Lamberson et al. (1992, 
pp. 509-511) identified an apparent sharp threshold in the amount of 
habitat below which northern spotted owl population viability 
plummeted. Lamberson et al. (1994, pp. 185-186, 192-194) concluded that 
size, spacing, and shape of reserved areas all had strong influence on 
population persistence, and reserves that could support a minimum of 20 
northern spotted owl territories were more likely to maintain northern 
spotted owl populations than smaller reserves. They also found that 
juvenile dispersal was facilitated in areas large enough to support at 
least 20 northern spotted owl territories.
    In addition to area size, spacing between reserves had a strong 
influence on successful dispersal (Lamberson et al. 1992, pp. 508, 510-
511). Forsman et al. (2002, pp. 15-16) reported dispersal distances of 
1,475 northern spotted owls in Oregon and Washington for 1985 to 1996. 
Median maximum dispersal distance (the straight-line distance between 
the natal site and the farthest location) for radio-marked juvenile 
male northern spotted owls was 12.7 miles (mi) (20.3 kilometers (km)), 
and that of female northern spotted owls was 17.2 mi (27.5 km) (Forsman 
et al. 2002: Table

[[Page 71901]]

2). Dispersal data and other studies on the amount and configuration of 
habitat necessary to sustain northern spotted owls provided the 
foundation for developing previous northern spotted owl habitat reserve 
systems. Given the range-wide declining trends in northern spotted owl 
populations, as well as declining trends in the recruitment of new 
individuals into territorial populations (Forsman et al. 2011, pp. 59-
66, Table 22), we have determined that, to be essential, physical or 
biological features must be positioned on the landscape to enable 
populations to persist and to allow individual owls to disperse among 
populations.
    In contrast to earlier designations of critical habitat, we did not 
develop an a priori rule set to identify those areas that provide the 
physical or biological features essential to the conservation of the 
owl, using factors such as minimum size of habitat blocks, targeted 
numbers of owl pairs, or maximum distance between blocks of habitat. 
Instead, we determined the spatial extent and placement of the areas 
providing the physical or biological features that are essential to the 
conservation of the owl based on the relative demographic performance 
of the habitat models tested. This process is summarized in the section 
Criteria Used to Identify Critical Habitat, presented later in this 
document, and is presented in detail in our supporting documentation 
(Dunk et al. 2012b, entire). This supporting documentation, which 
describes in detail the modeling process we used, is available at our 
Web site. We refer to this document in the Summary of Comments and 
Recommendations section, below, as our ``Modeling Supplement'' (Dunk et 
al. 2012b).
    Home Range Requirements--Most adult northern spotted owls remain on 
their home range throughout the year; therefore, their home range must 
provide all the habitat components, including prey, needed for the 
survival and successful reproduction of a territorial pair. The home 
range of a northern spotted owl is relatively large, but varies in size 
across the range of the subspecies (Courtney et al. 2004, p. 5-24; 55 
FR 26117; June 26, 1990). Home range sizes are largest in Washington 
(Olympic Peninsula: 9,231 ac (3,736 ha) (Forsman et al. 2005, pp. 371-
372), and generally decrease along a north-south gradient to 
approximately 1,430 ac (580 ha) in the Klamath region of northwestern 
California and southern Oregon (Zabel et al. 1995, p. 436). Northern 
spotted owl home ranges are generally larger where northern flying 
squirrels are the predominant prey and smaller where woodrats are the 
predominant prey (Zabel et al. 1995, p. 436). Home range size also 
increases with increasing forest fragmentation (Carey et al. 1992, p. 
235; Franklin and Guti[eacute]rrez 2002, p. 212; Glenn et al. 2004, p. 
45) and decreasing proportions of nesting habitat on the landscape 
(Carey et al. 1992, p. 235; Forsman et al. 2005, p. 374), suggesting 
that northern spotted owls increase the size of their home ranges to 
encompass adequate amounts of suitable forest types (Forsman et al. 
2005, p. 374).
    Meta-analysis of features associated with occupancy at the 
territory-scale indicated that northern spotted owls consistently 
occupy areas having larger patches of older forests that were more 
numerous and closer together than random sites (Franklin and 
Guti[eacute]rrez 2002; p. 212). In the Klamath and Redwood regions owls 
also consistently occupy sites with higher forest heterogeneity than 
random sites. Occupied sites in the Klamath region, in particular, show 
a high degree of vegetative heterogeneity, with more variable patch 
sizes and more perimeter edge than in other regions (Franklin and 
Guti[eacute]rrez 2002; p. 212). In the Klamath region, ecotones, or 
edges between older forests and other seral stages, may contribute to 
improved access to prey (Franklin and Guti[eacute]rrez 2002, p. 215). 
Several studies in the Klamath region and the Redwood region have found 
that variables describing the relationship between habitat core area 
and edge length improve the ability of models to predict northern 
spotted owl occupancy (e.g., Folliard et al. 2000, pp. 79-81; Zabel et 
al 2003, pp. 1936-1938). In contrast, northern spotted owl sites in the 
Oregon Coast Range had a more even distribution of cover types than 
random locations, and nest stands had a higher ratio of core to edge 
and more complex stand shapes than non-nest stands (Courtney et al. 
2004, p. 5-9).
    A home range provides the habitat components essential for the 
survival and successful reproduction of a resident breeding pair of 
northern spotted owls. The exact amount, quality, and configuration of 
these habitat types required for survival and successful reproduction 
varies according to local conditions and factors, such as the degree of 
habitat fragmentation, proportion of available nesting habitat, and 
primary prey species (Courtney et al. 2004, p. 5-2).
    Core Area Requirements--Northern spotted owls often use habitat 
within their home ranges disproportionally, and exhibit central-place 
foraging behavior (Rosenberg and McKelvey 1999, p. 1028), with much 
activity centered within a core area surrounding the nest tree during 
the breeding season. During fall and winter, as well as in nonbreeding 
years, owls often roost and forage in areas of their home range more 
distant from the core. The size of core areas varies considerably 
across the subspecies' geographical range following a pattern similar 
to that of home range size (Bingham and Noon 1997, p. 133), varying 
from over 4,057 ac (1,642 ha) in the northernmost (flying squirrel 
prey) provinces (Forsman et al. 2005, pp. 370, 375) to less than 500 ac 
(202 ha) in the southernmost (dusky-footed woodrat prey) provinces 
(Pious 1995, pp. 9-10, Table 2; Zabel et al. 2003, pp. 1036-1038). Owls 
often switch nest trees and use multiple core areas over time, possibly 
in response to local prey depletion or loss of a particular nest tree.
    Core areas contain greater proportions of mature or old forest than 
random or nonuse areas (Courtney et al. 2004, p. 5-13), and the amount 
of high-quality habitat at the core area scale shows the strongest 
relationships with occupancy (Meyer et al. 1998, p. 34; Zabel et al. 
2003, pp. 1027, 1036), survival (Franklin et al. 2000, p. 567; Dugger 
et al. 2005, p. 873), and reproductive success (Ripple et al. 1997, pp. 
155 to 156; Dugger et al. 2005, p. 871). In some areas, edges between 
forest types within northern spotted owl home ranges may provide 
increased prey abundance and availability (Franklin et al. 2000, p. 
579). For successful reproduction, core areas need to contain one or 
more forest stands that have both the structural attributes and the 
location relative to other features in the home range that allow them 
to fulfill essential nesting, roosting, and foraging functions (Carey 
and Peeler 1995, pp. 233-236; Rosenberg and McKelvey 1999, pp. 1035-
1037).
    Areas to Support Dispersal and Nonbreeding Owls--Northern spotted 
owls regularly disperse through highly fragmented forested landscapes 
that are typical of the mountain ranges in western Washington and 
Oregon, and have dispersed from the Coastal Mountains to the Cascades 
Mountains in the broad forested regions between the Willamette, Umpqua, 
and Rogue Valleys of Oregon (Forsman et al. 2002, p. 22). Corridors of 
forest through fragmented landscapes serve primarily to support 
relatively rapid movement through such areas, rather than colonization 
or residency of nonbreeding owls.
    During the transience (movement) phase, dispersers used mature and 
old-growth forest slightly more than its availability; during the 
colonization phase, mature and old-growth forest was

[[Page 71902]]

used at nearly twice its availability (Miller et al. 1997, p. 144). 
Closed pole-sapling-sawtimber habitat was used roughly in proportion to 
availability in both phases and may represent the minimum condition for 
movement. Open sapling and clearcuts were used less than expected based 
on availability during colonization (Miller et al. 1997, p. 145). In 
comparison, nondispersing subadults or nonbreeding adults that are 
residents require habitats that are more similar to the nesting, 
roosting, and foraging habitats utilized by breeding pairs. This 
suggests that juveniles and transient dispersers either have a less 
developed ability to avoid areas where starvation or predation are more 
likely, or they can use a greater variety of forested habitats than 
nondispersing adults, or both.
    We currently do not have sufficient information to permit formal 
modeling of dispersal habitat and the influence of dispersal habitat 
condition on dispersal success (USFWS 2011, p. C-15). We expect, based 
on the studies discussed above, that dispersal success is highest when 
dispersers move through forests that have the characteristics of 
nesting-roosting and foraging habitats. Northern spotted owls can also 
disperse successfully through forests with less complex structure, but 
risk of starvation and predation likely increase with increasing 
divergence from the characteristics of suitable (nesting, roosting, 
foraging) habitat. The suitability of habitat to contribute to 
successful dispersal of northern spotted owls is likely related to the 
degree to which it ameliorates heat stress, provides abundant and 
accessible prey, limits predation risk, and resembles habitat in natal 
territories (Carey 1985, pp. 105-107; Buchanan 2004, pp. 1335-1341).
    Dispersal habitat is habitat that both juvenile and adult northern 
spotted owls must use when looking to establish a new territory. 
Although optimal dispersal habitat would be the same as suitable 
nesting, roosting, or foraging habitat (mature and old-growth stands), 
dispersing owls will use younger forest for dispersal, and the 
Interagency Scientific Committee (Thomas et al. 1990) suggested the 50-
11-40 rule for maintaining baseline forest conditions between blocks of 
old forest to enhance dispersal. Forests composed of at least 50 
percent of trees with 11 inches (in) (28 centimeters (cm)) diameter at 
breast height (dbh) or greater, and with roughly a minimum 40 percent 
canopy cover, were considered to meet this baseline condition for 
northern spotted owl dispersal. Dispersal habitat can occur between 
larger blocks of nesting, foraging, and roosting habitat or within 
blocks of nesting, roosting, and foraging habitat. Dispersal habitat is 
essential to maintaining stable populations by promoting rapid filling 
of territorial vacancies when resident northern spotted owls die or 
leave their territories, and to providing adequate gene flow across the 
range of the species.
    Regional Variation in Habitat Use--Differences in patterns of 
habitat associations across the range of the northern spotted owl 
suggest four different broad zones of habitat use, which we 
characterize as the (1) West Cascades/Coast Ranges of Oregon and 
Washington, (2) East Cascades, (3) Klamath and Northern California 
Interior Coast Ranges, and (4) Redwood Coast (Figure 1. We configured 
these zones based on a qualitative assessment of similarity among 
ecological conditions and habitat associations within the 11 different 
regions analyzed, as these 4 zones efficiently capture the range in 
variation of some of the physical or biological features essential to 
the conservation of the northern spotted owl. We summarize the physical 
or biological features for each of these four zones, emphasizing zone-
specific features that are distinctive within the context of general 
patterns that apply across the entire range of the northern spotted 
owl.
BILLING CODE 4310-55-P

[[Page 71903]]

[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TR04DE12.000

BILLING CODE 4310-55-C
West Cascades/Coast Ranges of Oregon and Washington
    This zone includes five regions west of the Cascade crest in 
Washington and Oregon (Western Cascades North, Central and South; North 
Coast Ranges and Olympic Peninsula; and Oregon Coast Ranges; USFWS 
2011, p. C-13). Climate in this zone is characterized by high rainfall 
and cool to moderate temperatures. Variation in elevation between 
valley bottoms and ridges is relatively low in the Coast Ranges, 
creating conditions favorable for development of contiguous forests. In 
contrast, the Olympic and Cascade ranges have greater topographic 
variation with many high-elevation areas supporting permanent 
snowfields and glaciers. Douglas-fir and western hemlock dominate 
forests used by northern spotted owls in this zone. Root diseases and 
wind-throw are important natural disturbance mechanisms that form gaps 
in forested areas. Flying squirrels are the dominant prey, with voles 
and mice also representing important items in the northern spotted 
owl's diet.
    Our habitat modeling indicated that vegetation structure had a 
dominant influence on owl population performance, with habitat pattern 
and topography also contributing. High canopy cover, high density of 
large trees, high numbers of subcanopy vegetation layers, and low to 
moderate slope positions were all important features.
    Nesting habitat in this zone is mostly limited to areas with large 
trees with defects such as mistletoe brooms, cavities, or broken tops. 
The subset of foraging habitat that is not nesting/roosting habitat 
generally had slightly lower values than nesting habitat for canopy 
cover, tree size and density, and canopy layering. Prey species 
(primarily northern flying squirrel) in this zone are associated with 
mature to late-successional forests, resulting in small differences 
between nesting, roosting, and foraging habitat.
East Cascades
    This zone includes the Eastern Cascades North and Eastern Cascades 
South regions (USFWS 2011, p. C-13). This zone is characterized by a 
continental climate (cold, snowy winters and dry summers) and a high 
frequency of natural disturbances due to fires and outbreaks of forest 
insects and pathogens. Flying squirrels are the dominant prey species, 
but the diet of northern spotted owls in this zone also includes 
relatively large proportions of bushy-tailed woodrats, snowshoe hare, 
pika, and mice (Forsman et al. 2001, pp. 144-145).
    Our modeling indicates that habitat associations in this zone do 
not show a pattern of dominant influence by one or a few variables 
(USFWS 2011, Appendix C). Instead, habitat association models for this 
zone

[[Page 71904]]

included a large number of variables, each making a relatively modest 
contribution (20 percent or less) to the predictive ability of the 
model. The features that were most useful in predicting habitat quality 
were vegetation structure and composition, and topography, especially 
slope position in the north. Other efforts to model habitat 
associations in this zone have yielded similar results (e.g., Gaines et 
al. 2010, pp. 2048-2050; Loehle et al. 2011, pp. 25-28).
    Relative to other portions of the subspecies' range, nesting and 
roosting habitat in this zone includes relatively younger and smaller 
trees, likely reflecting the common usage of dwarf mistletoe brooms 
(dense growths) as nesting platforms (especially in the north). Forest 
composition that includes high proportions of Douglas-fir is also 
associated with this nesting structure. Additional foraging habitat in 
this zone generally resembles nesting and roosting habitat, with 
reduced canopy cover and tree size, and reduced canopy layering. High 
prey diversity suggests relatively diverse foraging habitats are used. 
Topographic position was an important variable, particularly in the 
north, possibly reflecting competition from barred owls (Singleton et 
al. 2010, pp. 289, 292). Barred owls, which have been present for over 
30 years in northern portions of this zone, preferentially occupy 
valley-bottom habitats, possibly compelling northern spotted owls to 
establish territories on less productive, mid-slope locations 
(Singleton et al. 2010, pp. 289, 292).
Klamath and Northern California Interior Coast Ranges
    This zone includes the Klamath West, Klamath East, and Interior 
California Coast regions (USFWS 2011, p. C-13). This region in 
southwestern Oregon and northwestern California is characterized by 
very high climatic and vegetative diversity resulting from steep 
gradients of elevation, dissected topography, and large differences in 
moisture from west to east. Summer temperatures are high, and northern 
spotted owls occur at elevations up to 5,800 ft (1,768 m). Western 
portions of this zone support a diverse mix of mesic forest communities 
interspersed with drier forest types. Forests of mixed conifers and 
evergreen hardwoods are typical of the zone. Eastern portions of this 
zone have a Mediterranean climate with increased occurrence of 
ponderosa pine. Douglas-fir dwarf mistletoe (Arceuthobium douglasii) is 
rarely used for nesting platforms in the western part of the northern 
spotted owl's range, but is commonly used in the east. The prey base 
for northern spotted owls in this zone is correspondingly diverse, but 
dominated by dusky-footed woodrats, bushy-tailed woodrats, and flying 
squirrels. Northern spotted owls have been well studied in the western 
Klamath portion of this zone (Forsman et al. 2004, p. 217), but 
relatively little is known about northern spotted owl habitat use in 
the eastern portion and the California Interior Coast Range portion of 
the zone. Our habitat association models for this zone suggest that 
vegetation structure and topographic features are nearly equally 
important in influencing owl population performance, particularly in 
the Klamath. High canopy cover, high levels of canopy layering, and the 
presence of very large dominant trees were all important features of 
nesting and roosting habitat. Compared to other zones, additional 
foraging habitat for this zone showed greater divergence from nesting 
habitat, with much lower canopy cover and tree size. Low to 
intermediate slope positions were strongly favored. In the eastern 
Klamath, presence of Douglas-fir was an important compositional 
variable in our habitat model (USFWS 2011, Appendix C).
Redwood Coast
    This zone is confined to the northern California coast, and is 
represented by the Redwood Coast region (USFWS 2011, p. C-13). It is 
characterized by a maritime climate with moderate temperatures and 
generally mesic conditions. Near the coast, frequent fog delivers 
consistent moisture during the summer. Terrain is typically low-lying 
(0 to 3,000 ft (0 to 900 m)). Forest communities are dominated by 
redwood, Douglas-fir-tanoak (Lithocarpus densiflorus) forest, coast 
live oak (Quercus agrifolia), and tanoak series. Dusky footed woodrats 
are the dominant prey items for northern spotted owls in this zone.
    Habitat association models for this zone diverged strongly from 
models for other zones. Topographic variables (slope position and 
curvature) had a dominant influence with vegetation structure having a 
secondary role. Low position on slopes was strongly favored, along with 
concave landforms.
    Several studies of northern spotted owl habitat relationships 
suggest that stump-sprouting and rapid growth of redwood trees, 
combined with high availability of woodrats in patchy, intensively 
managed forests, enables northern spotted owls to occupy a wide range 
of vegetation conditions within the redwood zone. Rapid growth rates 
enable young stands to develop structural characteristics typical of 
older stands in other regions. Thus, relatively small patches of large 
remnant trees can also provide nesting habitat structure in this zone.

Physical or Biological Features and Primary Constituent Elements

    Under the Act and its implementing regulations, we are required to 
identify the physical or biological features essential to the 
conservation of the northern spotted owl in areas occupied at the time 
of listing, focusing on the features' primary constituent elements. 
Primary constituent elements are those specific elements of the 
physical or biological features that provide for a species' life-
history processes and are essential to the conservation of the species. 
The physical or biological features essential to the conservation of 
the northern spotted owl are forested lands that can be used for 
nesting, roosting, foraging, or dispersing. We have further determined 
that these physical or biological features may require special 
management considerations or protection, as described in the section 
Special Management Considerations or Protection, below. For the 
northern spotted owl, the primary constituent elements are the specific 
characteristics that make areas suitable for nesting, roosting, 
foraging and dispersal habitat. To be essential to the conservation of 
the northern spotted owl, these features need to be distributed in a 
spatial configuration that is conducive to persistence of populations, 
survival and reproductive success of resident pairs, and survival of 
dispersing individuals until they can recruit into a breeding 
population.
    Models developed for the Revised Recovery Plan for the Northern 
Spotted Owl (USFWS 2011, Appendix C) to assess habitat suitability for 
the northern spotted owl across the range of the species and applied 
here to help identify potential critical habitat were based on habitat 
conditions within 500-acre (200-ha) core areas. Because core areas 
support a mix of nesting, roosting, and foraging habitats, their 
characteristics provide a basis for identification and quantification 
of PCEs.

Physical or Biological Features by Life-History Function

    Each of the essential features--in this case, forested lands that 
provide the functional categories of northern spotted owl habitat--
comprises a complex interplay of structural elements, such as tree size 
and species, stand density, canopy diversity, and decadence.

[[Page 71905]]

Northern spotted owls have been shown to exhibit strong associations 
with specific PCEs; however, the range of combinations of PCEs that may 
constitute habitat (particularly foraging habitat) is broad. In 
addition, the relative importance of specific habitat elements (and 
subsequently their relevance as PCEs) is strongly influenced by 
physical factors, such as elevation and slope position, and the degree 
to which physical factors influence the role of individual PCEs varies 
geographically. In addition to forest type, the key elements of 
habitats with the physical or biological features essential for the 
conservation of the northern spotted owl may be organized as follows:
Nesting and Roosting Habitat
    Nesting and roosting habitat provides structural features for 
nesting, protection from adverse weather conditions, and cover to 
reduce predation risks for adults and young. Because nesting habitat 
provides resources critical for nest site selection and breeding, its 
characteristics tend to be conservative; stand structures at nest sites 
tend to vary little across the northern spotted owl's range. Nesting 
stands typically include a moderate to high canopy cover (60 to over 80 
percent); a multilayered, multispecies canopy with large (greater than 
30 in (76 cm) dbh) overstory trees; a high incidence of large trees 
with various deformities (e.g., large cavities, broken tops, mistletoe 
infections, and other evidence of decadence); large snags; large 
accumulations of fallen trees and other woody debris on the ground; and 
sufficient open space below the canopy for northern spotted owls to fly 
(Thomas et al. 1990, p. 164; 57 FR 1798, January 15, 1992). These 
findings were recently reinforced in rangewide models developed by 
Davis and Dugger (2011, Table 3-1, p. 39), who found that stands used 
for nesting (moderate to high suitability) exhibited high canopy cover 
of conifers (65 to 89 percent), large trees (mean diameter from 20 to 
36 in (51 to 91 cm)), with a forest density of 6 to 19 large trees 
(greater than 30 in dbh) per acre (15 to 47 large trees (greater than 
76 cm dbh) per hectare), and high diameter diversity.
    Recent studies have found that northern spotted owl nest stands 
tend to have greater tree basal area, number of canopy layers, density 
of broken-top trees, number or basal area of snags, and volume of logs 
(Courtney et al. 2004, pp. 5-16 to 5-19, 5-23) than non-nest stands. In 
some forest types, northern spotted owls nest in younger forest stands 
that contain structural characteristics of older forests (legacy 
features from previous stands before disturbance). In the portions of 
the northern spotted owl's range where Douglas-fir dwarf mistletoe 
occurs, infected trees provide an important source of nesting platforms 
(Buchanan et al. 1993, pp. 4-5). Nesting northern spotted owls 
consistently occupy stands having a high degree of canopy cover that 
may provide thermoregulatory benefits (Weathers et al. 2001, p. 686), 
allowing northern spotted owls a wider range of choices for locating 
thermally neutral roosts near the nest site. A high degree of canopy 
cover may also conceal northern spotted owls, reducing potential 
predation. Studies of roosting locations found that northern spotted 
owls tended to use stands with greater vertical canopy layering (Mills 
et al. 1993, pp. 318-319), canopy cover (King 1993, p. 45), snag 
diameter (Mills et al. 1993, pp. 318-319), diameter of large trees 
(Herter et al. 2002, pp. 437, 441), and amounts of large woody debris 
(Chow 2001, p. 24; reviewed in Courtney et al. 2004, pp. 5-14 to 5-16, 
5-23). Northern spotted owls use the same habitat for both nesting and 
roosting; the characteristics of roosting habitat differ from those of 
nesting habitat only in that roosting habitat need not contain the 
specific structural features used for nesting (Thomas et al. 1990, p. 
62). Aside from the presence of the nest structure, nesting and 
roosting habitat are generally inseparable.
    Habitat modeling developed for the Revised Recovery Plan for the 
Northern Spotted Owl (USFWS 2011, Appendix C) and used as one means of 
helping us identify potential critical habitat for the northern spotted 
owl supports previous descriptions of nesting habitat (57 FR 1796, 
January 15, 1992; 73 FR 47326, August 13, 2008), and suggests a high 
degree of similarity among the 11 ecological regions across the range 
of the species. Across regions, moderate to high suitability nesting 
habitat was characterized as having high canopy cover (65 to over 80 
percent) and high basal area (240 ft\2\/ac; (55 m\2\/ha), mean dbh of 
conifers at least 16.5 to 24 in (42 to 60 cm), and a significant 
component of larger trees (greater than 30 in (75 cm)).
Foraging Habitat
    Habitats used for foraging by northern spotted owls vary widely 
across the northern spotted owl's range, in accordance with ecological 
conditions and disturbance regimes that influence vegetation structure 
and prey species distributions. In general, northern spotted owls 
select old forests for foraging in greater proportion than their 
availability at the landscape scale (Carey et al. 1992, pp. 236-237; 
Carey and Peeler 1995, p. 235; Forsman et al. 2005, pp. 372-373), but 
will forage in younger stands and brushy openings with high prey 
densities and access to prey (Carey et al. 1992, p. 247; Rosenberg and 
Anthony 1992, p. 165; Thome et al. 1999, pp. 56-57; Irwin et al. 2012, 
pp. 208-210). Throughout much of the owl's range, the same habitat that 
provides for nesting and roosting also provides for foraging, although 
northern spotted owls have greater flexibility in utilizing a variety 
of habitats for foraging than they do for nesting and roosting. That 
is, habitats that meet the species' needs for nesting and roosting 
generally also provide for foraging (and dispersal) requirements of the 
owl. However, in some areas owls may use other types of habitats for 
foraging, in addition to those used for nesting and roosting; thus, 
habitat that supports foraging (or dispersal) does not always support 
the other PCEs, and does not necessarily provide for nesting or 
roosting. Variation in the potential use of various foraging habitats 
throughout the range of the northern spotted owl is described here.
West Cascades/Coast Ranges of Oregon and Washington
    In the West Cascades/Coast Ranges of Oregon and Washington, high-
quality foraging habitat is also nesting/roosting habitat. Foraging 
activity is positively associated with tree height diversity (North et 
al. 1999, p. 524), canopy cover (Irwin et al. 2000, p. 180; Courtney et 
al. 2004, p. 5-15), snag volume, density of snags greater than 20 in 
(50 cm) dbh (North et al. 1999, p. 524; Irwin et al. 2000, pp. 179-180; 
Courtney et al. 2004, p. 5-15), density of trees greater than or equal 
to 31 in (80 cm) dbh (North et al. 1999, p. 524) density of trees 20 to 
31 in (51 to 80 cm) dbh (Irwin et al. 2000, pp. 179-180), and volume of 
woody debris (Irwin et al. 2000, pp. 179-180).
    While the majority of studies reported strong associations with 
old-forest characteristics, younger forests with some structural 
characteristics (legacy features) of old forests (Carey et al. 1992, 
pp. 245 to 247; Irwin et al. 2000, pp. 178 to 179), hardwood forest 
patches, and edges between old forest and hardwoods (Glenn et al. 2004, 
pp. 47-48) are also used by foraging northern spotted owls.
East Cascades
    Foraging habitats used by northern spotted owls in the East 
Cascades of Oregon, Washington, and California were similar to those 
used in the Western Cascades, but can also encompass forest stands that 
exhibit

[[Page 71906]]

somewhat lower mean tree sizes (quadratic mean diameter 16 to 22 in (40 
to 55 cm) (Irwin et al. 2012, p. 207). However, foraging activity was 
still positively associated with densities of large trees (greater than 
26 in (66 cm)) and increasing basal area (Irwin et al. 2012, p. 206). 
Stands dominated by Douglas-fir and white fir/Douglas-fir, or grand 
fir/Douglas-fir were preferred in some regions, whereas stands 
dominated by ponderosa pine were generally avoided (Irwin et al. 2012, 
p. 207).
Klamath and Northern California Interior Coast Ranges
    Because diets of northern spotted owls in the Klamath and Northern 
California Interior Coast Ranges consist predominantly of both northern 
flying squirrels and dusky-footed woodrats, habitats used for foraging 
northern spotted owls are much more variable than in northern portions 
of the species' range. As in other regions, foraging northern spotted 
owls select stands with mature and old-forest characteristics such as 
increasing mean stand diameter and densities of trees greater than 26 
in (66 cm) dbh (Irwin et al. 2012, p. 206) and a dominant canopy of 
large conifer trees greater than 21 in (52.5 cm) dbh (Solis and 
Gutierrez 1990, p. 747), high canopy cover (87 percent at frequently 
used sites; Solis and Gutierrez 1990, p. 747, Table 3), and multiple 
canopy layers (Solis and Gutierrez 1990, pp. 744-747; Anthony and 
Wagner 1999, pp. 14, 17). However, other habitat elements are 
disproportionately used, particularly forest patches within riparian 
zones of low-order streams (Solis and Gutierrez 1990, p. 747; Irwin et 
al. 2012, p. 208) and edges between conifer and hardwood forest stands 
(Zabel et al. 1995, pp. 436-437; Ward et al. 1998, pp. 86, 88-89). 
Foraging use is positively influenced by conifer species, including 
incense-cedar (Calocedrus decurrens), sugar pine (P. lambertiana), 
Douglas-fir, and hardwoods such as bigleaf maple (Acer macrophyllum), 
California black oak (Q. kelloggii), live oaks, and Pacific madrone 
(Arbutus menziesii) as well as shrubs (Sisco 1990, p. 20; Irwin et al. 
2012, pp. 206-207, 209-210), presumably because they produce mast 
important for prey species. Within a mosaic of mature and older forest 
habitat, brushy openings and dense young stands or low-density forest 
patches also receive some use (Sisco 1990, pp. 9, 12, 14, 16; Zabel et 
al. 1993, p. 19; Irwin et al. 2012, pp. 209-210).
Redwood Coast
    The preponderance of information regarding habitats used for 
foraging by northern spotted owls in the Redwood Coast zone comes from 
intensively managed industrial forests. In these environments, which 
comprise the majority of the redwood region, interspersion of foraging 
habitat and prey-producing habitat appears to be an important element 
of habitat suitability. Foraging habitat is used by owls to access prey 
and is characterized by a wide range of tree sizes and ages. Foraging 
activity by owls is positively associated with density of small to 
medium sized trees (10 to 22 in (25 to 56 cm)) and trees greater than 
26 in (66 cm) in diameter (Irwin et al. 2007b, p. 19) or greater than 
41 years of age (MacDonald et al. 2006, p. 381). Foraging was also 
positively associated with hardwood species, particularly tanoak 
(MacDonald et al. 2006, pp. 380-382; Irwin et al. 2007a, pp. 1188-
1189). Prey-producing habitats occur within early-seral habitats 6 to 
20 years old (Hamm and Diller 2009, p. 100, Table 2), typically 
resulting from clearcuts or other intensive harvest methods. Habitat 
elements within these openings include dense shrub and hardwood cover, 
and woody debris.

Nonbreeding and Dispersal Habitat

    Although the term ``dispersal'' frequently refers to post-fledgling 
movements of juveniles, for the purposes of this rule we are using the 
term to include all movement during both the transience and 
colonization phase, and to encompass important concepts of linkage and 
connectivity among owl subpopulations. Population growth can only occur 
if there is adequate habitat in an appropriate configuration to allow 
for the dispersal of owls across the landscape. Although habitat that 
allows for dispersal may currently be marginal or unsuitable for 
nesting, roosting, or foraging, it provides an important linkage 
function among blocks of nesting habitat both locally and over the 
owl's range that is essential to its conservation. However, as noted 
above, we expect dispersal success is highest when dispersers move 
through forests that have the characteristics of nesting-roosting and 
foraging habitats. Although northern spotted owls may be able to move 
through forests with less complex structure, survivorship is likely 
decreased. Dispersal habitat, at a minimum, consists of stands with 
adequate tree size and canopy cover to provide protection from avian 
predators and at least minimal foraging opportunities; there may be 
variations over the owl's range (e.g., drier site in the east Cascades 
or northern California). This may include younger and less diverse 
forest stands than foraging habitat, such as even-aged, pole-sized 
stands, but such stands should contain some roosting structures and 
foraging habitat to allow for temporary resting and feeding during the 
transience phase.
    Habitat supporting nonbreeding northern spotted owls, or the 
colonization phase of dispersal, is generally equivalent to nesting, 
roosting, and foraging habitat and is described above, although it may 
be in smaller amounts than that needed to support nesting pairs.
Primary Constituent Elements for the Northern Spotted Owl
    Based on our current knowledge of the physical or biological 
features and habitat characteristics required to sustain the species' 
life-history processes, we determine that the primary constituent 
elements specific to the northern spotted owl are as follows; note that 
PCE 1 must occur in concert with PCE 2, 3, or 4:
    (1) Forest types that may be in early-, mid-, or late-seral stages 
and that support the northern spotted owl across its geographical 
range; these forest types are primarily:
    (a) Sitka spruce,
    (b) Western hemlock,
    (c) Mixed conifer and mixed evergreen,
    (d) Grand fir,
    (e) Pacific silver fir,
    (f) Douglas-fir,
    (g) White fir,
    (h) Shasta red fir,
    (i) Redwood/Douglas-fir (in coastal California and southwestern 
Oregon), and
    (j) The moist end of the ponderosa pine coniferous forests zones at 
elevations up to approximately 3,000 ft (900 m) near the northern edge 
of the range and up to approximately 6,000 ft (1,800 m) at the southern 
edge.
    (2) Habitat that provides for nesting and roosting. In many cases 
the same habitat also provides for foraging (PCE (3)). Nesting and 
roosting habitat provides structural features for nesting, protection 
from adverse weather conditions, and cover to reduce predation risks 
for adults and young. This PCE is found throughout the geographical 
range of the northern spotted owl, because stand structures at nest 
sites tend to vary little across the northern spotted owl's range. 
These habitats must provide:
    (a) Sufficient foraging habitat to meet the home range needs of 
territorial pairs

[[Page 71907]]

of northern spotted owls throughout the year.
    (b) Stands for nesting and roosting that are generally 
characterized by:
    (i) Moderate to high canopy cover (60 to over 80 percent);
    (ii) Multilayered, multispecies canopies with large (20-30 in (51-
76 cm) or greater dbh) overstory trees;
    (iii) High basal area (greater than 240 ft\2\/ac (55 m\2\/ha));
    (iv) High diversity of different diameters of trees;
    (v) High incidence of large live trees with various deformities 
(e.g., large cavities, broken tops, mistletoe infections, and other 
evidence of decadence);
    (vi) Large snags and large accumulations of fallen trees and other 
woody debris on the ground; and
    (vii) Sufficient open space below the canopy for northern spotted 
owls to fly.
    (3) Habitat that provides for foraging, which varies widely across 
the northern spotted owl's range, in accordance with ecological 
conditions and disturbance regimes that influence vegetation structure 
and prey species distributions. Across most of the owl's range, nesting 
and roosting habitat is also foraging habitat, but in some regions 
northern spotted owls may additionally use other habitat types for 
foraging as well. The foraging habitat PCEs for the four ecological 
zones within the geographical range of the northern spotted owl are 
generally the following:
(a) West Cascades/Coast Ranges of Oregon and Washington
    (i) Stands of nesting and roosting habitat; additionally, owls may 
use younger forests with some structural characteristics (legacy 
features) of old forests, hardwood forest patches, and edges between 
old forest and hardwoods;
    (ii) Moderate to high canopy cover (60 to over 80 percent);
    (iii) A diversity of tree diameters and heights;
    (iv) Increasing density of trees greater than or equal to 31 in (80 
cm) dbh increases foraging habitat quality (especially above 12 trees 
per ac (30 trees per ha));
    (v) Increasing density of trees 20 to 31 in (51 to 80 cm) dbh 
increases foraging habitat quality (especially above 24 trees per ac 
(60 trees per ha));
    (vi) Increasing snag basal area, snag volume (the product of snag 
diameter, height, estimated top diameter, and including a taper 
function (North et al. 1999, p. 523)), and density of snags greater 
than 20 in (50 cm) dbh all contribute to increasing foraging habitat 
quality, especially above 4 snags per ac (10 snags per ha);
    (vii) Large accumulations of fallen trees and other woody debris on 
the ground; and
    (viii) Sufficient open space below the canopy for northern spotted 
owls to fly.
(b) East Cascades
    (i) Stands of nesting and roosting habitat;
    (ii) Stands composed of Douglas-fir and white fir/Douglas-fir mix;
    (iii) Mean tree size greater than 16.5 in (42 cm) quadratic mean 
diameter;
    (iv) Increasing density of large trees (greater than 26 in (66 cm)) 
and increasing basal area (the total area covered by trees measured at 
breast height) increases foraging habitat quality;
    (v) Large accumulations of fallen trees and other woody debris on 
the ground; and
    (vi) Sufficient open space below the canopy for northern spotted 
owls to fly.
(c) Klamath and Northern California Interior Coast Ranges
    (i) Stands of nesting and roosting habitat; in addition, other 
forest types with mature and old-forest characteristics;
    (ii) Presence of the conifer species, incense-cedar, sugar pine, 
Douglas-fir, and hardwood species such as bigleaf maple, black oak, 
live oaks, and madrone, as well as shrubs;
    (iii) Forest patches within riparian zones of low-order streams and 
edges between conifer and hardwood forest stands;
    (iv) Brushy openings and dense young stands or low-density forest 
patches within a mosaic of mature and older forest habitat;
    (v) High canopy cover (87 percent at frequently used sites);
    (vi) Multiple canopy layers;
    (vii) Mean stand diameter greater than 21 in (52.5 cm);
    (viii) Increasing mean stand diameter and densities of trees 
greater than 26 in (66 cm) increases foraging habitat quality;
    (ix) Large accumulations of fallen trees and other woody debris on 
the ground; and
    (x) Sufficient open space below the canopy for northern spotted 
owls to fly.
(d) Redwood Coast
    (i) Nesting and roosting habitat; in addition, stands composed of 
hardwood tree species, particularly tanoak;
    (ii) Early-seral habitats 6 to 20 years old with dense shrub and 
hardwood cover and abundant woody debris; these habitats produce prey, 
and must occur in conjunction with nesting, roosting, or foraging 
habitat;
    (iii) Increasing density of small-to-medium sized trees (10 to 22 
in (25 to 56 cm)) increases foraging habitat quality;
    (iv) Trees greater than 26 in (66 cm) in diameter or greater than 
41 years of age; and
    (v) Sufficient open space below the canopy for northern spotted 
owls to fly.
    (4) Habitat to support the transience and colonization phases of 
dispersal, which in all cases would optimally be composed of nesting, 
roosting, or foraging habitat (PCEs (2) or (3)), but which may also be 
composed of other forest types that occur between larger blocks of 
nesting, roosting, and foraging habitat. In cases where nesting, 
roosting, or foraging habitats are insufficient to provide for 
dispersing or nonbreeding owls, the specific dispersal habitat PCEs for 
the northern spotted owl may be provided by the following:
    (a) Habitat supporting the transience phase of dispersal, which 
includes:
    (i) Stands with adequate tree size and canopy cover to provide 
protection from avian predators and minimal foraging opportunities; in 
general this may include, but is not limited to, trees with at least 11 
in (28 cm) dbh and a minimum 40 percent canopy cover; and
    (ii) Younger and less diverse forest stands than foraging habitat, 
such as even-aged, pole-sized stands, if such stands contain some 
roosting structures and foraging habitat to allow for temporary resting 
and feeding during the transience phase.
    (b) Habitat supporting the colonization phase of dispersal, which 
is generally equivalent to nesting, roosting, and foraging habitat as 
described in PCEs (2) and (3), but may be smaller in area than that 
needed to support nesting pairs.
    This revised designation describes the physical or biological 
features and their primary constituent elements essential to support 
the life-history functions of the northern spotted owl. We have 
determined that all of the units and subunits designated in this rule 
were occupied by the northern spotted owl at the time of listing, and 
that (depending on the scale at which occupancy is considered) some 
smaller areas within the subunits may have been unoccupied at the time 
of listing. To address any uncertainty regarding occupancy, we have 
also evaluated all of the areas identified here as critical habitat 
under the standard of section 3(5)(a)(ii) of the Act, and determined 
that they are essential to the conservation of the species, as 
described in Criteria Used to Identify Critical Habitat, below. The 
criteria section also describes our evaluation of the configuration of 
the

[[Page 71908]]

physical or biological features on the landscape to determine where 
those features are essential to the conservation of the northern 
spotted owl. We have further determined that the physical or biological 
features essential to the conservation of the northern spotted owl 
require special management considerations or protection, as described 
below.
    In areas occupied at the time of listing, not all of the revised 
critical habitat will contain all of the PCEs, because not all life-
history functions require all of the PCEs. Some subunits contain all 
PCEs and support multiple life processes, while some subunits may 
contain only those PCEs necessary to support the species' particular 
use of that habitat. However, all of the areas occupied at the time of 
listing and designated as critical habitat support at least the first 
PCE described (forest-type), in conjunction with at least one other 
PCE. Thus PCE (1) must always occur in concert with at least one 
additional PCE (PCE 2, 3, or 4).
Special Management Considerations or Protection
    When designating critical habitat, we assess whether the specific 
areas within the geographical area occupied by the species at the time 
of listing contain features that are essential to the conservation of 
the species and which may require special management considerations or 
protection. The term critical habitat is defined in section 3(5)(A) of 
the Act, in part, as the specific areas within the geographical areas 
occupied by the species, at the time it is listed, on which are found 
those physical or biological features essential to the conservation of 
the species and ``which may require special management considerations 
or protection.'' Accordingly, in identifying critical habitat in areas 
occupied at the time of listing, we determine whether the features 
essential to the conservation of the species on those areas may require 
any special management actions or protection. Here we present a 
discussion of the special management considerations or protections that 
may be required throughout the critical habitat for the northern 
spotted owl. In addition, for the benefit of land managers, we provide 
management suggestions consistent with the recommendations of the 
Revised Recovery Plan for consideration.
    An effective critical habitat strategy needs to conserve extant, 
high-quality northern spotted owl habitat in order to reverse declining 
population trends and address the threat from barred owls. The northern 
spotted owl was initially listed as a threatened species due largely to 
both historical and ongoing habitat loss and degradation. The recovery 
of the northern spotted owl therefore requires both protection of 
habitat and management where necessary to provide sufficient high-
quality habitat to allow for population growth and to provide a buffer 
against threats such as competition with the barred owl. Recovery 
Criterion 3 in the Revised Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl 
(USFWS 2011) is the ``Continued Maintenance and Recruitment of Northern 
Spotted Owl Habitat,'' which is further described as the achievement of 
a stable or increasing trend in northern spotted owl nesting, roosting, 
and foraging habitat throughout the range of the species. Meeting this 
recovery criterion will require special management considerations or 
protection of the physical or biological features essential to the 
conservation of the northern spotted owl in all of the critical habitat 
units and subunits, as described here. Special management includes both 
passive and active management.
    The 2011 Revised Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl 
describes the three main threats to the northern spotted owl as 
competition from barred owls, past habitat loss, and current habitat 
loss (USFWS 2011, p. III-42). As the barred owl is present throughout 
the range of the northern spotted owl, special management 
considerations or protections may be required in all of the critical 
habitat units and subunits to ensure the northern spotted owl has 
sufficient habitat available to withstand competitive pressure from the 
barred owl (Dugger et al. 2011, pp. 2459, 2467). In particular, studies 
by Dugger et al. (2011, p. 2459) and Wiens (2012, entire) indicated 
that northern spotted owl demographic performance is better when 
additional high-quality habitat is available in areas where barred owls 
are present.
    Scientific peer reviewers of the 2011 Revised Recovery Plan for the 
Northern Spotted Owl (USFSW 2011, entire) and Forsman et al. (2011, p. 
77) recommended that we address currently observed downward demographic 
trends in northern spotted owl populations by protecting currently 
occupied sites, as well as historically occupied sites, and by 
maintaining and restoring older and more structurally complex 
multilayered conifer forests on all lands (USFWS 2011, pp. III-42 to 
III-43). The types of management or protections that may be required to 
achieve these goals and maintain the physical or biological features 
essential to the conservation of the owl in occupied areas vary across 
the range of the species. Some areas of northern spotted owl habitat, 
particularly in wetter forest types, are unlikely to be enhanced by 
active management activities, but instead need protection of the 
essential features; whereas other forest areas would likely benefit 
from more proactive forestry management. For example, in drier, more 
fire-prone regions of the owl's range, habitat conditions will likely 
be more dynamic, and more active management may be required to reduce 
the risk to the essential physical or biological features from fire, 
insects, disease, and climate change, as well as to promote 
regeneration following disturbance.
    While we recommend conservation of high-quality and occupied 
northern spotted owl habitat, long-term northern spotted owl recovery 
could benefit from forest management where the basic goals are to 
restore or maintain ecological processes and resilience, as discussed 
in detail in the Revised Recovery Plan (USFWS 2011, pp. III-11 to III-
39). Special management considerations or protections may be required 
throughout the critical habitat to achieve these goals and benefit the 
conservation of the owl. The natural ecological processes and landscape 
that once provided large areas of relatively contiguous northern 
spotted owl habitat (especially on the west side of the Cascade Range) 
have been altered by a history of anthropogenic activities, such as 
timber harvest, road construction, development, agricultural 
conversion, and fire suppression. The resilience of these systems is 
now additionally challenged by the effects of climate change. As 
recommended in the Revised Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl, 
active forest management may be required throughout the range of the 
owl with the goal of maintaining or restoring forest ecosystem 
structure, composition, and processes so they are sustainable and 
resilient under current and future climate conditions, to provide for 
the long-term conservation of the species (USFWS 2011, p. III-13). For 
example, in some areas, past management practices have decreased age-
class diversity and altered the structure of forest patches; in these 
areas, management, such as targeted vegetation treatments, could 
simultaneously reduce fuel loads and increase canopy and age-class 
diversity (Miller et al. 2009, p. 30; Stephens et al. 2009, p. 316-318; 
Stephens et al. 2012b, p. 554; Fontaine and Kennedy 2012, p. 1559; 
Chmura et al. 2011, p. 1134; USFWS 2011, p. III-18).
    In moist forests that are currently providing mature and late-
successional

[[Page 71909]]

forest that functions as habitat for northern spotted owls, active 
management is generally unnecessary to conserve older growth forests 
(Johnson and Franklin 2009, p. 3). Within younger, homogeneous stands, 
active management that retains larger and older trees but reduces 
density of smaller trees may be useful to accelerate development of 
within-stand structural diversity. Management insights, such as those 
provided by Aubry et al. (2009, entire), Johnson and Franklin (2009, 
entire), Johnson and Franklin (2012 entire), Kerr 2012, entire), and 
Spies et al. (2010, entire), provide examples of how such actions could 
occur in a manner consistent with northern spotted owl conservation in 
moist forests.
    In dry forest regions, where natural disturbance regimes and 
vegetation structure, composition, and distribution have been 
substantially altered since Euro-American settlement, vegetation and 
fuels management (through influencing fire behavior, severity, and 
distribution) may be required to retain and recruit northern spotted 
owl habitat on the landscape (Buchanan 2009, pp. 114-115; Healey et al. 
2008, pp. 1117-1118; Roloff et al. 2012, pp. 8-9; Ager et al. 2007, pp. 
53-55; Ager et al. 2012, pp. 279-282; Franklin et al. 2009, p. 46; 
Kennedy and Wimberly 2009, pp. 564-565), to conserve other biodiversity 
(Perry et al. 2011, p. 715), and to restore more natural vegetation and 
disturbance regimes and heterogeneity (e.g., Stephens et al. 2012b, pp. 
557-558). Special management considerations may be required to maintain 
adequate northern spotted owl habitat in the near term, not only to 
allow northern spotted owls to persist in the face of threats from 
barred owl expansion and habitat modifications from fire and other 
disturbances, but also to restore landscapes to a more resilient state 
in the face of alterations projected to occur with ongoing climate 
change (USFWS 2011, p. III-32).
    If land managers are actively managing forests, we recommend that 
these activities be focused on lower quality owl habitat (lower 
relative habitat sustainability (RHS)); that these activities focus on 
ecological restoration, or apply principles of ecological forestry; 
and, where possible, evaluate the effects of these treatments on 
northern spotted owls and other species of concern using an active 
adaptive forest management framework.
    We recognize that the only regulatory effect of the designation of 
critical habitat is that section 7(a)(2) of the Act applies, and that 
it does not require active management or mandate any specific type of 
management; it only requires that Federal agencies ensure that their 
actions are not likely to destroy or adversely modify critical habitat, 
as those terms are used in section 7. However, because the Act requires 
us to make a determination that the physical and biological features 
essential to conservation of the species may also need special 
management considerations or protection, we are taking this opportunity 
to describe, for consideration by land managers, specific management 
approaches and types of forest where land managers should consider 
applying them in order to maintain sufficient suitable habitat across 
the range of the owl. We have determined that the physical and 
biological features in habitat occupied by the species at the time it 
was listed, as represented by the primary constituent elements, may 
require special management considerations or protection as required by 
16 U.S.C. 1532(5)(A). However, nothing in this rule requires land 
managers to implement, or precludes land managers from implementing, 
special management or protection measures.
    Because these will vary geographically, here we provide a more 
detailed discussion of the types of management considerations or 
protections that may be required to preserve or enhance the essential 
physical or biological features for the northern spotted owl in the 
West Cascades/Coast Ranges of Oregon and Washington, East Cascades, 
Klamath and Northern California Interior Coast Ranges, and the Redwood 
Coast.
West Cascades/Coast Ranges of Oregon and Washington
    Special management considerations or protection may be required in 
areas of moist forests to conserve or protect older stands that contain 
the conditions to support northern spotted owl occupancy (RA10: USFWS 
2011, p. 43) or contain high-value northern spotted owl habitat (RA32: 
USFWS 2011, p. 67). Silvicultural treatments are generally not needed 
to maintain existing old-growth forests and high-quality habitat on 
moist sites (Wimberly et al. 2004, p. 155; Johnson and Franklin 2009, 
pp. 3, 39). In contrast to dry forests, short-term fire risk is 
generally lower in the moist forests that not only dominate on the west 
side of the Cascade Range, but also occur east of the Cascades as a 
higher-elevation band or as peninsulas or inclusions in mesic forests. 
Disturbance-based management for forests and northern spotted owls in 
moist forest areas should be different from that applied in dry 
forests. Efforts to alter either fuel loading or potential fire 
behavior in these sites could have undesirable ecological consequences 
as well (Johnson and Franklin 2009, p. 39; Mitchell et al. 2009, pp. 
653-654; USFWS 2011, p. III-17). Furthermore, commercial thinning has 
been shown to have negative consequences for northern spotted owls 
(Forsman et al. 1984, Meiman et al. 2003) and their prey (Waters et al. 
1994, Luoma et al. 2003, Wilson 2010). Active management may be more 
appropriate in younger plantations that are not currently on a 
trajectory to develop old-growth structure. These stands typically do 
not provide high-quality northern spotted owl habitat, although they 
may occasionally be used for foraging and dispersal.
    In general, to advance long-term northern spotted owl recovery and 
ecosystem restoration in moist forests in the face of climate change 
and past management practices, special management considerations or 
protections may be required that follow these principles as recommended 
in the 2011 Revised Recovery Plan (USFWS 2011, p. III-18):
    (1) Conserve older stands that contain the conditions to support 
northern spotted owl occupancy or high-value northern spotted owl 
habitat as described in Recovery Actions 10 and 32 (USFWS 2011, pp. 
III-43, III-67). On Federal lands this recommendation applies to all 
land-use allocations (see also Thomas et al. 2006, pp. 284-285).
    (2) Management emphasis needs to be placed on meeting northern 
spotted owl recovery goals and long-term ecosystem restoration and 
conservation. When there is a conflict between these goals, actions 
that would disturb or remove the essential physical or biological 
features of northern spotted owl critical habitat need to be minimized 
and reconciled with long-term ecosystem restoration goals.
    (3) Continue to manage for large, continuous blocks of late-
successional forest.
    (4) In areas that are not currently late-seral forest or high-value 
habitat and where more traditional forest management might be conducted 
(e.g. matrix), these activities should consider applying ecological 
forestry prescriptions. Some examples that could be utilized include 
Franklin et al. (2002, pp. 417-421; 2007, entire), Kerr (2012), Drever 
et al. (2006, entire), Johnson and Franklin (2009, pp. 39-41), Swanson 
et al. (2010, entire), and others cited in the Revised Recovery Plan 
for the Northern Spotted Owl (USFWS 2011, pp. III-14, III-17 to III-
19).

[[Page 71910]]

    These special management considerations or protections apply to 
Units 1, 2, 4, 5 and 6 of the revised critical habitat.
East Cascades
    Special management considerations or protection may be required in 
the East Cascades to address the effects of past activities associated 
with Euro-American settlement, such as timber harvest, livestock 
grazing, fire suppression, and fire exclusion, that have substantially 
altered the inland northwest, modifying the patterns of vegetation and 
fuels, and subsequent disturbance regimes to the degree that 
contemporary landscapes no longer function as they did historically 
(Hessburg et al. 2000a, pp. 74-81; Hessburg and Agee 2003, pp. 44-46; 
Hessburg et al. 2005, pp. 134-135; Skinner et al. 2006, pp. 178-179; 
Skinner and Taylor 2006, pp. 201-203; Miller et al. 2009, p. 30; 
Stephens et al. 2009, pp. 316-318; Stephens et al. 2012b, p. 554; 
Fontaine and Kennedy 2012, p. 1559; Chmura et al. 2011, p. 1134). This 
has affected not only the existing forest and disturbance regimes, but 
the quality, amount, and distribution of northern spotted owl habitat 
on the landscape (Buchanan 2009, pp. 114-115; Healey et al. 2008, pp. 
1117-1118; Roloff et al. 2012, pp. 8-9; Ager et al. 2007, pp. 53-55; 
Ager et al. 2012, pp. 279-282; Franklin et al. 2009, p. 46; Kennedy and 
Wimberly 2009, pp. 564-565). In order to preserve the essential 
physical or biological features, these dynamic, disturbance-prone 
forests should be managed in a way that promotes northern spotted owl 
conservation, responds to climate change, and restores dry forest 
ecological structure, composition and processes, including wildfire and 
other disturbances (USFWS 2011, p. III-20). The following restoration 
principles apply to the management that may be required in this dry 
forest region (USFWS 2011, pp. III-34 to III-35):
    (1) Conserve older stands that contain the conditions to support 
northern spotted owl occupancy or high-value northern spotted owl 
habitat as described in Recovery Actions 10 and 32 (USFWS 2011, pp. 
III-43, III-67). On Federal lands this recommendation applies to all 
land-use allocations (see also Thomas et al. 2006, pp. 284-285).
    (2) Emphasize vegetation management treatments outside of northern 
spotted owl territories or highly suitable habitat;
    (3) Design and implement restoration treatments at the landscape 
level;
    (4) Retain and restore key structural components, including large 
and old trees, large snags, and downed logs;
    (5) Retain and restore heterogeneity within stands;
    (6) Retain and restore heterogeneity among stands;
    (7) Manage roads to address fire risk; and
    (8) Consider vegetation management objectives when managing 
wildfires, where appropriate.
    The above principles will result in treatments that have a variety 
of effects on northern spotted owl habitat in the short and long term. 
For example, some restoration treatments may have an immediate neutral 
or beneficial effect on existing northern spotted owl habitat (e.g., 
roads management, some prescribed fire prescriptions). Other 
treatments, however, may involve reductions in stand densities, canopy 
cover, or ladder fuels (understory vegetation that has the potential to 
carry up into a crown fire)--and thus affect the physical or biological 
features needed by the species. At the stand scale, this can result in 
a level of conflict between conserving existing northern spotted owl 
habitat and restoring dry-forest ecosystems. Resolution of such 
conflicts can be enhanced by considering the range of forest conditions 
that comprise suitable owl habitat and tailoring management 
accordingly.
    Land managers should change from the practice of implementing many 
small, uncoordinated and independent fuel-reduction and restoration 
treatments. Instead, coordinated and strategic efforts that link 
individual projects to the larger objectives of restoring landscapes 
while conserving and recovering northern spotted owl habitat are needed 
(sensu Sisk et al. 2005, entire; Prather et al. 2008, entire; Gaines et 
al. 2010, entire). Some examples of this type of planning in the east 
Cascades that may be emulated or referenced include the Okanagon-
Wenatchee National Forest (USDA 2010, entire), The Nature Conservancy 
(Davis et al. 2012, entire), and the Deschutes National Forest (Smith 
et al. 2011, entire).
    The special management considerations or protections identified 
here apply to Units 7 and 8 of the revised critical habitat.
Klamath and Northern California Interior Coast Ranges
    The special management considerations or protections that may be 
required in the Klamath and Northern California Interior Coast Ranges 
represent a mix of the requirements needed to maintain or enhance the 
essential physical or biological features in mesic and dry forest 
types. This region in southwestern Oregon and northwestern California 
is characterized by very high climatic and vegetative diversity 
resulting from steep gradients of elevation, dissected topography, and 
large differences in moisture from west to east. Summer temperatures 
are high, and northern spotted owls occur at elevations up to 1,768 m 
(5,800 ft). Western portions of this zone support a diverse mix of 
mesic forest communities interspersed with drier forest types. Forests 
of mixed conifers and evergreen hardwoods are typical of the zone. 
Eastern portions of this zone have a Mediterranean climate with 
increased occurrence of ponderosa pine. Douglas-fir dwarf mistletoe is 
rarely used for nesting platforms in the west, but commonly used in the 
east. The prey base for northern spotted owls in this zone is 
correspondingly diverse, but is dominated by dusky-footed woodrats, 
bushy-tailed woodrats, and flying squirrels. Northern spotted owls have 
been well studied in the western portion of this zone (Forsman et al. 
2005, p. 219), but relatively little is known about northern spotted 
owl habitat use in the eastern portion and the California Interior 
Coast Range portion of the zone.
    High canopy cover, high levels of canopy layering, and the presence 
of very large dominant trees were all important features of nesting and 
roosting habitat. Compared to other zones, models of foraging habitat 
for this zone showed greater divergence from nesting habitat. Low to 
intermediate slope positions were strongly favored. In the eastern 
Klamath, presence of Douglas-fir was an important compositional 
variable. Habitat associations in the Klamath zone are diverse and 
unique, reflecting the climate, topography, and vegetation of this 
area. Nesting and roosting habitat somewhat resembles that of other 
zones, with a greater emphasis on topography that provides some relief 
from high temperatures while foraging habitat in this zone includes 
more open forests. Consequently, management actions consistent with 
maintaining and developing northern spotted owl habitat need to 
consider local conditions. In some areas, appropriate management will 
be more consistent with dry forest management strategies, while in 
other areas wet forest management strategies will be more appropriate.
    This region contains habitat characteristics of both moist and dry 
forests interspersed across a highly diverse landscape (Halofsky et al. 
2011, p. 1). The special management recommendations from the moist and 
dry forest sections, above, apply to the

[[Page 71911]]

management actions or protections that may be required in the Klamath 
and Northern California Interior Coast Ranges. Similar to the 
discussion in moist forests concerning conservation of small patches of 
early-seral habitat, Perry et al. (2011, p. 715) noted that replacement 
of early successional shrub-hardwood communities by closed forests in 
the absence of fire significantly impacts landscape diversity. 
Restoration of appropriate fire regimes and use of targeted 
silvicultural intervention may be effective where the goal is to 
restore or maintain this diversity (Halofsky et al. 2011, p. 15). An 
example of this type of planning in this area that may be emulated or 
referenced is the Ashland Forest Resiliency Project (USDA 2009, 
entire).
    The special management considerations or protections identified 
here apply to Units 9, 10, and 11 of the revised critical habitat.
Redwood Coast
    Special management considerations or protection may be needed in 
the Redwood Coast Zone to maintain or enhance the essential physical or 
biological features for the owl. Although the Redwood Coast zone of 
coastal northern California is considered part of the wet/moist forest 
region within the range of the northern spotted owl, there are distinct 
differences in northern spotted owl habitat use and diet within this 
zone. The long growing season in this region, combined with redwood's 
ability to resprout from stumps, allows redwood stands to attain 
suitable stand structure for nesting in a relatively short period of 
time (40-60 years) if legacy structures are present. Late-successional 
forest is an important component of nesting and roosting habitat in the 
Redwood Zone, and demographic productivity on northern spotted owl 
breeding sites has been positively correlated with the density of 
legacy trees in proximity to owl nest sites (Thome et al. 1999, p. 57). 
Forest management in this region should conserve older stands that 
contain the conditions to support northern spotted owl occupancy or 
high-value northern spotted owl habitat as described in Recovery 
Actions 10 and 32 (USFWS 2011, pp. III-43, III-67). On Federal lands 
this recommendation applies to all land-use allocations (see also 
Thomas et al. 2006, pp. 284-285). In this region, some degree of fine-
scale fragmentation in redwood forests appears to benefit northern 
spotted owls. Forest openings aged 5 to 20 years (e.g., harvest units 
or burns), with dense shrub and hardwood cover, and abundant food 
sources, can provide high-quality habitat for the northern spotted 
owl's primary prey, the dusky-footed woodrat. Woodrat populations 
within recent openings probably peak by about stand age 10. Food 
sources and understory cover decline steadily through about stand age 
20, when the woodrat population-source diminishes. In northern spotted 
owl territories within the Redwood Zone, active management that creates 
small openings in proximity to nesting, roosting, or foraging habitat 
may enhance northern spotted owl foraging opportunities.
    The special management considerations or protections identified 
here apply to Unit 3 of the revised critical habitat.
Summary of Special Management Considerations or Protection
    We find that each of the areas occupied at the time of listing that 
we are designating as critical habitat contains features essential to 
the conservation of the species that may require special management 
considerations or protection to ensure the conservation of the northern 
spotted owl. These special management considerations or protection may 
be required to preserve and enhance the essential features needed to 
achieve the conservation of the northern spotted owl. Additional 
information on management activities compatible with northern spotted 
owl conservation can be found within the Section 7 Consultation section 
of this preamble.

VII. Criteria Used To Identify Critical Habitat

    As required by section 4(b)(1)(A) of the Act, we use the best 
scientific and commercial data available to designate critical habitat. 
We have reviewed the available information pertaining to the habitat 
requirements of the species. In accordance with the Act and its 
implementing regulations at 50 CFR 424.12(e), based on this review, we 
have identified the specific areas within the geographical area 
occupied by the species at the time it was listed on which are found 
those physical or biological features essential to the conservation of 
the species, and which may require special management considerations or 
protection. In addition, we considered whether any additional areas 
outside those occupied at the time of listing are essential for the 
conservation of the species.

Occupied Areas

    For the purpose of developing and evaluating this revised critical 
habitat designation for the northern spotted owl, we identified 
``geographical area occupied by the species'' at the time it was listed 
consistent with the species' distribution, population ecology, and use 
of space. We based our identification of occupied geographical areas 
on: (1) The distribution of verified northern spotted owl locations at 
the time of listing and (2) scientific information regarding northern 
spotted owl population structure and habitat associations.
    We determined the geographical area occupied by the species at the 
time of listing based in part on a habitat suitability model 
incorporating the distribution of approximately 4,000 known northern 
spotted owl territories across the geographical range of the species 
(USFWS 2011, Appendix C). We used this model rather than just relying 
on surveyed sites at that time because large areas within the species' 
geographical range had not been surveyed; therefore the distribution of 
northern spotted owl populations was incompletely known at the time the 
species was listed, and remains so today. For this reason, designating 
critical habitat based solely on the locations of territories 
identified through surveys would exclude a substantial proportion of 
the area that would have been occupied by the species at the time of 
listing, and that provides the physical or biological features 
essential to the conservation of the species. To address this, we used 
our descriptions of the physical and biological features to develop a 
habitat suitability model that enabled us to map the distribution of 
relative habitat suitability and reliably identify areas that would 
have supported northern spotted owl territories at the time of listing, 
based on habitat value (USFWS 2011, Appendix C). Our habitat 
suitability model was based on GNN (Gradient Nearest Neighbor) 
vegetation data from 1996, and the locations of approximately 4,000 
known owl pairs documented within 3 years of the date of the GNN 
vegetation data (USFWS 2011, p. C-20). Because our evaluations of model 
performance demonstrated that the models had good predictive ability 
(USFWS 2011, Appendix C, p. C-38-42) we used the relative habitat 
suitability models to predict the distribution of areas that would have 
supported occupancy by spotted owls at the time of listing.
    Because the best available habitat and owl location data and 
information corresponded to 1996, we made an explicit assumption that 
the 1996-based habitat suitability model would reliably predict the 
distribution of spotted owls at the time of listing (1990). This 
assumption was based on: (1) Our

[[Page 71912]]

expectation that patterns of habitat selection by spotted owls would 
not change over a 6-year period; (2) the high degree of site fidelity 
exhibited by territorial spotted owls over many years; and (3) the fact 
that the amount and distribution of older forest habitat, which takes 
many decades to develop and is a primary component of northern spotted 
owl habitat, would not have increased significantly in the period 
between listing and 1996. Therefore, we concluded that the 1996 GNN 
layer is a reasonable representation of the habitat that would have 
been occupied by northern spotted owls at the time of listing.
    We tested this assumption by analyzing the relationship between our 
1996 habitat suitability map and the distribution of 3,723 spotted owl 
sites known to be occupied at the time of listing (1987-1996). This 
time period reasonably represents the time of listing because northern 
spotted owls are relatively long-lived and exhibit a high degree of 
fidelity to territory core areas; their territory locations are, 
therefore, relatively stable through time, unless substantial changes 
occur to territory habitat. For this reason, we consider it highly 
likely that locations occupied between 1987 and 1990, and 1990 and 1996 
were also occupied at the time of listing in 1990. We found that over 
85 percent of the proposed critical habitat area was within the 
estimated home ranges of known spotted owl sites, strongly supporting 
our assumption that the model reliably predicted areas were occupied at 
the time of listing.
    However, restricting a definition of occupancy to areas known to be 
used by resident territorial owls overlooks a large segment of the owl 
population that is not generally reflected in standard survey 
methodologies, as described below. Northern spotted owl populations 
consist of the territorial, resident owls, for which we have 
documentation of occupancy throughout much of the owl's range, 
described above, but also include nonterritorial adult ``floaters'' and 
dispersing subadult owls. Both dispersing subadults and nonterritorial 
floaters are consistently present on the landscape and require suitable 
habitat to support dispersal and survival until they recruit into the 
breeding population; this habitat requirement is in addition to that 
already utilized by resident territorial owls. Nonterritorial owls are 
difficult to detect in surveys because most surveys rely on territorial 
defense behavior of resident owls (responding to artificial owl calls) 
to determine their presence. Because they are difficult to detect, the 
number and distribution of nonterritorial and dispersing owls is poorly 
known for any given northern spotted owl population. However, they 
constitute essential elements of northern spotted owl populations, and 
can reliably be assumed to occur in suitable habitat within the same 
landscapes occupied by territorial owls. As stated, the great majority 
(85 percent) of the area within the identified critical habitat is 
covered by the home ranges of known owl territories at the time of 
listing. Because it is well established that dispersing subadults and 
non-territorial northern spotted owls regularly occupy high-quality 
habitat in the vicinity of other territorial northern spotted owls, and 
because our relative habitat suitability models exhibited high accuracy 
at predicting the probability of presence by owls, we conclude that 
these areas of high-quality habitat were occupied by the species at the 
time of listing.
    Therefore, based on the best available scientific information 
regarding population structure of northern spotted owls, ``occupied at 
the time of listing'' encompasses (1) home ranges of resident, 
territorial northern spotted owls known from surveys to be present at 
the time of listing, (2) home ranges of territorial owls that would 
have been present at the time of listing based on a model developed 
specifically to predict owl presence based on relative habitat 
suitability, and (3) areas used by nonterritorial and dispersing owls 
that were likely to be present within the matrix of territories in a 
given landscape known to be occupied by resident owl pairs.
    Having determined our working definition of the term ``occupied,'' 
in this instance, we then characterized ``specific areas'' as used in 
the definition of critical habitat in section 3(5)(A) of the Act, to 
conform with known patterns of space-use and distribution exhibited by 
northern spotted owls. Northern spotted owls are wide-ranging organisms 
that maintain large home ranges and disperse relatively long distances. 
Home ranges are used regularly by territorial owls for foraging, 
raising young, and other activities, and are actively defended by the 
resident pair year-round; as such, we consider these home ranges to be 
continually occupied by the species. Although much activity is centered 
on core areas within the home ranges, northern spotted owls are 
dependent upon the entirety of the home range for prey resources and 
use it on a regular basis throughout the year. As described earlier, 
territorial northern spotted owls cover home ranges from roughly 1,400 
ac (570 ha) at the southern end of their range (Zabel et al. 1995, p. 
436) up to over 14,000 ac (5,700 ha) (USDI 1992, p. 23; USFWS 1994 in 
litt., p. 1) in the northern portion of the species' range. These large 
home ranges may overlap with those of neighboring northern spotted 
owls, such that large landscapes may be fully occupied by population 
clusters in areas where suitable habitat is well distributed. Some 
demographic study areas still exhibit this pattern over large 
landscapes today, although overlapping home ranges were more the case 
when the northern spotted owl was first listed, prior to extensive 
colonization of the species' range by the barred owl.
    To conservatively evaluate the proportion of each subunit that was 
composed of areas known to be occupied by northern spotted owls at the 
time of listing, we calculated the area within estimated home ranges 
(USFWS 2011, p. C-63 Table C-24) for all verified northern spotted owl 
locations known at the time of listing, as described above. Overall, 85 
percent of the area designated is within estimated home ranges of 
verified territorial northern spotted owls located through surveys at 
the time of listing; this area is entirely representative of verified 
owl locations, and does not include habitat occupied based on habitat 
suitability or nonresident owls. Twenty-two (37 percent) of the 60 
subunits have at least 90 percent of their area within verified known 
home ranges; 41 (68 percent) have at least 70 percent. As explained 
above, given that these areas represent occupancy by verified resident 
owls only, and considering the suitable habitat available at the time 
of listing in these same landscapes, we conclude that the remainder of 
these areas was occupied by other resident owls that simply were not 
within surveyed areas, nonterritorial adult owls (floaters), or 
dispersing subadults.
    To help us identify and map potential critical habitat for the owl, 
we used a three-step modeling framework developed as part of the 
Revised Recovery Plan that integrates a northern spotted owl habitat 
model, a habitat conservation planning model, and a population 
simulation model. The details of this modeling framework are presented 
in Appendix C of the Revised Recovery Plan (USFWS 2011), and a detailed 
technical description of the modeling and habitat network evaluation 
process we used in this revised designation of critical habitat is 
provided in Dunk et al. (2012b, entire). Both of these supporting 
documents are available at http://www.regulations.gov (see ADDRESSES), 
or by contacting the

[[Page 71913]]

Oregon Fish and Wildlife Office (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT).
    The overall approach for critical habitat modeling consisted of 
three main steps (USFWS 2011, Appendix C, p. C-3) to help refine, 
select, and evaluate a series of alternative critical habitat networks 
for the northern spotted owl. Each of these steps helped us to identify 
a critical habitat network that meets the statutory definition of 
critical habitat, namely, the distribution of the physical or 
biological features needed by the species across its geographical range 
occupied at the time of listing, and the identification of a landscape 
configuration where these features, as well as any necessary unoccupied 
areas, are essential to the conservation of the species. These steps 
are summarized here, and then each is described in further detail.
    Step 1: At the outset, the attributes of forest composition and 
structure and characteristics of the physical environment associated 
with nesting, roosting, and foraging habitat--physical or biological 
features used by the species--were identified based on published 
research, input from individual experts, and analysis of northern 
spotted owl location and habitat data from nearly 4,000 known owl pairs 
(USFWS 2011, pp. C-20 to C-28). We then used these physical or 
biological features of nesting, roosting, and foraging habitats to 
create a rangewide map of relative habitat suitability using the model 
MaxEnt (Phillips et al. 2006, entire; Phillips and Dudik 2008, entire), 
based on the habitat selection exhibited by these known owl pairs. In 
addition to providing a map of relative habitat suitability, this 
process allowed us to evaluate an area's suitability and determine 
whether the presence of the species was likely based on an assessment 
of known species-habitat relationships.
    Step 2: We developed northern spotted owl habitat networks based on 
the relative habitat suitability map using the Zonation conservation 
planning model (Moilanen and Kujala 2008, entire). The Zonation model 
used a hierarchical prioritization of the landscape based on relative 
habitat suitability and other user-specified criteria (e.g., land 
ownership) to develop the most efficient solutions for incorporating 
high-value habitat. Zonation analyses were conducted separately for 
each region to ensure that reserves would be well-distributed across 
the range of the owl. Zonation also allowed for consideration of land 
ownership in development of reserve designs.
    Step 3: In the last step, we determined where the physical or 
biological features, as well as unoccupied areas, are essential to the 
conservation of the species. To do this we used a spatially explicit 
northern spotted owl population model (HexSim) (Schumaker 2008, entire) 
to predict relative responses of northern spotted owl populations to 
different habitat network designs, and evaluated these responses 
against the recovery objectives and criteria for the northern spotted 
owl using a rule set based on those criteria. Simulations from these 
models are not meant to be estimates of what will occur in the future, 
but rather provide information on trends predicted to occur under 
different network designs; this allowed us to compare the relative 
performance of various critical habitat scenarios.
    In Step 1 of the modeling framework, we used published research, 
input from individual experts, and analysis of northern spotted owl 
location and habitat data to develop models of relative habitat 
suitability for northern spotted owls. These relative habitat 
suitability models identify areas with habitat that provides the 
combination of variables (forest composition and structure, and abiotic 
factors such as elevation, precipitation, and temperature) with a high 
predictive probability of supporting northern spotted owls, based on 
data gathered from known owl sites. Based on the physical or biological 
features of nesting, roosting, and foraging habitats known to be 
utilized by resident owls, we used these models to identify areas 
containing those physical or biological features required by the owl, 
and to map their distribution across the range of the owl (USFWS 2011, 
pp. C-27 to C-42, C-62). Because the models are based in large part on 
data from nearly 4,000 owl sites (USFWS 2011, p. C-62), model outputs 
highlight surveyed and verified owl home ranges. However, they also 
identify areas with habitat that supported territorial and non-
territorial owls at the time of listing, based on habitat suitability, 
and areas that may have been unoccupied at the time of listing, but 
that may be essential for the conservation of the species based on 
their relative habitat suitability as well as the habitat 
characteristics needed for population growth or dispersal (see below). 
To ensure that the variety of physical or biological features used by 
northern spotted owls across their range is represented in the models, 
we applied separate habitat models for each of 11 ecological regions, 
based on differences in forest environments, northern spotted owl 
habitat use and prey distribution, and variation in ecological 
conditions (USFWS 2011, C-7 to C-13).
    In Step 2 of the modeling framework, we used a habitat conservation 
planning model (Zonation) (Moilanen et al. 2005, entire; Moilanen and 
Kujala 2008, entire) to develop a northern spotted owl conservation 
planning model. We used this in the critical habitat process to 
aggregate areas of greatest relative habitat suitability (areas 
occupied at the time of listing that provide the physical or biological 
features, or areas of habitat that may have been unoccupied at the time 
of listing, but have the potential to play an essential conservation 
role, for example, in providing connectivity between isolated 
populations) from Step 1 into discrete units. This process provided a 
series of maps representing a range of alternative critical habitat 
networks, each containing a different amount and distribution of 
northern spotted owl habitat quality (representing differing amounts 
and configurations of the primary constituent elements). The Zonation 
model seeks to provide the most efficient design (most habitat value on 
smallest land area) and allowed us to maximize reliance on public lands 
to provide what is essential to northern spotted owl conservation.
    In Step 3 of the modeling framework, we developed a northern 
spotted owl population simulation model that allowed us to simulate the 
relative population responses of northern spotted owls to various 
habitat conservation network scenarios (HexSim) (Schumaker 2011, 
entire). In developing this rule, we used this northern spotted owl 
population simulation model to compare alternative critical habitat 
networks and evaluate each design's ability to meet the recovery goals 
and criteria for the northern spotted owl (described further below, and 
in detail in Dunk et al. 2012b). This step of the process enabled us to 
determine the amount and configuration of physical or biological 
features on the landscape that are essential to the conservation of the 
owl, as well as to determine those unoccupied areas essential for the 
conservation of the species. By evaluating northern spotted owl 
population metrics, such as relative population size, population trend, 
and extinction risk that resulted from each scenario evaluated, we are 
designating the most efficient habitat network necessary to conserve 
the northern spotted owl (efficient, as noted above, in terms of 
balancing greatest conservation value for the owl in proportion to 
acres designated). This network has the potential to support an 
increasing or

[[Page 71914]]

stable population trend of northern spotted owls, exhibits relatively 
low extinction risk, both rangewide and at the recovery unit scale 
(recovery units, as identified in the Revised Recovery Plan for the 
Northern Spotted Owl, are defined by physiographic provinces (USFWS 
2011, pp. III-1 to III-2)), and achieves adequate connectivity among 
recovery units, while prioritizing reliance on public lands.
    We determined what is essential to recovery of the northern spotted 
owl by evaluating the performance of each potential critical habitat 
scenario considered against the recovery needs of the owl. In contrast 
with earlier conservation modeling efforts for the northern spotted 
owl, the modeling framework we utilized does not rely on a priori 
(predefined) rule sets for features such as size of habitat blocks, 
number of owl pairs per block, or distance between blocks (USFWS 2011, 
p. C-4) to determine what is essential for the conservation of the 
species. Instead, we evaluated northern spotted owl population metrics 
such as relative population size and trend to determine what is 
essential to owl conservation, both in terms of where and how much of 
the physical or biological features are essential and how much 
unoccupied habitat is essential to meet the recovery objectives for the 
owl, as defined in the Revised Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted 
Owl (USFWS 2011, p. ix) and detailed in our supporting documentation 
(Dunk et al. 2012b, entire).
    To accomplish this, we developed a rule set for the identification 
of critical habitat based on the ability of that habitat to meet the 
recovery objectives and criteria set forth in the Revised Recovery Plan 
for the Northern Spotted Owl (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The recovery 
objectives for the northern spotted owl are:
    (1) Northern spotted owl populations are sufficiently large and 
distributed such that the species no longer requires listing under the 
Act;
    (2) Adequate habitat is available for northern spotted owls and 
will continue to exist to allow the species to persist without the 
protection of the Act; and
    (3) The effects of threats have been reduced or eliminated such 
that northern spotted owl populations are stable or increasing and 
northern spotted owls are unlikely to become threatened again in the 
foreseeable future.

The recovery criteria for the northern spotted owl (aside from the 
requirement for post-delisting monitoring) are:

    Recovery Criterion 1--Stable Population Trend: The overall 
population trend of northern spotted owls throughout the range is 
stable or increasing over 10 years, as measured by a statistically 
reliable monitoring effort.
    Recovery Criterion 2--Adequate Population Distribution: Northern 
spotted owl subpopulations within each province (i.e., recovery unit), 
excluding the Willamette Valley Province, achieve viability, as 
informed by the HexSim population model or some other appropriate 
quantitative measure.
    Recovery Criterion 3--Continued Maintenance and Recruitment of 
Northern Spotted Owl Habitat: The future range-wide trend in northern 
spotted owl nesting/roosting and foraging habitat is stable or 
increasing throughout the range, from the date of Revised Recovery Plan 
approval, as measured by effectiveness monitoring efforts or other 
reliable habitat monitoring programs.
    We used the following rule set to compare and evaluate the 
potential of various habitat scenarios to meet these recovery 
objectives and criteria, and thus determine what is essential to the 
conservation of the northern spotted owl:
    (1) Ensure sufficient habitat to support population viability 
across the range of the species.
    (a) Habitat can support an increasing or stable population trend, 
as measured by a population growth rate of 1.0 or greater.
    (b) Habitat will be sufficient to insure a low risk of extinction.
    (2) Support demographically stable populations in each recovery 
unit.
    (a) Habitat can support an increasing or stable population trend in 
each recovery unit.
    (b) Habitat will be sufficient to insure a low risk of extinction 
in each recovery unit.
    (c) Conserve or enhance connectivity within and among recovery 
units.
    (d) Conserve genetic diversity.
    (e) Ensure sufficient spatial redundancy in critical habitat within 
each recovery unit.
    (i) Accommodate habitat disturbance due to fire, insects, disease, 
and catastrophic events.
    (3) Ensure distribution of northern spotted owl populations across 
representative habitats.
    (a) Maintain distribution across the full ecological gradient of 
the historical range.
    (4) Acknowledge uncertainty associated with both future habitat 
conditions and northern spotted owl population performance--including 
influence of barred owls, climate change, fire/disturbance risk, and 
demographic stochasticity--in assessment of critical habitat design.
    These critical habitat objectives of supporting population 
viability and demographically stable populations are intended to be met 
in concert with the implementation of recovery actions to address other 
nonhabitat-based threats to the owl.
    We applied this rule set to the outcome of HexSim modeling 
simulations on the various habitat scenarios considered (see Appendix C 
of the Revised Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl (USFWS 2011) 
and Dunk et al. 2012b, entire, for all details). Each HexSim simulation 
began with a population of 10,000 females (all population metrics are 
in numbers of females), consisted of 100 replicates and 350 time steps 
for each habitat scenario considered, and included the introduction of 
environmental stochasticity. We then evaluated the relative performance 
of each habitat scenario using numerous metrics to assess the ability 
of that scenario to meet the specified recovery goals for the northern 
spotted owl, as laid out in our rule set for identifying critical 
habitat; these metrics were evaluated at the scale of each region, as 
well as collectively rangewide. Our metrics of population performance 
resulting from each habitat scenario considered included:
     The percentage of simulations during which the rangewide 
population fell below 1,250 individuals.
     The percentage of simulations during which the rangewide 
population fell below 1,000 individuals.
     The percentage of simulations during which the rangewide 
population fell below 750 individuals.
     The percentage of simulations during which the population 
fell below 250 in each region (using 250 as a quasi-extinction 
threshold).
     The percentage of simulations during which the population 
fell below 100 in each region (using 100 as a quasi-extinction 
threshold).
     The percentage of simulations that went to extinction 
(population = 0) in each region.
     The mean population size from time step 150 to time step 
350 in each region.
     The mean population size at the last time step in each 
region.
     The mean population size at the last time step rangewide.
    Measures of extinction risk are used as an indirect measure of 
sufficient population abundance, as well as viability.
    These metrics were used to comparatively evaluate the ability of

[[Page 71915]]

each scenario under consideration to determine what is essential for 
the conservation of the species as informed by our rule set. We 
selected habitat scenarios for further evaluation if they outperformed 
the other scenarios under consideration in terms of being better able 
to meet the population abundance, viability, and trend criteria both 
across regions and rangewide. In all cases, we attempted to identify 
the most efficient (smallest) total area that would meet the population 
goals essential to recovery. Our final critical habitat designation is 
based on the habitat network that best met all of these criteria, and 
then was further refined, as described below.
    We also focused on public lands to the maximum extent possible (see 
Dunk et al. 2012b, entire, for specific details). In this step, we 
compared scenarios that did not discriminate between various land 
ownerships, and those that prioritized publicly owned lands. As Federal 
agencies have a mandate under section 7(a)(1) of the Act to utilize 
their authorities in furtherance of the purposes of the Act by carrying 
out programs for the conservation of listed species, we looked first to 
Federal lands for critical habitat. However, in some areas of limited 
Federal ownership, State and private lands may provide areas determined 
to be essential to the northern spotted owl by contributing to 
demographic support and connectivity to facilitate dispersal and 
colonization. In all cases, if the scenarios under consideration 
provided equal contribution to recovery, as measured by the population 
metrics described above, we chose the scenario that prioritized 
inclusion of federally owned lands. State and private lands were 
included only if they were necessary to achieve conservation of the 
species, and were determined to provide either occupied areas that 
support the PCEs or unoccupied areas essential for the conservation of 
the owl. We also considered Indian lands in our evaluations; if habitat 
scenarios performed equally well with or without Indian lands, we did 
not include them (see Indian Lands, below).
    To determine which of the numerous potential arrays of habitat we 
considered contained only those areas that are essential to the 
conservation of the northern spotted owl, we evaluated each of them 
according to the rule set and criteria detailed above. Briefly 
summarizing, all of the habitat networks we assessed contained varying 
amounts of the physical or biological features needed by the northern 
spotted owl in varying amounts and spatial arrangements across the 
range of the species. Our first consideration in determining which of 
these scenarios contained the physical or biological features in the 
quantity and configuration essential to the conservation of the species 
(i.e., the physical and biological features essential to the 
conservation of the species) was our evaluation of how well the network 
performed in terms of contributing toward the recovery criteria for the 
northern spotted owl; we used the recovery criteria as our standard for 
the conservation of the species.
    To ensure that we designated only what is essential to the species' 
conservation, our secondary consideration was efficiency. For our 
purposes, we evaluated efficiency both in terms of number of acres and 
landownership. Some of the networks we evaluated were smaller than this 
final designation, or did not include any State or private lands; 
however, such networks failed to meet the recovery criteria required to 
achieve the conservation of the species, and therefore could not be 
considered to provide the quantity and configuration of the physical or 
biological features essential to the conservation of the species. Other 
potential designations were significantly larger than this final 
designation and while they were also capable of meeting the recovery 
criteria, they did not provide proportionately greater conservation 
value relative to the additional area (as measured, for example, in 
relative projected numbers of owls). We concluded that such networks 
therefore included large areas of habitat that may contribute to 
recovery, but that are not necessary to achieve the recovery criteria 
for the northern spotted owl, therefore these superfluous areas could 
not be considered essential to the conservation of the species.
    Finally, our assessment of potential habitat networks, based not 
only on the population models but additionally refined by expert 
opinion, as described below, indicated that critical habitat limited to 
areas presently occupied by the northern spotted owl would not be 
sufficient to achieve the recovery criteria for the species, as such a 
designation would lead to inadequate population distribution and 
inadequate population connectivity (50 CFR 424.12(e)). Modeling led us 
to a similar conclusion regarding areas that were occupied at the time 
of listing; networks limited to such areas were not capable of meeting 
the recovery criteria for the species, and the models assisted us in 
identifying those additional specific areas of habitat unoccupied at 
the time of listing that are essential in terms of achieving the 
conservation of the species. Another element of an essential network 
was therefore the identification of sufficient areas of suitable 
habitat or potentially suitable habitat not presently occupied by the 
northern spotted owl, or that was not occupied at the time of listing, 
to achieve the conservation of the species, in conjunction with 
occupied habitat.
    Our final designation is the critical habitat network that includes 
the quantity and spatial configuration of habitat that meets the 
requirement that it contain occupied areas with the essential physical 
and biological features or unoccupied areas that are themselves 
essential for conservation of the species by achieving the recovery 
criteria for the northern spotted owl while avoiding the designation of 
areas of habitat that do not make an essential contribution to the 
conservation of the species. This essential habitat network is composed 
predominantly of areas occupied at the time of listing and that contain 
the essential physical or biological features, in conjunction with some 
areas that may have been unoccupied at the time of listing, to 
collectively comprise the habitat configuration and quantity that most 
efficiently meets the recovery criteria for the species. All areas in 
this final critical habitat designation, whether considered occupied at 
the time of listing or unoccupied at the time of listing, are therefore 
considered essential to the conservation of the species. The specific 
modeling outcomes and our evaluation of each potential critical habitat 
network are presented in detail in Dunk et al. 2012b.
    It is important to recognize that although the application of this 
modeling framework provided the foundation for identifying those areas 
that meet the definition of critical habitat for the northern spotted 
owl, the models do not simply produce a map of critical habitat. 
Working from the model results, we then further refined the model-based 
map units, after considering land ownership patterns, interagency 
coordination, and best professional judgment, with the objective of 
increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of the critical habitat 
designation, as well as making corrections based on ground truthing and 
local knowledge. The process generally consisted of modifying 
boundaries to better conform to existing administrative and landscape 
features, removing small areas of relatively lower-suitability habitat, 
and incorporating additional areas that may have been unoccupied at the 
time of listing, but were determined to be essential for population 
connectivity,

[[Page 71916]]

for population growth, or to accommodate maintenance of suitable 
habitat on the landscape for owls in the face of natural disturbance 
regimes (e.g., fire) or competition with the barred owl, while 
retaining the overall configuration of the model-based maps. In 
addition, as part of this refinement process, expert knowledge helped 
us to identify essential areas such as the unique oak woodland ecotype 
used by northern spotted owls at the southernmost extent of the 
species' range in Napa, Sonoma, and Marin Counties, California. We used 
the population simulation model to evaluate whether this revised 
critical habitat network continued to provide what is essential to the 
conservation of the northern spotted owl, and used this same process to 
evaluate changes made between the proposed and final rule (see Changes 
from Proposed Rule for details).

Summary of How We Determined Where Physical and Biological Features and 
Unoccupied Areas Are Essential to Conservation of the Species

    The decision of where the requisite physical and biological 
features and unoccupied areas are essential to the northern spotted owl 
was made by identifying those areas in the range of the owl that are 
necessary to achieving a relatively high likelihood of meeting the 
recovery objectives described in the Revised Recovery Plan (USFWS 2011, 
p. ix), while at the same time minimizing the inclusion of areas that 
are relatively less important or not necessary to spotted owl recovery. 
Striking this balance required by the Act--designating only those areas 
that contain the essential features or are themselves essential for 
conservation of the species and not unnecessarily designating the 
entire geographical area that is or can be occupied by the species--was 
accomplished using the best available information: a combination of 
scientific modeling, expert scientific opinion of agency biologists and 
peer reviewers, and careful consideration of public comment.
    We made sure that this final critical habitat designation includes 
only what is essential to the species' conservation by evaluating a 
variety of potential critical habitat networks and assessing their 
relative probability of meeting recovery objectives and, secondarily, 
their relative ``efficiency'' in meeting these objectives. The various 
scenarios were designed to bracket a variety of conditions and included 
different aggregations of total habitat area, landscape juxtaposition, 
and forest conditions. Some were smaller or larger in total size than 
this final designation, and some did or did not include Federal matrix 
lands, State lands, or private lands. The process of comparing 
alternative networks and population results is described in detail in 
the Modeling Supplement (Dunk et al. 2012b). When compared to other 
possible network scenarios, we conclude the final identification of 
critical habitat either contains essential physical and biological 
features or is otherwise essential because it has the highest 
likelihood of meeting recovery objectives in the most efficient manner 
for the following reasons.
    (1) It ensures that northern spotted owl populations are 
sufficiently large to exhibit low extinction risk at the rangewide 
scale. Under the final designation, modeled rangewide populations have 
less than a 10 percent probability of declining to fewer than 1,000 
females, and a 3 percent probability of declining to fewer than 750 
females. Modeled population size and extinction risk results for the 
designation are within the top 10 percent of all alternative networks, 
yet the designation is much smaller than other top-ranking 
alternatives.
    (2) It ensures that northern spotted owl populations are well-
distributed across the geographic range of the species by selecting a 
habitat network that supports population sizes with low extinction risk 
within each of 11 modeling regions. Modeling region-specific population 
sizes in the final designation are in the top 10 percent of all 
alternative networks.
    (3) It ensures that adequate amounts of current and future habitat 
is available for spotted owls to persist and recover by designating a 
habitat network consisting of approximately 50 percent of the available 
high-suitability spotted owl habitat rangewide. An additional 21 
percent of high-quality habitat is encompassed within Congressionally 
Reserved lands that are not designated, but will retain their value for 
spotted owls. This high-quality habitat, in addition to areas required 
for population connectivity, is necessary to support rangewide 
populations with low extinction risk at both rangewide and regional 
scales.
    (4) Compared to previous spotted owl conservation strategies, it 
provides increased redundancy in habitat to help buffer potential 
adverse impacts due to climate change and other stochastic (i.e., 
unpredictable) events by enlarging the total area of the final 
designation within the fire-prone portions of the northern spotted 
owl's range. This means that the final designation supports larger 
populations in some modeling regions than would be minimally required 
to achieve low extinction risk. Although it is impossible to predict 
with precision how much redundancy may be required to deal with future 
changes in forest conditions, this is essential to ameliorating the 
potential impacts of fire, insects, and forest disease on spotted owls.
    (5) The balancing of population objectives and parsimony resulted 
in a final designation that encompasses 50 percent of the total 
available high-suitability habitat rangewide and less than nine percent 
of low-quality habitat, and supported population size and extinction 
risk within the top 10 percent of all alternatives. Other larger 
alternatives had similar or slightly better population characteristics, 
but contained much larger proportions of lower-suitability habitat. The 
small amount of low-quality habitat contained in the final designation 
is essential because it provides for population growth and connectivity 
both within regional populations and between populations; however, we 
determined that additional lower-suitability habitat was not necessary 
to the conservation of the species.
    We considered but rejected potential critical habitat networks that 
provided less total area, that did not include Federal matrix lands, or 
that did not include some State or private lands where Federal lands 
were lacking, because these networks had a significantly lower 
likelihood of meeting recovery objectives as measured by demographic 
modeling results and expert scientific opinion. For example, modeled 
rangewide population sizes in this final designation were 1.7 times 
larger than under the proposed rule's Possible Outcome 4, which did not 
include any State or private lands, and nearly twice the size of 
populations under 2008 critical habitat. This larger population size is 
essential because it results in low extinction risk. Likewise, we 
considered but rejected several potential networks that included 
significantly more total area than the final designation. These 
potential networks had a high probability of meeting recovery 
objectives as measured by model results and expert opinion, but they 
did not confer much of a net increase in the likelihood of meeting 
recovery objectives beyond what is provided by the final designation. 
This lack of parsimony, combined with a lack of a proportional increase 
in measurable demographic performance, justified the rejection of these 
larger potential networks when compared to the final designation.

[[Page 71917]]

    This methodological approach was generally supported by the 
scientific peer reviewers. One peer reviewer felt the proposed critical 
habitat identified too much total area, and another peer reviewer felt 
that more land area should be included, but most peer reviewers felt 
the total area and the juxtaposition of land areas seemed reasonable 
and scientifically justified given the current status of the owl and 
the recovery objectives. Most of these experts also concluded that the 
use of the modeling process was justified for informing the final 
decision.
    In sum, we believe this final designation of critical habitat for 
the northern spotted owl meets the intent of the Act by identifying 
those areas containing essential features or are otherwise essential in 
a way that has a very high probability of providing for the 
conservation of the species, while minimizing the potential for 
unnecessarily including areas of low conservation value to the species.

Unoccupied Areas

    Based on the northern spotted owl's wide-ranging use of the 
landscape, and the distribution of known owl sites at the time of 
listing across the units and subunits designated as critical habitat in 
this rule, we find that all units and all subunits meet the Act's 
definition of being within the geographical area occupied by the 
species at the time of listing.
    As noted above in Occupied Areas, within the units and subunits 
designated as critical habitat, each consists predominantly of habitat 
occupied by the species at the time of listing. However, parts of most 
units and subunits contain a forested mosaic that includes younger 
forests that may not have been occupied at the time of listing; we 
evaluated such areas of younger forest as unoccupied at the time of 
listing. Unoccupied areas must meet the standard of section 3(5)(a)(ii) 
of the Act: They must be determined to be essential for the 
conservation of the species. In addition, there are some areas we have 
concluded were highly likely occupied at the time of listing, based on 
the presence of suitable habitat and our predictive models, but 
acknowledge there is some element of uncertainty to recognizing these 
areas as occupied under the statutory definition due to the lack of 
survey information. Therefore, we also evaluated all areas that we 
concluded were likely occupied but which lack survey information 
applying the standard of section 3(5)(A)(ii) of the Act, and have 
determined that all such areas included in this designation are 
essential for the conservation of the species. Finally, as noted 
earlier, as a result of our application of the modeling framework and 
refinement process described above, in which we evaluated various 
habitat scenarios to identify the network that is essential to the 
conservation of the species by providing the quantity and configuration 
of habitat essential for the conservation of the species, we have 
additionally determined that all areas identified here as critical 
habitat, whether occupied at the time of listing or unoccupied at the 
time of listing, are essential for the conservation of the species and 
therefore meet the definition of critical habitat under section 
3(5)(A)(ii) of the Act.
    Thus, even if not occupied at the time of listing, all units and 
subunits designated as critical habitat are essential for the 
conservation of the species because, in addition to nesting, roosting, 
foraging, and dispersal habitat, they provide connectivity between 
occupied areas, room for population growth, and the ability to provide 
sufficient suitable habitat on the landscape for owls in the face of 
natural disturbance regimes (e.g., fire).
    In general, northern spotted owls require large areas of habitat 
due to their expansive home range requirements and the need for 
connectivity between subpopulations to maintain genetic diversity and 
support stable, viable populations over the long term. The northern 
spotted owl was initially listed in large part due to past habitat loss 
and degradation. In addition, recent work has confirmed that northern 
spotted owls require additional areas of habitat to persist in the face 
of competition with barred owls (Dugger et al. 2011, p. 2467). Given 
the effects of past habitat loss and the increased habitat area needed 
to offset competition from the barred owl, our assessment indicates 
that large areas of contiguous areas of nesting, roosting, and foraging 
habitat are essential to sustaining viable northern spotted owl 
populations and meeting recovery goals.
    In addition, because past habitat loss and degradation was 
identified as a major threat to the northern spotted owl at the time of 
listing and because this threat currently continues, conservation and 
recovery of the species is dependent in part on development of 
additional habitat to allow for population growth and recovery. 
Therefore, portions of the habitat mosaic in some subunits designated 
as critical habitat within the geographical area occupied by the 
species at the time of listing consist of younger or partially 
harvested forest. These are essential for the conservation of the 
species because they are capable of developing the PCEs that support 
nesting, roosting, or foraging by northern spotted owls that will be 
necessary for population growth. Typically the result of past timber 
harvest or wildfire, these areas of younger forest contain the elements 
conducive to fully developing the physical or biological features 
essential to the conservation of the owl (they are of suitable 
elevation, climate, and forest community type). They may, however, be 
lacking some element of the physical or biological features, such as 
large trees or dense canopies that are associated with nesting habitat. 
In particular, of 60 subunits designated, 4 (NCO-4, NCO-5, and ORC-1) 
contain proportionally greater areas of younger forests that are 
essential for the conservation of the species, because they can develop 
additional habitat necessary to support viable northern spotted owl 
populations in the future. These subunits are located within 
Southwestern Washington and Oregon Coast Ranges Areas of Special 
Concern (Thomas et al. 1990, pp. 66-69), areas described as exhibiting 
a scarcity of suitable habitat due to extensive timber harvest. The 
recovery goal of achieving viable populations distributed across the 
range of the owl cannot be achieved without these areas; therefore, we 
have determined them to be essential for the conservation of the 
species.
    Finally, there are portions of two subunits that function primarily 
for connectivity between populations. Although portions of these 
subunits may not have been occupied at the time of listing, these areas 
contain the dispersal and foraging habitat to support movement between 
adjacent subunits and are therefore essential to provide population 
connectivity. Many of these areas are also anticipated to develop into 
habitat capable of supporting nesting pairs in the future. In 1990, the 
Interagency Scientific Committee (ISC) (Thomas et al. 1990, entire) 
identified ``Areas of Special Concern'' in the Draft Strategy for the 
Conservation of the Northern Spotted Owl. The ISC defined Areas of 
Special Concern as lands where past natural occurrences and human 
actions had adversely affected habitat more than in the remainder of 
the physiographic province under consideration (Thomas et al. 1990, p. 
66). Within the Areas of Special Concern described by the ISC (Thomas 
et al. 1990, pp. 66-69), we identified areas that were strategically 
located between subunits that would otherwise be demographically 
isolated. Of 60 subunits designated, two (ORC-4 and ECS-3) are 
identified as functioning

[[Page 71918]]

primarily for population connectivity with less than 70 percent of the 
subunit covered by survey-located owl sites.
    Our evaluation of the various habitat scenarios considered in the 
modeling process described above enabled us to determine the amount and 
configuration of habitat essential for the conservation of the owl, 
based on the relative ability of that habitat network to meet the 
recovery criteria of stable or increasing populations and adequate 
distribution of viable populations. Although this evaluation was 
primarily based on areas we know to have been occupied at the time of 
listing, our evaluation of the distribution and configuration of the 
physical and biological features essential to the conservation of the 
owl additionally identified areas that may not have been occupied at 
the time of listing, if those areas were essential to meeting the 
recovery goals for the species. We have determined these areas to be 
essential for the conservation of the species, to provide for dispersal 
and connectivity between currently occupied areas, allow space for 
population growth, and provide habitat replacement in the event of 
disturbances, such as wildfires and competition with barred owls. Our 
evaluation of alternative habitat networks, described above, indicates 
that the specific areas identified in this designation are necessary to 
achieve the amount and configuration of habitat that meets the recovery 
criteria for the species. Because these areas do so efficiently 
(without designating more areas than are needed, or designating areas 
that would not make a significant contribution to conservation value), 
we have determined that these areas are essential for the conservation 
of the species. As described above, we have determined that a critical 
habitat designation that does not include these areas, even if they may 
not be occupied, would be inadequate to ensure the conservation of the 
species. The resulting revised critical habitat represents the amount 
and spatial distribution of habitats that we have determined to be 
essential for the conservation of the northern spotted owl.
    This designation is an improvement over the previous designation in 
that it anticipates that in geographical regions with drier forests and 
more dynamic natural disturbance regimes, land managers will consider 
taking a landscape approach to managing critical habitat. This 
landscape approach would recognize that large areas are essential in 
these regions to accommodate disturbance-driven shifts in the physical 
or biological features essential for the conservation of the northern 
spotted owl, and that restorative management actions may be needed 
across these landscapes to help manage for resilience in such a dynamic 
ecosystem. These large landscapes, although essential to provide for 
the conservation of the northern spotted owl, do include within their 
boundaries several particular types of areas that are not included in 
critical habitat, because they cannot support northern spotted owl 
habitat. The following types of areas are not critical habitat for the 
northern spotted owl, and are not included in the revised designation:
     Meadows and grasslands. These include dry, upland prairies 
and savannas found in the valleys and foothills of western Washington, 
Oregon, and northwest California; subalpine meadows; and grass and forb 
dominated cliffs, bluffs and grass balds found throughout these same 
areas. Dominated by native grasses and diverse forbs, they may include 
a minor savanna component of Oregon white oak, Douglas-fir, or 
Ponderosa pine.
     Oak and aspen (Populus spp.) woodlands. Oak woodlands are 
characterized by an open canopy dominated by Oregon white oak but may 
also include ponderosa pine, California black oak, Douglas-fir, or 
canyon live oak. The understory is relatively open with shrubs, grasses 
and wildflowers. Oak woodlands are typically found in drier landscapes 
and on south-facing slopes. Note this exception for oak woodlands does 
not include tanoak (Notholithocarpus densiflorus) stands, closed-canopy 
live oak (Quercus agrifolia) woodlands and open-canopied valley oak 
(Quercus lobata) and mixed-oak woodlands in subunits ICC-6 and RDC-5 in 
Napa, Sonoma, and Marin Counties, California. Aspen woodlands are 
dominated by aspen trees with a forb, grass or shrub understory and are 
typically found on mountain slopes, rock outcrops and talus slopes, 
canyon walls, and some seeps and stream corridors. This forest type 
also can occur in riparian areas or in moist microsites within drier 
landscapes.
     Manmade structures (such as buildings, aqueducts, runways, 
roads, and other paved areas) and the land on which they are located.
    When determining critical habitat boundaries, we made every effort 
to avoid including these areas because they lack physical or biological 
features for the northern spotted owl. Due to the limitations of 
mapping at such fine scales, however, we were often not able to 
segregate these areas from areas shown as critical habitat on critical 
habitat maps suitable in scale for publication within the Code of 
Federal Regulations. Thus, we have included regulatory text clarifying 
that these areas are not included in the designation even if within the 
mapped boundaries of critical habitat, as a Federal action involving 
these lands would not trigger section 7 consultation with respect to 
effects to critical habitat unless the specific action would affect the 
physical or biological features in the adjacent critical habitat.

VIII. Final Critical Habitat Designation

    Consistent with the standards of the Act and our regulations we 
have identified 9,577,969 ac (3,876,064ha) in 11 units and 60 subunits 
as meeting the definition of critical habitat for the northern spotted 
owl. The 11 units we have identified as critical habitat are: (1) North 
Coast Olympics, (2) Oregon Coast Ranges, (3) Redwood Coast, (4) West 
Cascades North, (5) West Cascades Central, (6) West Cascades South, (7) 
East Cascades North, (8) East Cascades South, (9) Klamath West, (10) 
Klamath East, and (11) Interior California Coast Ranges. All of the 
critical habitat units and subunits identified were occupied at the 
time of listing; however, some units may include some smaller areas 
that were not known to be occupied at the time of listing but have been 
determined to be essential to the conservation of the species. In 
addition, as described above, we have determined that all areas being 
designated are essential to the conservation of the species. Land 
ownership of the designated critical habitat includes Federal and State 
lands. No tribal lands are included in the critical habitat 
designation. The approximate area of each critical habitat unit is 
shown in Table 6. Table 7 gives totals by land ownership.

[[Page 71919]]



                      Table 6--Revised Critical Habitat Units for the Northern Spotted Owl
                   [Area estimates reflect all land within critical habitat unit boundaries.]
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
             Critical habitat unit                       Land ownership                Acres         Hectares
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Unit 1--North Coast Olympics..................  Federal.........................         696,230         281,754
                                                State...........................         128,270          51,909
                                                                                 -------------------------------
                                                Total...........................         824,500         333,663
Unit 2--Oregon Coast Ranges...................  Federal.........................         788,919         319,264
                                                State...........................          70,945          28,711
                                                                                 -------------------------------
                                                Total...........................         859,864         347,975
Unit 3--Redwood Coast.........................  Federal.........................         111,258          45,025
                                                State...........................          48,912          19,794
                                                Local government................          20,684           8,371
                                                                                 -------------------------------
                                                Total...........................         180,855          73,189
Unit 4--West Cascades North...................  Federal.........................         541,476         219,127
                                                State...........................             798             323
                                                                                 -------------------------------
                                                Total...........................         542,274         219,450
Unit 5--West Cascades Central.................  Federal.........................         908,861         367,802
                                                State...........................             825             334
                                                                                 -------------------------------
                                                Total...........................         909,687         368,136
Unit 6--West Cascades South...................  Federal.........................       1,354,989         548,345
                                                State...........................             209              85
                                                                                 -------------------------------
                                                Total...........................       1,355,198         548,429
Unit 7--East Cascades North...................  Federal.........................       1,338,988         541,869
                                                State...........................           6,534           2,644
                                                                                 -------------------------------
                                                Total...........................       1,345,523         544,514
Unit 8--East Cascades South...................  Federal.........................         368,380         149,078
Unit 9--Klamath West..........................  Federal.........................       1,186,750         480,260
                                                State...........................          10,639           4,305
                                                                                 -------------------------------
                                                Total...........................       1,197,389         484,565
Unit 10--Klamath East.........................  Federal.........................       1,049,826         424,850
                                                State...........................           2,905           1,175
                                                                                 -------------------------------
                                                Total...........................       1,052,731         426,025
Unit 11--Inner California Coast Ranges........  Federal.........................         940,721         380,696
                                                State...........................             848             343
                                                                                 -------------------------------
                                                Total...........................         941,568         381,039
                                               -----------------------------------------------------------------
    Grand Total...............................  ................................       9,577,969       3,876,064
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Note: Area sizes may not sum due to rounding.


  Table 7--Revised Critical Habitat Units for the Northern Spotted Owl,
         Describing Area Included Under Different Landownerships
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                   Acres       Hectares
------------------------------------------------------------------------
USFS..........................................    7,957,787    3,220,399
BLM...........................................    1,328,612      537,670
NPS...........................................            0            0
State.........................................      270,886      109,624
Local Government..............................       20,684        8,371
Private.......................................            0            0
Other Federal (DOD)...........................            0            0
    Tribal....................................            0            0
                                               -------------------------
    Total.....................................    9,577,969    3,876,064
------------------------------------------------------------------------

    We present brief descriptions of all units and their subunits 
below. For each subunit, we describe the proportion of the area that is 
covered by verified northern spotted owl home ranges at the time of 
listing. As described above in the section Criteria Used to Identify 
Critical Habitat, all areas being designated that were occupied at the 
time of listing contain the physical or biological features essential 
to the conservation of the northern spotted owl, and which may require 
special management considerations or protection. In addition, there are 
smaller areas of suitable habitat within subunits that we considered 
likely occupied by nonterritorial owls and dispersing subadults, at the 
time of listing, as well as some smaller areas of younger forest within 
the larger habitat mosaic that may have been unoccupied at the time of 
listing. Due to some potential for uncertainty in these latter two 
categories of areas in terms of occupancy at the time of listing, we 
evaluated all such areas applying the standard under section 
3(5)(A)(ii) of the Act, and have determined that all such areas 
included in this designation are essential to the conservation of the 
species. In addition, as a result of our application of the modeling 
framework described earlier, we have determined that all areas 
identified here as critical habitat, whether occupied at the time of 
listing or unoccupied at the time of listing, are essential to the 
conservation of the species and therefore meet the definition of 
critical habitat under section 3(5)(A)(ii) of the Act. This applies to 
all units and subunits described below.

[[Page 71920]]

Unit 1: North Coast Ranges and Olympic Peninsula (NCO)

    Unit 1 consists of 824,500 ac (333,623 ha) and contains five 
subunits. This unit consists of the Oregon and Washington Coast Ranges 
Section M242A, based on section descriptions of forest types from 
Ecological Subregions of the United States (McNab and Avers 1994a, 
Section M242A). This region is characterized by high rainfall, cool to 
moderate temperatures, and generally low topography (1,470 to 2,460 ft 
(448 to 750 m)). High elevations and cold temperatures occur in the 
interior portions of the Olympic Peninsula, but northern spotted owls 
in this area are limited to the lower elevations (less than 2,950 ft 
(900 m)). Forests in the NCO are dominated by western hemlock, Sitka 
spruce, Douglas-fir, and western red cedar (Thuja plicata). Hardwoods 
are limited in species diversity (consist mostly of bigleaf maple and 
red alder (Alnus rubra)) and distribution within this region, and 
typically occur in riparian zones. Root pathogens like laminated root 
rot (Phellinus weirii) are important gap formers, and vine maple (Acer 
circinatum), among others, fills these gaps. Because Douglas-fir dwarf 
mistletoe is unusual in this region, northern spotted owl nesting 
habitat consists of stands providing very large trees with cavities or 
deformities. A few nests are associated with western hemlock dwarf 
mistletoe (Arceuthobium tsugense subsp. tsugense). Northern spotted owl 
diets are dominated by species associated with mature to late-
successional forests (flying squirrels, red tree voles), resulting in 
similar definitions of habitats used for nesting/roosting and foraging 
by northern spotted owls.
Subunit Descriptions: Unit 1
    NCO-1. The NCO-1 subunit consists of approximately 293,539 ac 
(118,791 ha) in Clallam, Jefferson, Grays Harbor, and Mason Counties, 
Washington, and comprises lands managed by U.S. Forest Service (USFS) 
and State of Washington. The USFS manages 230,966 ac (93,309 ha) as 
Late-successional Reserves to maintain functional, interactive, late-
successional and old-growth forest ecosystems and 62,966 ac (25,481 ha) 
under the adaptive management area land use allocation. Threats in this 
subunit include current and past timber harvest, competition with 
barred owls, and isolation on a peninsula (along with subunit NCO-2). 
This subunit is expected to function primarily for demographic support 
of the overall population. NCO-1 is located primarily in the watersheds 
of Lyre, Hoko, Soleduck, Hoh, Quinault, Queets, and Clearwater Rivers, 
and includes the northern part of the Lower Chehalis River watershed.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicates that approximately 94 percent of the area of NCO-1 was 
covered by verified northern spotted owl home ranges at the time of 
listing. When combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and 
occupancy by nonterritorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider 
this subunit to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In 
addition, there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the 
habitat mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of 
listing. We have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely 
occupied areas in this subunit are essential for the conservation of 
the species to meet the recovery criterion that calls for the continued 
maintenance and recruitment of northern spotted owl habitat (USFWS 
2011, p. ix). The increase and enhancement of northern spotted owl 
habitat is necessary to provide for viable populations of northern 
spotted owls over the long term by providing for population growth, 
successful dispersal, and buffering from competition with the barred 
owl.
    NCO-2. The NCO-2 subunit consists of approximately 213,633 ac 
(86,454 ha) in Kitsap, Clallam, Jefferson, Grays Harbor, and Mason 
Counties, Washington, and comprises lands managed by the USFS. The USFS 
manages 173,682 ac (70,287 ha) as Late-successional Reserves to 
maintain functional, interactive, late-successional and old-growth 
forest ecosystems and 39,083 ac (15,816 ha) under the adaptive 
management area land use allocation. Threats in this subunit include 
current and past timber harvest, competition with barred owls, and 
isolation on a peninsula (along with subunit NCO-1). This subunit is 
expected to function primarily for demographic support of the overall 
population. NCO-2 is located primarily in the watersheds of the Elwha, 
Dungeness, Quilcene, Snow, Skokomish, and Dosewallips rivers.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicate that approximately 95 percent of the area of this subunit was 
covered by verified northern spotted owl home ranges at the time of 
listing. When combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and 
occupancy by nonterritorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider 
this subunit to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In 
addition, there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the 
habitat mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of 
listing. We have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely 
occupied areas in this subunit are essential for the conservation of 
the species to meet the recovery criterion that calls for the continued 
maintenance and recruitment of northern spotted owl habitat (USFWS 
2011, p. ix). The increase and enhancement of northern spotted owl 
habitat is necessary to provide for viable populations of northern 
spotted owls over the long term by providing for population growth, 
successful dispersal, and buffering from competition with the barred 
owl.
    NCO-3. We exempted subunit NCO-3 from the final designation of 
critical habitat under Section 4(a)(3) of the Act (See Exemptions 
section below). This subunit is comprised approximately 14,313 ac 
(5,792 ha) of lands managed by the Department of Defense as part of 
Joint Base Lewis-McChord under their integrated natural resource 
management plan (INRMP).
    NCO-4. The NCO-4 subunit consists of approximately 179,745 ac 
(72,740 ha) in Clatsop, Columbia, Tillamook, and Washington Counties, 
Oregon, and comprises Federal lands and lands managed by the State of 
Oregon. Of this subunit, 117,033 ac (47,361 ha) are managed as part of 
the Tillamook and Clatsop State Forests for multiple uses including 
timber revenue production, recreation, and wildlife habitat according 
to the Northwest Oregon State Forest Management Plan (ODF 2010a, 
entire). Federal lands encompass 62,712 ac (25,379 ha) of this subunit 
and are managed as directed by the NWFP (USDA and USDI 1994, entire). 
Special management considerations or protection are required in this 
subunit to address threats from current and past timber harvest and 
competition with barred owls. This subunit is expected to function 
primarily for demographic support to the overall population. This 
subunit is isolated from the nearest subunit to the north but is 
adjacent to subunit NCO-5 to the south.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicate that approximately 63 percent of the area of NCO-4 was covered 
by verified northern spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. 
When combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and occupancy 
by nonterritorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider a large 
part of this subunit to have been occupied at the time of listing. 
There are some areas of younger forest in this subunit that may have 
been unoccupied at the time of listing. We have

[[Page 71921]]

determined that all of the unoccupied and likely occupied areas in this 
subunit are essential for the conservation of the species to meet the 
recovery criterion that calls for the continued maintenance and 
recruitment of northern spotted owl habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The 
increase and enhancement of northern spotted owl habitat in this 
subunit is especially important for providing for population growth and 
additional demographic support in this region. The development of 
additional suitable habitat in this subunit is needed to support viable 
northern spotted owl populations over the long term. The recruitment of 
additional suitable habitat will also contribute to the successful 
dispersal of northern spotted owls, and serve to buffer northern 
spotted owls from competition with the barred owl.
    NCO-5. The NCO-5 subunit consists of approximately 142,937 ac 
(57,845 ha) in Yamhill, Lincoln, Tillamook, and Polk Counties, Oregon, 
and comprises lands managed by the State of Oregon, the BLM, and the 
USFS. Of this subunit 11,067 ac (4,479 ha) are managed by the State of 
Oregon for multiple uses including timber revenue production, 
recreation, and wildlife habitat according to the Northwest Oregon 
State Forest Management Plan (ODF 2010a, entire), and may be considered 
for exclusion from the final critical habitat designation. Federal 
lands comprise 131,870 ac (53,666 ha) and are managed as directed by 
the NWFP (USDA and USDI 1994, entire). Special management 
considerations or protection are required in this subunit to address 
threats from current and past timber harvest and competition with 
barred owls. This subunit is expected to function primarily for 
demographic support to the overall population and north-south 
connectivity between subunits and critical habitat units.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicate that approximately 63 percent of the area of NCO-5 was covered 
by verified northern spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. 
When combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and occupancy 
by nonterritorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider a large 
part of this subunit to have been occupied at the time of listing. 
There are some areas of younger forest in this subunit that may have 
been unoccupied at the time of listing. We have determined that all of 
the unoccupied and likely occupied areas in this subunit are essential 
for the conservation of the species to meet the recovery criterion that 
calls for the continued maintenance and recruitment of northern spotted 
owl habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The increase and enhancement of 
northern spotted owl habitat in this subunit is especially important 
for providing for population growth and additional demographic support 
in this region. The development of additional suitable habitat in this 
subunit is needed to support viable northern spotted owl populations 
over the long term. The recruitment of additional suitable habitat will 
also contribute to the successful dispersal of northern spotted owls, 
and serve to buffer northern spotted owls from competition with the 
barred owl.

Unit 2: Oregon Coast Ranges (OCR)

    Unit 2 consists of 859,864 ac (347,975 ha) and contains six 
subunits. This unit consists of the southern third of the Oregon and 
Washington Coast Ranges Section M242A, based on section descriptions of 
forest types from Ecological Subregions of the United States (McNab and 
Avers 1994a, Section M242A). We split the section in the vicinity of 
Otter Rock, OR, based on gradients of increased temperature and 
decreased moisture that result in different patterns of vegetation to 
the south. Generally this region is characterized by high rainfall, 
cool to moderate temperatures, and generally low topography (980 to 
2,460 ft (300 to 750 m)). Forests in this region are dominated by 
western hemlock, Sitka spruce, and Douglas-fir; hardwoods are limited 
in species diversity (largely bigleaf maple and red alder) and 
distribution, and are typically limited to riparian zones. Douglas-fir 
and hardwood species associated with the California Floristic Province 
(tanoak, Pacific madrone, black oak, giant chinquapin (Castanopsis 
chrysophylla)) increase toward the southern end of the OCR. On the 
eastern side of the Coast Ranges crest, habitats tend to be drier and 
dominated by Douglas-fir. Root pathogens like laminated root rot are 
important gap formers, and vine maple among others fills these gaps. 
Because Douglas-fir dwarf mistletoe is unusual in this region, northern 
spotted owl nesting habitat tends to be limited to stands providing 
very large trees with cavities or deformities. A few nests are 
associated with western hemlock dwarf mistletoe. Northern spotted owl 
diets are dominated by species associated with mature to late-
successional forests (flying squirrels, red tree voles), resulting in 
similar definitions of habitats used for nesting/roosting and foraging 
by northern spotted owls. One significant difference between OCR and 
NCO is that woodrats comprise an increasing proportion of the diet in 
the southern portion of the modeling region.
Subunit Descriptions--Unit 2
    OCR-1. The OCR-1 subunit consists of approximately 110,657 ac 
(44,781 ha) in Polk, Benton and Lincoln Counties, Oregon, and comprises 
lands managed by the State of Oregon, the BLM, and the USFS. Of this 
subunit 6,612 ac (2,676 ha) are managed by the State of Oregon for 
multiple uses including timber revenue production, recreation, and 
wildlife habitat according to the Northwest Oregon State Forest 
Management Plan (ODF 2010a, entire). Federal lands comprise 104,045 ac 
(42,105 ha) and are managed as directed by the NWFP (USDA and USDI 
1994, entire). Special management considerations or protection are 
required in this subunit to address threats from current and past 
timber harvest and competition with barred owls. This subunit is 
expected to function primarily for demographic support to the overall 
population and north-south connectivity between subunits and critical 
habitat units.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicates that approximately 55 percent of the area of OCR-1 was 
covered by verified northern spotted owl home ranges at the time of 
listing. When combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and 
occupancy by nonterritorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider 
a large part of this subunit to have been occupied at the time of 
listing. There are some areas of younger forest in this subunit that 
may have been unoccupied at the time of listing. We have determined 
that all of the unoccupied and likely occupied areas in this subunit 
are essential for the conservation of the species to meet the recovery 
criterion that calls for the continued maintenance and recruitment of 
northern spotted owl habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The increase and 
enhancement of northern spotted owl habitat in this subunit is 
especially important for providing for population growth and additional 
demographic support in this region. The development of additional 
suitable habitat in this subunit is needed to support viable northern 
spotted owl populations over the long term. The recruitment of 
additional suitable habitat will also contribute to the successful 
dispersal of northern spotted owls, and serve to buffer northern 
spotted owls from competition with the barred owl.
    OCR-2. The OCR-2 subunit consists of approximately 261,405 ac 
(105,787 ha) in Lane, Benton, and Lincoln Counties, Oregon, and 
comprises lands

[[Page 71922]]

managed by the State of Oregon, the BLM, and the USFS. Of this subunit 
18,504 ac (7,448 ha) are managed by the State of Oregon for multiple 
uses including timber revenue production, recreation, and wildlife 
habitat according to the Northwest Oregon State Forest Management Plan 
(ODF 2010a, entire). Federal lands comprise 242,901 ac (98,298 ha) and 
are managed as directed by the NWFP (USDA and USDI 1994, entire). 
Special management considerations or protection are required in this 
subunit to address threats from current and past timber harvest and 
competition with barred owls. This subunit is expected to function 
primarily for demographic support to the overall population and north-
south connectivity between subunits.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicates that approximately 77 percent of the area of OCR-2 was 
covered by verified northern spotted owl home ranges at the time of 
listing. When combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and 
occupancy by nonterritorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider 
this subunit to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In 
addition, there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the 
habitat mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of 
listing. We have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely 
occupied areas in this subunit are essential for the conservation of 
the species to meet the recovery criterion that calls for the continued 
maintenance and recruitment of northern spotted owl habitat (USFWS 
2011, p. ix). The increase and enhancement of northern spotted owl 
habitat is necessary to provide for viable populations of northern 
spotted owls over the long term by providing for population growth, 
successful dispersal, and buffering from competition with the barred 
owl.
    OCR-3. The OCR-3 subunit consists of approximately 203,681 ac 
(82,427 ha) in Lane and Douglas Counties, Oregon, and comprises lands 
managed by the State of Oregon, the BLM, and the USFS. Of this subunit 
5,082 ac (2,07 ha) are managed by the State of Oregon for multiple uses 
including timber revenue production, recreation, and wildlife habitat 
according to the Northwest Oregon State Forest Management Plan (ODF 
2010a, entire). Federal lands comprise 198,599 ac (80,369 ha) and are 
managed as directed by the NWFP (USDA and USDI 1994, entire). Special 
management considerations or protection are required in this subunit to 
address threats from current and past timber harvest and competition 
with barred owls. This subunit is expected to function primarily for 
demographic support to the overall population and for both north-south 
and east-west connectivity between subunits.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicates that approximately 97 percent of the area of OCR-3 was 
covered by verified northern spotted owl home ranges at the time of 
listing. When combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and 
occupancy by nonterritorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider 
this subunit to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In 
addition, there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the 
habitat mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of 
listing. We have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely 
occupied areas in this subunit are essential for the conservation of 
the species to meet the recovery criterion that calls for the continued 
maintenance and recruitment of northern spotted owl habitat (USFWS 
2011, p. ix). The increase and enhancement of northern spotted owl 
habitat is necessary to provide for viable populations of northern 
spotted owls over the long term by providing for population growth, 
successful dispersal, and buffering from competition with the barred 
owl.
    OCR-4. The OCR-4 subunit consists of approximately 8,263 ac (3,344 
ha) in Lane and Douglas Counties, Oregon, and comprises lands managed 
by the BLM as directed by the NWFP (USDA and USDI 1994, entire). 
Special management considerations or protection are required in this 
subunit to address threats from current and past timber harvest and 
competition with barred owls. This subunit is expected to function 
primarily for east-west connectivity between subunits and critical 
habitat units, and between the Oregon coast and the western Cascades.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicates that approximately 43 percent of the area of OCR-4 was 
covered by verified northern spotted owl home ranges at the time of 
listing. When combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and 
occupancy by nonterritorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider 
a large part of this subunit to have been occupied at the time of 
listing. There are some areas of younger forest in this subunit that 
may have been unoccupied at the time of listing. We have determined 
that all of the unoccupied and likely occupied areas in this subunit 
are essential for the conservation of the species to meet the recovery 
criterion that calls for the continued maintenance and recruitment of 
northern spotted owl habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The increase and 
enhancement of northern spotted owl habitat in this subunit is 
especially important for providing essential connectivity between 
currently occupied areas to support the successful dispersal of 
northern spotted owls, and may also help to buffer northern spotted 
owls from competition with the barred owl.
    OCR-5. The OCR-5 subunit consists of approximately 176,905 ac 
(71,591ha) in Coos and Douglas Counties, Oregon, and comprises lands 
managed by the State of Oregon, the BLM, and the USFS. Of this subunit 
40,747 ac (16,490 ha) are managed by the State of Oregon for multiple 
uses including sustained economic benefit through timber harvest and 
management, recreation, and wildlife habitat according to the Elliot 
State Forest Management Plan (ODF 2011, entire). Federal lands comprise 
136,158 ac (55,101 ha) and are managed as directed by the NWFP (USDA 
and USDI 1994, entire). Special management considerations or protection 
are required in this subunit to address threats from current and past 
timber harvest and competition with barred owls. This subunit is 
expected to function primarily for demographic support to the overall 
population and for north-south, and potentially east-west, connectivity 
between subunits.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicates that approximately 94 percent of the area of OCR-5 was 
covered by verified northern spotted owl home ranges at the time of 
listing. When combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and 
occupancy by nonterritorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider 
this subunit to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In 
addition, there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the 
habitat mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of 
listing. We have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely 
occupied areas in this subunit are essential for the conservation of 
the species to meet the recovery criterion that calls for the continued 
maintenance and recruitment of northern spotted owl habitat (USFWS 
2011, p. ix). The increase and enhancement of northern spotted owl 
habitat is necessary to provide for viable populations of northern 
spotted owls over the long term by providing for population growth, 
successful dispersal, and buffering from competition with the barred 
owl.

[[Page 71923]]

    OCR-6. The OCR-6 subunit consists of approximately 81,900 ac 
(33,144 ha) in Coos and Douglas Counties, Oregon, and comprises lands 
managed by the BLM as directed by the NWFP (USDA and USDI 1994, 
entire). Special management considerations or protection are required 
in this subunit to address threats from current and past timber harvest 
and competition with barred owls. This subunit is expected to function 
primarily for demographic support to the overall population and for 
north-south connectivity between subunits and critical habitat units.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicates that approximately 97 percent of the area of OCR-6 was 
covered by verified northern spotted owl home ranges at the time of 
listing. When combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and 
occupancy by nonterritorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider 
this subunit to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In 
addition, there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the 
habitat mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of 
listing. We have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely 
occupied areas in this subunit are essential for the conservation of 
the species to meet the recovery criterion that calls for the continued 
maintenance and recruitment of northern spotted owl habitat (USFWS 
2011, p. ix). The increase and enhancement of northern spotted owl 
habitat is necessary to provide for viable populations of northern 
spotted owls over the long term by providing for population growth, 
successful dispersal, and buffering from competition with the barred 
owl.

Unit 3: Redwood Coast (RWC)

    Unit 3 contains 180,855ac (73,189ha) and three subunits. This unit 
consists of the Northern California Coast Ecological Section 263, based 
on section descriptions of forest types from Ecological Subregions of 
the United States (McNab and Avers 1994b, entire). This region is 
characterized by low-lying terrain (0 to 2,950 ft (0 to 900 m)) with a 
maritime climate, generally mesic conditions, and moderate 
temperatures. Climatic conditions are rarely limiting to northern 
spotted owls at all elevations. Forest communities are dominated by 
redwood, Douglas-fir-tanoak forest, coast live oak, and tanoak series. 
The vast majority of the region is in private ownership, dominated by a 
few large industrial timberland holdings. The results of numerous 
studies of northern spotted owl habitat relationships suggest stump-
sprouting and rapid growth rates of redwoods, combined with high 
availability of woodrats in patchy, intensively managed forests, 
enables northern spotted owls to maintain high densities in a wide 
range of habitat conditions within the Redwood zone.
Subunit Descriptions--Unit 3
    RDC-1. This subunit contains 63,127 ac (25,547 ha) of lands managed 
by the USFS and BLM in Curry County, Oregon and in Del Norte, Humboldt, 
and Trinity Counties, California. Special management considerations or 
protection are required in this subunit to address threats from the 
barred owl. Suitable habitat within the subunit is relatively 
contiguous north-to-south, and is capable of supporting a sustainable 
subpopulation of owls. We expect that this subunit will provide strong 
connectivity among the adjacent critical habitat units to the north 
(OCR) and east (KLW, ICC). The subunit is weakly connected to the 
adjacent subunit to the south (RDC-2).
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicates that approximately 78 percent of the area of RDC-1 was 
covered by verified northern spotted owl home ranges at the time of 
listing. When combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and 
occupancy by nonterritorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider 
this subunit to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In 
addition, there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the 
habitat mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of 
listing. We have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely 
occupied areas in this subunit are essential for the conservation of 
the species to meet the recovery criterion that calls for the continued 
maintenance and recruitment of northern spotted owl habitat (USFWS 
2011, p. ix). The increase and enhancement of northern spotted owl 
habitat is necessary to provide for viable populations of northern 
spotted owls over the long term by providing for population growth, 
successful dispersal, and buffering from competition with the barred 
owl.
    RDC-2. This subunit contains 65,391 ac (26,463 ha) in Mendocino and 
southwestern Humboldt Counties, California. There are 16,479 ac (6,669 
ha) of Federal lands in the subunit, managed by the Bureau of Land 
Management. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection 
operates the Jackson Demonstration State Forest (48,912 ac (19,794 ha)) 
for multiple uses including timber production, water quality, wildlife 
habitat, and research.
    Special management considerations or protection are required in 
this subunit to address threats from the barred owl. Suitable habitat 
within the subunit is relatively contiguous north-to-south, and is 
capable of supporting a sustainable subpopulation of owls. The subunit 
is weakly connected to the adjacent CHU to the east (ICC) and to the 
coastal subunit to the north (RDC-1); it is relatively well connected 
to the coastal subunit to the south (RDC-3).
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicates that approximately 85 percent of the area of RDC-2 was 
covered by verified northern spotted owl home ranges at the time of 
listing. When combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and 
occupancy by nonterritorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider 
this subunit to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In 
addition, there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the 
habitat mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of 
listing. We have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely 
occupied areas in this subunit are essential for the conservation of 
the species to meet the recovery criterion that calls for the continued 
maintenance and recruitment of northern spotted owl habitat (USFWS 
2011, p. ix). The increase and enhancement of northern spotted owl 
habitat is necessary to provide for viable populations of northern 
spotted owls over the long term by providing for population growth, 
successful dispersal, and buffering from competition with the barred 
owl.
    RDC-3. This subunit was comprised entirely of private lands, which 
have been excluded from the final rule.
    RDC-4. This subunit was comprised entirely of private lands, which 
have been excluded from the final rule.
    RDC-5. This subunit contains 20,684 ac (8,371 ha) in southern Marin 
County, California and represents the southern range limit of the 
subspecies. No private lands are contained in this subunit. The Mount 
Tamalpais Watershed (18,900 ac (7,649 ha)) of the Marin Municipal Water 
District is included in the final critical habitat designation. Six 
Open Space Preserves (OSPs) in the Marin County Parks and Open Space 
System, totaling 3,627 ac (1,468 ha), are included in the final 
critical habitat designation, including Gary Giacomini, White Hill, 
Cascade Canyon, Baltimore Canyon, Camino Alto, and Blithedale Summit 
OSPs. Special management considerations or protection are required in 
this subunit to address

[[Page 71924]]

incipient threats from the barred owl. Suitable habitat within the 
subunit is continuous from east to west. It is unknown whether this 
subunit is capable of supporting a self-sustaining subpopulation of 
owls without support from the subunit to the north (RDC-4). The lands 
between this subunit and the nearest subunit to the east (ICC-6) are 
dominated by agricultural and urban land use, and are very weakly 
connected.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicates that approximately 82 percent of the area of RDC-5 was 
covered by verified northern spotted owl home ranges at the time of 
listing. When combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and 
occupancy by nonterritorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider 
this subunit to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In 
addition, there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the 
habitat mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of 
listing. We have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely 
occupied areas in this subunit are essential for the conservation of 
the species to meet the recovery criterion that calls for the continued 
maintenance and recruitment of northern spotted owl habitat (USFWS 
2011, p. ix). The increase and enhancement of northern spotted owl 
habitat is necessary to provide for viable populations of northern 
spotted owls over the long term by providing for population growth, 
successful dispersal, and buffering from competition with the barred 
owl.

Unit 4: West Cascades North (WCN)

    This unit contains 542,274 ac (219,450 ha) and two subunits. This 
unit coincides with the northern Western Cascades Section M242B, based 
on section descriptions of forest types from Ecological Subregions of 
the United States (McNab and Avers 1994a, Section M242B), combined with 
the western portion of M242D (Northern Cascades Section), extending 
from the U.S.-Canadian border south to Snoqualmie Pass in central 
Washington. It is similar to the Northern Cascades Province of Franklin 
and Dyrness (1988, pp. 17-20). This region is characterized by high 
mountainous terrain with extensive areas of glaciers and snowfields at 
higher elevation. The marine climate brings high precipitation (both 
annual and summer) but is modified by high elevations and low 
temperatures over much of this modeling region. The resulting 
distribution of forest vegetation is dominated by subalpine species, 
mountain hemlock and silver fir; the western hemlock and Douglas-fir 
forests typically used by northern spotted owls are more limited to 
lower elevations and river valleys (northern spotted owls are rarely 
found at elevations greater than 4,200 ft (1,280 m) in this region) 
grading into the mesic Puget lowland to the west.
Subunit Descriptions--Unit 4
    WCN-1. The WCN-1 subunit consists of approximately 438,255 ac 
(177,355 ha) in Whatcom, Skagit, and Snohomish Counties, Washington, 
and comprises lands managed by the USFS and the State of Washington. 
The USFS manages 320,146 ac (129,559 ha) as Late-successional Reserves 
to maintain functional, interactive, late-successional, and old-growth 
forest ecosystems and 6,147 ac (2,487 ha) under the matrix land use 
allocation where multiple uses occur, including most timber harvest and 
other silvicultural activities. Threats in this subunit include current 
and past timber harvest, competition with barred owls, steep topography 
with high-elevation ridges that separate relatively small, linear 
strips of suitable habitat in valley bottoms, and location at the 
northern limit of the subspecies range. This subunit is expected to 
function primarily for demographic support of the overall population 
and to maintain the subspecies distribution in the northernmost portion 
of its range. WCN-1 is located in the watersheds of the Stillaguamish, 
Skagit, and Nooksack rivers, and is bounded on the north by the 
international boundary with British Columbia, Canada. In this subunit, 
we have excluded lands covered under the Washington Department of 
Natural Resources State Lands HCP.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicates that approximately 92 percent of the area of WCN-1 was 
covered by verified northern spotted owl home ranges at the time of 
listing. When combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and 
occupancy by nonterritorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider 
this subunit to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In 
addition, there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the 
habitat mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of 
listing. We have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely 
occupied areas in this subunit are essential for the conservation of 
the species to meet the recovery criterion that calls for the continued 
maintenance and recruitment of northern spotted owl habitat (USFWS 
2011, p. ix). The increase and enhancement of northern spotted owl 
habitat is necessary to provide for viable populations of northern 
spotted owls over the long term by providing for population growth, 
successful dispersal, and buffering from competition with the barred 
owl.
    WCN-2. The WCN-2 subunit consists of approximately 103,988 ac 
(42,083 ha) in King and Snohomish Counties, Washington, and comprises 
lands managed by the USFS, State of Washington, and private landowners. 
The USFS manages 82,316 ac (33,312 ha) as Late-successional Reserves to 
maintain functional, interactive, late-successional, and old-growth 
forest ecosystems and 834 ac (338 ha) under the matrix land use 
allocation where multiple uses occur, including most timber harvest and 
other silvicultural activities. Threats in this subunit include current 
and past timber harvest, competition with barred owls, and steep 
topography with high-elevation ridges that separate relatively small, 
linear strips of suitable habitat in valley bottoms. This subunit has a 
key role in maintaining connectivity between northern spotted owl 
populations, both north to south in the West Cascades and west to east 
between the West and East Cascades units. This role is shared with the 
WCC-1 subunit to the south and the ECN-4 subunit to the east. This 
subunit is also expected to provide demographic support of the overall 
population. WCN-2 is located in the watersheds of the Snohomish and 
Cedar/Sammamish Rivers. In this subunit, we have excluded lands covered 
under the Washington Department of Natural Resources State Lands HCP in 
the final designation.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicates that approximately 79 percent of the area of WCN-2 was 
covered by verified northern spotted owl home ranges at the time of 
listing. When combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and 
occupancy by nonterritorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider 
this subunit to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In 
addition, there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the 
habitat mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of 
listing. We have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely 
occupied areas in this subunit are essential for the conservation of 
the species to meet the recovery criterion that calls for the continued 
maintenance and recruitment of northern spotted owl habitat (USFWS 
2011, p. ix). The increase and enhancement of northern spotted owl 
habitat is necessary to provide for viable populations of northern 
spotted owls over the long

[[Page 71925]]

term by providing for population growth, successful dispersal, and 
buffering from competition with the barred owl.
Unit 5: West Cascades Central (WCC)
    This unit contains 909,687 ac (368,136 ha) and three subunits. This 
region consists of the midsection of the Western Cascades Section 
M242B, based on section descriptions of forest types from Ecological 
Subregions of the United States (McNab and Avers 1994a, Section M242B), 
extending from Snoqualmie Pass in central Washington south to the 
Columbia River. It is similar to the Southern Washington Cascades 
Province of Franklin and Dyrness (1988, pp. 21-23). We separated this 
region from the northern section based on differences in northern 
spotted owl habitat due to relatively milder temperatures, lower 
elevations, and greater proportion of western hemlock/Douglas-fir 
forest and occurrence of noble fir (A. procera) to the south of 
Snoqualmie Pass. Because Douglas-fir dwarf mistletoe occurs rarely in 
this region, northern spotted owl nest sites are largely limited to 
defects in large trees, and occasionally nests of other raptors.
Subunit Descriptions--Unit 5
    WCC-1. The WCC-1 subunit consists of approximately 225,847 ac 
(91,397 ha) in King, Pierce, Thurston, Lewis, Kittitas, and Yakima 
Counties, Washington, and comprises lands managed by USFS and State of 
Washington. The USFS manages 183,884 ac (76,843 ha) as Late-
successional Reserves to maintain functional, interactive, late-
successional, and old-growth forest ecosystems and 35,145 ac (14,222 
ha) under the matrix land use allocation where multiple uses occur, 
including most timber harvest and other silvicultural activities. 
Threats in this subunit include current and past timber harvest, 
competition with barred owls, and stand conversion. This subunit is 
expected to provide demographic support of the overall population and 
to maintain demographic connectivity between the Cascade Range and the 
Olympic Peninsula in conjunction with subunit NCO-3. WCC-1 is located 
primarily in the watersheds of the Nisqually, Puyallup, White, 
Duwamish, and Green Rivers. In this subunit, we have excluded lands 
from our final critical habitat designation that are covered under the 
Washington Department of Natural Resources State Lands HCP, the Cedar 
River Watershed HCP, the Plum Creek Timber Central Cascades HCP, the 
West Fork Timber HCP, the Tacoma Water Green River Water Supply 
Operations and Watershed Protection HCP as well as other private lands 
from the final designation.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicate that approximately 96 percent of the area of WCC-1 was covered 
by verified northern spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. 
When combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and occupancy 
by nonterritorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider this 
subunit to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In 
addition, there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the 
habitat mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of 
listing. We have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely 
occupied areas in this subunit are essential for the conservation of 
the species to meet the recovery criterion that calls for the continued 
maintenance and recruitment of northern spotted owl habitat (USFWS 
2011, p. ix). The increase and enhancement of northern spotted owl 
habitat is necessary to provide for viable populations of northern 
spotted owls over the long term by providing for population growth, 
successful dispersal, and buffering from competition with the barred 
owl.
    WCC-2. The WCC-2 subunit consists of approximately 279,445 ac 
(113,087 ha) in Pierce, Lewis, Cowlitz, Skamania, and Yakima Counties, 
Washington, and comprises lands managed by USFS, State of Washington, 
and private landowners. The USFS manages 92,835 ac (37,569 ha) as Late-
successional Reserves to maintain functional, interactive, late-
successional, and old-growth forest ecosystems and 88,655 ac (35,878 
ha) under the matrix land use allocation where multiple uses occur, 
including most timber harvest and other silvicultural activities. 
Threats in this subunit include current and past timber harvest and 
competition with barred owls. This subunit is expected to provide 
demographic support of the overall population. WCC-2 is located 
primarily in the Cowlitz River watersheds west of the Cascade Crest and 
the headwaters of the Naches River watershed east of the Crest. In this 
subunit, we have excluded lands covered under the Washington Department 
of Natural Resources State Lands HCP, the West Fork Timber HCP, and the 
Port Blakely Tree Farms L.P. (Morton Block) SHA, Landowner Option Plan, 
and Cooperative Habitat Enhancement Agreement in the final critical 
habitat designation.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicates that approximately 96 percent of the area of WCC-2 was 
covered by verified northern spotted owl home ranges at the time of 
listing. When combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and 
occupancy by nonterritorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider 
this subunit to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In 
addition, there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the 
habitat mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of 
listing. We have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely 
occupied areas in this subunit are essential for the conservation of 
the species to meet the recovery criterion that calls for the continued 
maintenance and recruitment of northern spotted owl habitat (USFWS 
2011, p. ix). The increase and enhancement of northern spotted owl 
habitat is necessary to provide for viable populations of northern 
spotted owls over the long term by providing for population growth, 
successful dispersal, and buffering from competition with the barred 
owl.
    WCC-3. The WCC-3 subunit consists of approximately 394,501 ac 
(159,649 ha) in Clark, Skamania, and Yakima Counties, Washington, and 
comprises lands managed by the USFS, the State of Washington, and 
private landowners. The USFS manages 242,929 ac (98,310 ha) as Late-
successional Reserves to maintain functional, interactive, late-
successional, and old-growth forest ecosystems and 122,641 ac (49,631 
ha) under the matrix land use allocation where multiple uses occur, 
including most timber harvest and other silvicultural activities. 
Threats in this subunit include current and past timber harvest, 
competition with barred owls, and the Columbia River as an impediment 
to northern spotted owl dispersal. This subunit is expected to provide 
demographic support of the overall population and an opportunity for 
demographic exchange between the WCC Unit and the WCS Unit. WCC-3 is 
located primarily in the watersheds of the Lewis, Wind, and White 
Salmon Rivers, and is bounded on the south by the Columbia River. In 
this subunit, we have excluded lands covered under the Washington 
Department of Natural Resources State Lands HCP from critical habitat 
designation.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicates that approximately 96 percent of the area of WCC-3 was 
covered by verified northern spotted owl home ranges at the time of 
listing. When combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and

[[Page 71926]]

occupancy by nonterritorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider 
this subunit to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In 
addition, there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the 
habitat mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of 
listing. We have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely 
occupied areas in this subunit are essential for the conservation of 
the species to meet the recovery criterion that calls for the continued 
maintenance and recruitment of northern spotted owl habitat (USFWS 
2011, p. ix). The increase and enhancement of northern spotted owl 
habitat is necessary to provide for viable populations of northern 
spotted owls over the long term by providing for population growth, 
successful dispersal, and buffering from competition with the barred 
owl.

Unit 6: West Cascades South (WCS)

    Unit 6 contains 1,355,198ac (548,429 ha) and contains six subunits. 
This unit consists of the southern portion of the Western Cascades 
Section M242B, based on section descriptions of forest types from 
Ecological Subregions of the United States (McNab and Avers 1994a, 
Section M242B), and extends from the Columbia River south to the North 
Umpqua River. We separated this region from the northern section due to 
its relatively milder temperatures, reduced summer precipitation due to 
the influence of the Willamette Valley to the west, lower elevations, 
and greater proportion of western hemlock/Douglas-fir forest. The 
southern portion of this region exhibits a gradient between Douglas-
fir/western hemlock and increasing Klamath-like vegetation (mixed 
conifer/evergreen hardwoods), which continues across the Umpqua divide 
area. The southern boundary of this region is novel and reflects a 
transition to mixed-conifer forest (Franklin and Dyrness 1988, pp. 23-
24, 137-143). The importance of Douglas-fir dwarf mistletoe increases 
to the south in this region, but most northern spotted owl nest sites 
are found in defective large trees, and occasionally nests of other 
raptors.
Subunit Descriptions--Unit 6
    WCS-1. The WCS-1 subunit consists of approximately 92,586 ac 
(37,468 ha) in Multnomah, Hood River, and Clackamas Counties, Oregon, 
and comprises only Federal lands managed by the BLM and the USFS under 
the NWFP (USDA and USDI 1994, entire). Special management 
considerations or protection are required in this subunit to address 
threats from current and past timber harvest and competition with 
barred owls. This subunit is expected to function primarily for 
demographic support to the overall population, as well as north-south 
and east-west connectivity between subunits and critical habitat units.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicates that approximately 88 percent of the area of WCS-1 was 
covered by verified northern spotted owl home ranges at the time of 
listing. When combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and 
occupancy by nonterritorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider 
this subunit to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In 
addition, there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the 
habitat mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of 
listing. We have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely 
occupied areas in this subunit are essential for the conservation of 
the species to meet the recovery criterion that calls for the continued 
maintenance and recruitment of northern spotted owl habitat (USFWS 
2011, p. ix). The increase and enhancement of northern spotted owl 
habitat is necessary to provide for viable populations of northern 
spotted owls over the long term by providing for population growth, 
successful dispersal, and buffering from competition with the barred 
owl.
    WCS-2. The WCS-2 subunit consists of approximately 150,105 ac 
(60,745 ha) in Clackamas, Marion, and Wasco Counties, Oregon, and 
comprises only Federal lands managed by the BLM and the USFS under the 
NWFP (USDA and USDI 1994, entire). Special management considerations or 
protection are required in this subunit to address threats from current 
and past timber harvest and competition with barred owls. This subunit 
is expected to function primarily for demographic support to the 
overall population, as well as north-south connectivity between 
subunits.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicates that approximately 82 percent of the area of WCS-2 was 
covered by verified northern spotted owl home ranges at the time of 
listing. When combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and 
occupancy by nonterritorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider 
this subunit to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In 
addition, there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the 
habitat mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of 
listing. We have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely 
occupied areas in this subunit are essential for the conservation of 
the species to meet the recovery criterion that calls for the continued 
maintenance and recruitment of northern spotted owl habitat (USFWS 2011 
p. ix). The increase and enhancement of northern spotted owl habitat is 
necessary to provide for viable populations of northern spotted owls 
over the long term by providing for population growth, successful 
dispersal, and buffering from competition with the barred owl.
    WCS-3. The WCS-3 subunit consists of approximately 319,736 ac 
(129,393 ha) in Clackamas, Marion, Linn, and Lane Counties, Oregon, and 
comprises lands managed by the State of Oregon, the BLM, and the USFS. 
Of this subunit, 184 ac (75 ha) are managed by the State of Oregon 
primarily for recreation (Oregon Administrative Rules, Chapter 736, 
entire). The remaining 319,552 ac (129,318 ha) are Federal lands 
managed as directed by the NWFP (USDA and USDI 1994, entire). Special 
management considerations or protection are required in this subunit to 
address threats from current and past timber harvest and competition 
with barred owls. This subunit is expected to function primarily for 
demographic support to the overall population, as well as north-south 
connectivity between subunits.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicates that approximately 85 percent of the area of WCS-3 was 
covered by verified northern spotted owl home ranges at the time of 
listing. When combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and 
occupancy by nonterritorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider 
this subunit to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In 
addition, there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the 
habitat mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of 
listing. We have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely 
occupied areas in this subunit are essential for the conservation of 
the species to meet the recovery criterion that calls for the continued 
maintenance and recruitment of northern spotted owl habitat (USFWS 
2011, p. ix). The increase and enhancement of northern spotted owl 
habitat is necessary to provide for viable populations of northern 
spotted owls over the long term by providing for population growth, 
successful dispersal, and buffering from competition with the barred 
owl.
    WCS-4. The WCS-4 subunit consists of approximately 379,130 ac 
(153,429 ha) in Lane and Douglas Counties,

[[Page 71927]]

Oregon, and comprises only Federal lands managed by the BLM and the 
USFS under the NWFP (USDA and USDI 1994, entire). Special management 
considerations or protection are required in this subunit to address 
threats from current and past timber harvest and competition with 
barred owls. This subunit is expected to function primarily for 
demographic support to the overall population, as well as north-south 
connectivity between subunits.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicates that approximately 86 percent of the area of WCS-4 was 
covered by verified northern spotted owl home ranges at the time of 
listing. When combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and 
occupancy by nonterritorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider 
this subunit to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In 
addition, there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the 
habitat mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of 
listing. We have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely 
occupied areas in this subunit are essential for the conservation of 
the species to meet the recovery criterion that calls for the continued 
maintenance and recruitment of northern spotted owl habitat (USFWS 
2011, p. ix). The increase and enhancement of northern spotted owl 
habitat is necessary to provide for viable populations of northern 
spotted owls over the long term by providing for population growth, 
successful dispersal, and buffering from competition with the barred 
owl.
    WCS-5. The WCS-5 subunit consists of approximately 356,415 ac 
(144,236 ha) in Lane and Douglas Counties, Oregon, and comprises only 
Federal lands managed by the USFS under the NWFP (USDA and USDI 1994, 
entire). Special management considerations or protection are required 
in this subunit to address threats from current and past timber harvest 
and competition with barred owls. This subunit is expected to function 
primarily for demographic support to the overall population, as well as 
north-south and east-west connectivity between subunits and critical 
habitat units.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicates that approximately 83 percent of the area of WCS-5 was 
covered by verified northern spotted owl home ranges at the time of 
listing. When combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and 
occupancy by nonterritorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider 
this subunit to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In 
addition, there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the 
habitat mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of 
listing. We have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely 
occupied areas in this subunit are essential for the conservation of 
the species to meet the recovery criterion that calls for the continued 
maintenance and recruitment of northern spotted owl habitat (USFWS 
2011, p. ix). The increase and enhancement of northern spotted owl 
habitat is necessary to provide for viable populations of northern 
spotted owls over the long term by providing for population growth, 
successful dispersal, and buffering from competition with the barred 
owl.
    WCS-6. The WCS-6 subunit consists of approximately 99,558 ac 
(40,290 ha) in Lane, Klamath, and Douglas Counties, Oregon, and is 
managed by the BLM and the USFS as directed by the NWFP (USDA and USDI 
1994, entire). Special management considerations or protection are 
required in this subunit to address threats from current and past 
timber harvest and competition with barred owls. This subunit is 
expected to function primarily for east-west connectivity between 
subunits and critical habitat units, and between the Oregon coast and 
the western Cascades.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicates that approximately 97 percent of the area of WCS-6 was 
covered by verified northern spotted owl home ranges at the time of 
listing. When combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and 
occupancy by nonterritorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider 
this subunit to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In 
addition, there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the 
habitat mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of 
listing. We have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely 
occupied areas in this subunit are essential for the conservation of 
the species to meet the recovery criterion that calls for the continued 
maintenance and recruitment of northern spotted owl habitat (USFWS 
2011, p. ix). The increase and enhancement of northern spotted owl 
habitat is necessary to provide for viable populations of northern 
spotted owls over the long term by providing for population growth, 
successful dispersal, and buffering from competition with the barred 
owl.

Unit 7: East Cascades North (ECN)

    Unit 7 contains 1,345,523ac (557,002 ha) and nine subunits. This 
unit consists of the eastern slopes of the Cascade range, extending 
from the Canadian border south to the Deschutes National Forest near 
Bend, OR. Terrain in portions of this region is glaciated and steeply 
dissected. This region is characterized by a continental climate (cold, 
snowy winters and dry summers). High-frequency, low-intensity fire 
regimes occur at lower elevations, mid elevations have mixed-severity 
regimes, and high elevations have high-severity regimes. Increased 
precipitation from marine air passing east through Snoqualmie Pass and 
the Columbia River has resulted in an increase of moist forest 
conditions in this region (Hessburg et al. 2000b, p. 165). In 
Washington, ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir forest are dominant at low 
elevations, Douglas-fir/grand fir mixed-conifer forest are 
characteristic of mid-elevations, and higher elevations support forests 
of silver fir, hemlock, and subalpine fir. The terrain is highly 
dissected and mountainous. The terrain and ecology are different on the 
southern portion of the unit, where ponderosa pine predominates on flat 
terrain at low elevations, and owl habitat is restricted to buttes and 
the slopes of the Cascade Range in forests of Douglas-fir, grand/white 
fir, and true firs. There is substantially less habitat in the 
Deschutes area of Oregon compared to the area north of Sisters, Oregon, 
and into Washington. The bulk of owls in this Unit are in Washington.
    Forest composition, particularly the presence of grand fir and 
western larch, distinguishes this modeling region from the southern 
section of the eastern Cascades. While ponderosa pine forest dominates 
lower and middle elevations in both this and the southern section, the 
northern section supports grand fir and Douglas-fir habitat at middle 
elevations. Dwarf mistletoe provides an important component of nesting 
habitat, enabling northern spotted owls to nest within stands of 
relatively younger and smaller trees.
Subunit Descriptions--Unit 7
    ECN-1. The ECN-1 subunit consists of approximately 101,661 ac 
(41,141 ha) in Whatcom, Skagit, and Okanogan Counties, Washington, and 
comprises lands managed by USFS. The USFS manages 60,173 ac (24,351 ha) 
as Late-successional Reserves to maintain functional, interactive, 
late-successional and old-growth forest ecosystems and 22,802 ac (9,228 
ha) under the matrix land use allocation where multiple uses

[[Page 71928]]

occur, including most timber harvest and other silvicultural 
activities. Threats in this subunit include current and past timber 
harvest; competition with barred owls; removal or modification of 
habitat by forest fires, insects, and diseases; steep topography with 
high-elevation ridges that separate relatively small, linear strips of 
suitable habitat in valley bottoms; and location at the northeastern 
limit of the range of the subspecies. This subunit is expected to 
provide demographic support of the overall population and maintain the 
subspecies distribution in the northeastern portion of its range. ECN-1 
is located primarily in the watershed of the Methow River and includes 
a small portion of the upper Skagit River watershed. It is bounded on 
the north by the international boundary with British Columbia, Canada.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicates that approximately 41 percent of the area of ECN-1 was 
covered by verified northern spotted owl home ranges at the time of 
listing. When combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and 
occupancy by nonterritorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider 
this subunit to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In 
addition, there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the 
habitat mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of 
listing. We have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely 
occupied areas in this subunit are essential for the conservation of 
the species to meet the recovery criterion that calls for the continued 
maintenance and recruitment of northern spotted owl habitat (USFWS 
2011, p. ix). The increase and enhancement of northern spotted owl 
habitat is necessary to provide for viable populations of northern 
spotted owls over the long term by providing for population growth, 
successful dispersal, and buffering from competition with the barred 
owl.
    ECN-2. The ECN-2 subunit consists of approximately 60,128 ac 
(24,333 ha) in Chelan County, Washington, and comprises lands managed 
by USFS. The USFS manages 35,835 ac (14,502 ha) as Late-successional 
Reserves to maintain functional, interactive, late-successional and 
old-growth forest ecosystems and 17,545 ac (7,100 ha) under the matrix 
land use allocation where multiple uses occur, including most timber 
harvest and other silvicultural activities. Threats in this subunit 
include current and past timber harvest; competition with barred owls; 
steep topography with high-elevation ridges that separate relatively 
small, linear strips of suitable habitat in valley bottoms; the 
combination of Lake Chelan and the Sawtooth Mountains acting as a 
barrier to dispersal; and removal or modification of habitat by forest 
fires, insects, and diseases. This subunit is expected to provide 
demographic support of the overall population. ECN-2 is located 
primarily in the watersheds of the Chelan and Entiat Rivers.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicates that approximately 34 percent of the area of ECN-2 was 
covered by verified northern spotted owl home ranges at the time of 
listing. When combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and 
occupancy by nonterritorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider 
this subunit to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In 
addition, there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the 
habitat mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of 
listing. We have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely 
occupied areas in this subunit are essential for the conservation of 
the species to meet the recovery criterion that calls for the continued 
maintenance and recruitment of northern spotted owl habitat (USFWS 
2011, p. ix). The increase and enhancement of northern spotted owl 
habitat is necessary to provide for viable populations of northern 
spotted owls over the long term by providing for population growth, 
successful dispersal, and buffering from competition with the barred 
owl.
    ECN-3. The ECN-3 subunit consists of approximately 301,219 ac 
(121,899 ha) in Chelan County, Washington, and comprises lands managed 
by the USFS and private landowners. The USFS manages 187,103 ac (75,718 
ha) as Late-successional Reserves to maintain functional, interactive, 
late-successional and old-growth forest ecosystems and 114,117 ac 
(46,181 ha) under the matrix land use allocation where multiple uses 
occur, including most timber harvest and other silvicultural 
activities. Threats in this subunit include current and past timber 
harvest, competition with barred owls, and removal or modification of 
habitat by forest fires, insects, and diseases. This subunit is 
expected to provide demographic support of the overall population. ECN-
3 is located primarily in the watershed of the Wenatchee River. In this 
subunit, we have excluded private lands and lands covered under the 
Washington Department of Natural Resources State Lands HCP.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicates that approximately 71 percent of the area of ECN-3 was 
covered by verified northern spotted owl home ranges at the time of 
listing. When combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and 
occupancy by nonterritorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider 
this subunit to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In 
addition, there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the 
habitat mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of 
listing. We have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely 
occupied areas in this subunit are essential for the conservation of 
the species to meet the recovery criterion that calls for the continued 
maintenance and recruitment of northern spotted owl habitat (USFWS 
2011, p. ix). The increase and enhancement of northern spotted owl 
habitat is necessary to provide for viable populations of northern 
spotted owls over the long term by providing for population growth, 
successful dispersal, and buffering from competition with the barred 
owl.
    ECN-4. The ECN-4 subunit consists of approximately 222,818 ac 
(90,171 ha) in Kittitas County, Washington, and comprises lands managed 
by the USFS and the State of Washington. The USFS manages 99,641 ac 
(40,323 ha) as Late-successional Reserves to maintain functional, 
interactive, late-successional, and old-growth forest ecosystems and 
118,676 ac (48,027 ha) under the matrix land use allocation where 
multiple uses occur, including most timber harvest and other 
silvicultural activities. The Washington Department of Fish and 
Wildlife manages 4,498 ac (1,820 ha). Threats in this subunit include 
current and past timber harvest, competition with barred owls, and 
removal or modification of habitat by forest fires, insects, and 
diseases. This subunit is expected to provide demographic support of 
the overall population. This subunit also has a key role in maintaining 
connectivity between northern spotted owl populations, both north to 
south in the East Cascades North Unit and west to east between the West 
and East Cascades units. This role is shared with the WCN-2 subunit and 
the WCC-1 subunit to the west. ECN-4 is located primarily in the Upper 
Yakima River watershed. In this subunit, we have excluded private lands 
and lands covered under the Washington Department of Natural Resources 
State Lands HCP and the Plum Creek Timber Central Cascades HCP.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicates that approximately 78 percent of the area of ECN-4 was 
covered by verified

[[Page 71929]]

northern spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. When combined 
with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and occupancy by 
nonterritorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider this subunit 
to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In addition, 
there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the habitat 
mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of listing. We 
have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely occupied areas in 
this subunit are essential for the conservation of the species to meet 
the recovery criterion that calls for the continued maintenance and 
recruitment of northern spotted owl habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The 
increase and enhancement of northern spotted owl habitat is necessary 
to provide for viable populations of northern spotted owls over the 
long term by providing for population growth, successful dispersal, and 
buffering from competition with the barred owl.
    ECN-5. The ECN-5 subunit consists of approximately 201,108 ac 
(81,415 ha) in Kittitas and Yakima Counties, Washington, and comprises 
lands managed by the USFS and the State of Washington. The USFS manages 
115,289 ac (46,656 ha) as Late-successional Reserves to maintain 
functional, interactive, late-successional, and old-growth forest 
ecosystems and 83,849 ac (33,933 ha) under the matrix land use 
allocation where multiple uses occur, including most timber harvest and 
other silvicultural activities. Threats in this subunit include current 
and past timber harvest, competition with barred owls, and removal or 
modification of habitat by forest fires, insects, and diseases. This 
subunit is expected to provide demographic support of the overall 
population. ECN-5 is located primarily in the watershed of the Naches 
River. In this subunit, we have excluded from final critical habitat 
designation lands covered under the Washington Department of Natural 
Resources State Lands HCP, the Plum Creek Timber Central Cascades HCP, 
and private lands.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicates that approximately 85 percent of the area of ECN-5 was 
covered by verified northern spotted owl home ranges at the time of 
listing. When combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and 
occupancy by nonterritorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider 
this subunit to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In 
addition, there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the 
habitat mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of 
listing. We have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely 
occupied areas in this subunit are essential for the conservation of 
the species to meet the recovery criterion that calls for the continued 
maintenance and recruitment of northern spotted owl habitat (USFWS 
2011, p. ix). The increase and enhancement of northern spotted owl 
habitat is necessary to provide for viable populations of northern 
spotted owls over the long term by providing for population growth, 
successful dispersal, and buffering from competition with the barred 
owl.
    ECN-6. The ECN-6 subunit consists of approximately 81,852 ac 
(33,124 ha) in Skamania, Yakima, and Klickitat Counties, Washington, 
and comprises lands managed by the USFS and the State of Washington. 
The USFS manages 32,400 ac (13,112 ha) as Late-successional Reserves to 
maintain functional, interactive, late-successional, and old-growth 
forest ecosystems; and 49,452 ac (20,012 ha) under the matrix land use 
allocation where multiple uses occur, including most timber harvest and 
other silvicultural activities. Threats in this subunit include current 
and past timber harvest, competition with barred owls, and the Columbia 
River as an impediment to northern spotted owl dispersal. This subunit 
is expected to provide demographic support of the overall population. 
ECN-6 is located primarily in the watersheds of the Klickitat and White 
Salmon Rivers, and is bounded on the south by the Columbia River. In 
this subunit, we have excluded lands covered under the Washington 
Department of Natural Resources State Lands HCP as well as private 
lands from the final designation.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicates that approximately 88 percent of the area of ECN-6 was 
covered by verified northern spotted owl home ranges at the time of 
listing. When combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and 
occupancy by nonterritorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider 
this subunit to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In 
addition, there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the 
habitat mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of 
listing. We have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely 
occupied areas in this subunit are essential for the conservation of 
the species to meet the recovery criterion that calls for the continued 
maintenance and recruitment of northern spotted owl habitat (USFWS 
2011, p. ix). The increase and enhancement of northern spotted owl 
habitat is necessary to provide for viable populations of northern 
spotted owls over the long term by providing for population growth, 
successful dispersal, and buffering from competition with the barred 
owl.
    ECN-7. The ECN-7 subunit consists of approximately 139,983 ac 
(56,649 ha) in Hood River and Wasco Counties, Oregon, and comprises 
only Federal lands managed by the USFS under the NWFP (USDA and USDI 
1994, entire). Special management considerations or protection are 
required in this subunit to address threats from current and past 
timber harvest, removal or modification of habitat by forest fires and 
the effects on vegetation from fire exclusion, and competition with 
barred owls. This subunit is expected to function primarily for 
demographic support to the overall population, as well as north-south 
and east-west connectivity between subunits and critical habitat units.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicates that nearly 100 percent of the area of ECN-7 was covered by 
verified northern spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. When 
combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and occupancy by 
nonterritorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider this subunit 
to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In addition, 
there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the habitat 
mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of listing. We 
have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely occupied areas in 
this subunit are essential for the conservation of the species to meet 
the recovery criterion that calls for the continued maintenance and 
recruitment of northern spotted owl habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The 
increase and enhancement of northern spotted owl habitat is necessary 
to provide for viable populations of northern spotted owls over the 
long term by providing for population growth, successful dispersal, and 
buffering from competition with the barred owl.
    ECN-8. The ECN-8 subunit consists of approximately 94,622 ac 
(38,292 ha) in Jefferson and Deschutes Counties, Oregon, of Federal 
lands managed by the USFS under the NWFP (USDA and USDI 1994, entire). 
Special management considerations or protection are required in this 
subunit to address threats from current and past timber harvest, losses 
due to wildfire and the effects on vegetation from fire exclusion, and 
competition with barred owls. This

[[Page 71930]]

subunit is expected to function primarily for demographic support to 
the overall population, as well as north-south connectivity between 
subunits.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicate that approximately 61 percent of the area of ECN-8 was covered 
by verified northern spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. 
When combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and occupancy 
by nonterritorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider this 
subunit to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In 
addition, there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the 
habitat mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of 
listing. We have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely 
occupied areas in this subunit are essential for the conservation of 
the species to meet the recovery criterion that calls for the continued 
maintenance and recruitment of northern spotted owl habitat (USFWS 
2011, p. ix). The increase and enhancement of northern spotted owl 
habitat is necessary to provide for viable populations of northern 
spotted owls over the long term by providing for population growth, 
successful dispersal, and buffering from competition with the barred 
owl.
    ECN-9. The ECN-9 subunit consists of approximately 155,434 ac 
(62,902 ha) in Deschutes and Klamath Counties, Oregon, and comprises 
only Federal lands managed by the USFS under the NWFP (USDA and USDI 
1994). Special management considerations or protection are required in 
this subunit to address threats from current and past timber harvest, 
losses due to wildfire and the effects on vegetation from fire 
exclusion, and competition with barred owls. This subunit is expected 
to function primarily for demographic support to the overall 
population, as well as north-south connectivity between subunits and 
critical habitat units.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicates that approximately 45 percent of the area of ECN-9 was 
covered by verified northern spotted owl home ranges at the time of 
listing. When combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and 
occupancy by nonterritorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider 
this subunit to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In 
addition, there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the 
habitat mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of 
listing. We have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely 
occupied areas in this subunit are essential for the conservation of 
the species to meet the recovery criterion that calls for the continued 
maintenance and recruitment of northern spotted owl habitat (USFWS 
2011, p. ix). The increase and enhancement of northern spotted owl 
habitat is necessary to provide for viable populations of northern 
spotted owls over the long term by providing for population growth, 
successful dispersal, and buffering from competition with the barred 
owl.

Unit 8: East Cascades South (ECS)

    Unit 8 contains 368,381 ac (149,078 ha) and three subunits. This 
unit incorporates the Southern Cascades Ecological Section M261D, based 
on section descriptions of forest types from Ecological Subregions of 
the United States (McNab and Avers 1994c, Section M261D) and the 
eastern slopes of the Cascades from the Crescent Ranger District of the 
Deschutes National Forest south to the Shasta area. Topography is 
gentler and less dissected than the glaciated northern section of the 
eastern Cascades. A large expanse of recent volcanic soils (pumice 
region) (Franklin and Dyrness 1988, pp. 25-26), large areas of 
lodgepole pine, and increasing presence of red fir (Abies magnifica) 
and white fir (and decreasing grand fir) along a south-trending 
gradient further supported separation of this region from the northern 
portion of the eastern Cascades. This region is characterized by a 
continental climate (cold, snowy winters and dry summers) and a high-
frequency/low-mixed severity fire regime. Ponderosa pine is a dominant 
forest type at mid-to-lower elevations, with a narrow band of Douglas-
fir and white fir at middle elevations providing the majority of 
northern spotted owl habitat. Dwarf mistletoe provides an important 
component of nesting habitat, enabling northern spotted owls to nest 
within stands of relatively younger, smaller trees.
Subunit Descriptions--Unit 8
    ECS-1. The ECS-1 subunit consists of approximately 127,801 ac 
(51,719 ha) in Klamath, Jackson, and Douglas Counties, Oregon, and 
comprises lands managed by the BLM and the USFS. Special management 
considerations or protection are required in this subunit to address 
threats to the essential physical or biological features from current 
and past timber harvest, losses due to wildfire and the effects on 
vegetation from fire exclusion, and competition with barred owls. This 
subunit is expected to function primarily for demographic support to 
the overall population, as well as north-south and east-west 
connectivity between subunits and critical habitat units. This subunit 
is adjacent to ECS-2 to the south.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicates that approximately 78 percent of the area of ECS-1 was 
covered by verified northern spotted owl home ranges at the time of 
listing. When combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and 
occupancy by nonterritorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider 
this subunit to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In 
addition, there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the 
habitat mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of 
listing. We have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely 
occupied areas in this subunit are essential for the conservation of 
the species to meet the recovery criterion that calls for the continued 
maintenance and recruitment of northern spotted owl habitat (USFWS 
2011, p. ix). The increase and enhancement of northern spotted owl 
habitat is necessary to provide for viable populations of northern 
spotted owls over the long term by providing for population growth, 
successful dispersal, and buffering from competition with the barred 
owl.
    ECS-2. The ECS-2 subunit consists of approximately 66,086 ac 
(26,744 ha) in Klamath and Jackson Counties, Oregon, and Siskiyou 
County, California, all of which are Federal lands managed by the BLM 
and USFS per the NWFP (USDA and USDI 1994, entire). Special management 
considerations or protection are required in this subunit to address 
threats to the essential physical or biological features from current 
and past timber harvest, losses due to wildfire and the effects on 
vegetation from fire exclusion, and competition with barred owls. This 
subunit is expected to function primarily for north-south connectivity 
between subunits, but also for demographic support in this area of 
sparse Federal land and sparse high-quality nesting habitat.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicates that approximately 77 percent of the area of ECS-2 was 
covered by verified northern spotted owl home ranges at the time of 
listing. When combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and 
occupancy by nonterritorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider 
this subunit to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In 
addition, there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the 
habitat mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the

[[Page 71931]]

time of listing. We have determined that all of the unoccupied and 
likely occupied areas in this subunit are essential for the 
conservation of the species to meet the recovery criterion that calls 
for the continued maintenance and recruitment of northern spotted owl 
habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The increase and enhancement of northern 
spotted owl habitat is necessary to provide for viable populations of 
northern spotted owls over the long term by providing for population 
growth, successful dispersal, and buffering from competition with the 
barred owl.
    ECS-3. The ECS-3 subunit consists of approximately 112,179 ac 
(45,397 ha) in Siskiyou County, California, all of which are Federal 
lands managed by the USFS per the NWFP (USDA and USDI 1994, entire). 
Special management considerations or protection are required in this 
subunit to address threats to the essential physical or biological 
features from current and past timber harvest, losses due to wildfire 
and the effects on vegetation from fire exclusion, and competition with 
barred owls. The function of this subunit is to provide demographic 
support in this area of sparsely distributed high-quality habitat and 
Federal land, and to provide for population connectivity between 
subunits to the north and south.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicates that approximately 69 percent of the area of ECS-3 was 
covered by verified northern spotted owl home ranges at the time of 
listing. When combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and 
occupancy by nonterritorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider 
a large part of this subunit to have been occupied at the time of 
listing. There are some areas of younger forest in this subunit that 
may have been unoccupied at the time of listing. We have determined 
that all of the unoccupied and likely occupied areas in this subunit 
are essential for the conservation of the species to meet the recovery 
criterion that calls for the continued maintenance and recruitment of 
northern spotted owl habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The increase and 
enhancement of northern spotted owl habitat in this subunit is 
especially important for providing essential connectivity between 
currently occupied areas to support the successful dispersal of 
northern spotted owls, and may also help to buffer northern spotted 
owls from competition with the barred owl.

Unit 9: Klamath West (KLW)

    Unit 9 contains 1,197,389 ac (484,565 ha) and nine subunits. This 
unit consists of the western portion of the Klamath Mountains 
Ecological Section M261A, based on section descriptions of forest types 
from Ecological Subregions of the United States (McNab and Avers 1994c, 
Section M261A). A long north-south trending system of mountains 
(particularly South Fork Mountain) creates a rainshadow effect that 
separates this region from more mesic conditions to the west. This 
region is characterized by very high climatic and vegetative diversity 
resulting from steep gradients of elevation, dissected topography, and 
the influence of marine air (relatively high potential precipitation). 
These conditions support a highly diverse mix of mesic forest 
communities such as Pacific Douglas-fir, Douglas-fir tanoak, and mixed 
evergreen forest interspersed with more xeric forest types. Overall, 
the distribution of tanoak is a dominant factor distinguishing the 
Western Klamath Region. Douglas-fir dwarf mistletoe is uncommon and 
seldom used for nesting platforms by northern spotted owls. The prey 
base of northern spotted owls within the Western Klamath is diverse, 
but dominated by woodrats and flying squirrels.
Subunit Descriptions--Unit 9
    KLW-1. The KLW-1 subunit consists of approximately 147,326 ac 
(59,621 ha) in Douglas, Josephine, Curry, and Coos Counties, Oregon, 
and comprises lands managed by the State of Oregon and the BLM. Of this 
subunit 7,682 ac (3,109 ha) are managed by the State of Oregon for 
multiple uses including timber revenue production, recreation, and 
wildlife habitat according to the Southwest Oregon State Forests 
Management Plan (ODF 2010b, entire). Federal lands comprise 139,644 ac 
(56,512 ha) and are managed as directed by the NWFP (USDA and USDI 
1994, entire). Special management considerations or protection are 
required in this subunit to address threats to the essential physical 
or biological features from current and past timber harvest, losses due 
to wildfire and the effects on vegetation from fire exclusion, and 
competition with barred owls. This subunit is expected to function for 
demographic support to the overall population and for north-south and 
east-west connectivity between subunits and critical habitat units. 
This subunit sits at the western edge of an important connectivity 
corridor between coastal Oregon and the western Cascades.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicates that approximately 96 percent of the area of KLW-1was covered 
by verified northern spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. 
When combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and occupancy 
by nonterritorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider this 
subunit to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In 
addition, there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the 
habitat mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of 
listing. We have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely 
occupied areas in this subunit are essential for the conservation of 
the species to meet the recovery criterion that calls for the continued 
maintenance and recruitment of northern spotted owl habitat (USFWS 
2011, p. ix). The increase and enhancement of northern spotted owl 
habitat is necessary to provide for viable populations of northern 
spotted owls over the long term by providing for population growth, 
successful dispersal, and buffering from competition with the barred 
owl.
    KLW-2. The KLW-2 subunit consists of approximately 148,929 ac 
(60,674 ha) in Josephine, Curry, and Coos Counties, Oregon, and 
comprises lands managed by the USFS and the BLM as directed by the NWFP 
(USDA and USDI 1994, entire). Special management considerations or 
protection are required in this subunit to address threats to the 
essential physical or biological features from current and past timber 
harvest, losses due to wildfire and the effects on vegetation from fire 
exclusion, and competition with barred owls. This subunit is expected 
to function for demographic support to the overall population and for 
north-south and east-west connectivity between subunits and critical 
habitat units.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicates that approximately 71 percent of the area of KLW-2 was 
covered by verified northern spotted owl home ranges at the time of 
listing. When combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and 
occupancy by nonterritorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider 
this subunit to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In 
addition, there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the 
habitat mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of 
listing. We have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely 
occupied areas in this subunit are essential for the conservation of 
the species to meet the recovery criterion that calls for the continued 
maintenance

[[Page 71932]]

and recruitment of northern spotted owl habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). 
The increase and enhancement of northern spotted owl habitat is 
necessary to provide for viable populations of northern spotted owls 
over the long term by providing for population growth, successful 
dispersal, and buffering from competition with the barred owl.
    KLW-3. The KLW-3 subunit consists of approximately 143,862 ac 
(58,219 ha) in Josephine, Curry, and Coos Counties, Oregon, and 
comprises lands managed by the USFS, the BLM and the State of Oregon. 
There are 142,982 ac (57,863 ha) of Federal lands managed as directed 
by the NWFP (USDA and USDI 1994, entire). The 880 ac (356 ha) of State 
of Oregon lands are managed according to the Southwest Oregon State 
Forests Management Plan (ODF 2010b, entire). Special management 
considerations or protection are required in this subunit to address 
threats from current and past timber harvest, losses due to wildfire 
and the effects on vegetation from fire exclusion, and competition with 
barred owls. This subunit is expected to function for demographic 
support to the overall population and for north-south connectivity 
between subunits and critical habitat units.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicates that approximately 88 percent of the area of KLW-3 was 
covered by verified northern spotted owl home ranges at the time of 
listing. When combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and 
occupancy by nonterritorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider 
this subunit to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In 
addition, there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the 
habitat mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of 
listing. We have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely 
occupied areas in this subunit are essential for the conservation of 
the species to meet the recovery criterion that calls for the continued 
maintenance and recruitment of northern spotted owl habitat (USFWS 
2011, p. ix). The increase and enhancement of northern spotted owl 
habitat is necessary to provide for viable populations of northern 
spotted owls over the long term by providing for population growth, 
successful dispersal, and buffering from competition with the barred 
owl.
    KLW-4. The KLW-4 subunit consists of approximately 158,299 ac 
(64,061 ha) in Josephine and Jackson Counties, Oregon, and Del Norte 
and Siskiyou Counties, California, and comprises lands managed by the 
USFS and the BLM that are managed as directed by the NWFP (USDA and 
USDI 1994, entire). Special management considerations or protection are 
required in this subunit to address threats to the essential physical 
or biological features from current and past timber harvest, losses due 
to wildfire and the effects on vegetation from fire exclusion, and 
competition with barred owls. This subunit is expected to function for 
demographic support to the overall population and for north-south and 
east-west connectivity between subunits and critical habitat units.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicates that approximately 95 percent of the area of KLW-4 was 
covered by verified northern spotted owl home ranges at the time of 
listing. When combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and 
occupancy by nonterritorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider 
this subunit to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In 
addition, there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the 
habitat mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of 
listing. We have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely 
occupied areas in this subunit are essential for the conservation of 
the species to meet the recovery criterion that calls for the continued 
maintenance and recruitment of northern spotted owl habitat (USFWS 
2011, p. ix). The increase and enhancement of northern spotted owl 
habitat is necessary to provide for viable populations of northern 
spotted owls over the long term by providing for population growth, 
successful dispersal, and buffering from competition with the barred 
owl.
    KLW-5. The KLW-5 subunit consists of approximately 31,085 ac 
(12,580 ha) in Josephine County, Oregon, and Del Norte and Siskiyou 
Counties, California, all of which are Federal lands managed by the BLM 
and USFS per the NWFP (USDA and USDI 1994, entire). Special management 
considerations or protection are required in this subunit to address 
threats to the essential physical or biological features from current 
and past timber harvest, losses due to wildfire and the effects on 
vegetation from fire exclusion, and competition with barred owls. This 
subunit is expected to function for demographic support.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicates that approximately 98 percent of the area of KLW-5 was 
covered by verified northern spotted owl home ranges at the time of 
listing. When combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and 
occupancy by nonterritorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider 
this subunit to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In 
addition, there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the 
habitat mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of 
listing. We have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely 
occupied areas in this subunit are essential for the conservation of 
the species to meet the recovery criterion that calls for the continued 
maintenance and recruitment of northern spotted owl habitat (USFWS 
2011, p. ix). The increase and enhancement of northern spotted owl 
habitat is necessary to provide for viable populations of northern 
spotted owls over the long term by providing for population growth, 
successful dispersal, and buffering from competition with the barred 
owl.
    KLW-6. The KLW-6 subunit consists of approximately 117,545 ac 
(47,569 ha) in Del Norte, Humboldt, and Siskiyou Counties, California, 
all of which are Federal lands managed by the USFS as directed by the 
NWFP (USDA and USDI 1994, entire). Special management considerations or 
protection are required in this subunit to address threats to the 
essential physical or biological features from current and past timber 
harvest, losses due to wildfire and the effects on vegetation from fire 
exclusion, and competition with barred owls. This subunit is expected 
to function for demographic support.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicates that approximately 91 percent of the area of KLW-6 was 
covered by verified northern spotted owl home ranges at the time of 
listing. When combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and 
occupancy by nonterritorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider 
this subunit to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In 
addition, there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the 
habitat mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of 
listing. We have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely 
occupied areas in this subunit are essential for the conservation of 
the species to meet the recovery criterion that calls for the continued 
maintenance and recruitment of northern spotted owl habitat (USFWS 
2011, p. ix). The increase and enhancement of northern spotted owl 
habitat is necessary to provide for viable populations of northern 
spotted owls over the long term by providing for population growth, 
successful dispersal, and

[[Page 71933]]

buffering from competition with the barred owl.
    KLW-7. The KLW-7 subunit consists of approximately 255,779 ac 
(103,510 ha) in Del Norte, Humboldt, and Siskiyou Counties, California, 
all of which are Federal lands managed by the BLM and USFS as directed 
by the NWFP (USDA and USDI 1994, entire). Special management 
considerations or protection are required in this subunit to address 
threats to the essential or physical features from current and past 
timber harvest, losses due to wildfire and the effects on vegetation 
from fire exclusion, and competition with barred owls. This subunit is 
expected to function for demographic support.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicates that approximately 91 percent of the area of KLW-7 was 
covered by verified northern spotted owl home ranges at the time of 
listing. When combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and 
occupancy by nonterritorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider 
this subunit to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In 
addition, there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the 
habitat mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of 
listing. We have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely 
occupied areas in this subunit are essential for the conservation of 
the species to meet the recovery criterion that calls for the continued 
maintenance and recruitment of northern spotted owl habitat (USFWS 
2011, p. ix). The increase and enhancement of northern spotted owl 
habitat is necessary to provide for viable populations of northern 
spotted owls over the long term by providing for population growth, 
successful dispersal, and buffering from competition with the barred 
owl.
    KLW-8. The KLW-8 subunit consists of approximately 114,287 ac 
(46,250 ha) in Siskiyou and Trinity Counties, California, all of which 
are Federal lands managed by the BLM and USFS as directed by the NWFP 
(USDA and USDI 1994, entire). Special management considerations or 
protection are required in this subunit to address threats to the 
essential physical or biological features from current and past timber 
harvest, losses due to wildfire and the effects on vegetation from fire 
exclusion, and competition with barred owls. This subunit is expected 
to function for demographic support.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicates that approximately 85 percent of the area of KLW-8 was 
covered by verified northern spotted owl home ranges at the time of 
listing. When combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and 
occupancy by nonterritorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider 
this subunit to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In 
addition, there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the 
habitat mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of 
listing. We have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely 
occupied areas in this subunit are essential for the conservation of 
the species to meet the recovery criterion that calls for the continued 
maintenance and recruitment of northern spotted owl habitat (USFWS 
2011, p. ix). The increase and enhancement of northern spotted owl 
habitat is necessary to provide for viable populations of northern 
spotted owls over the long term by providing for population growth, 
successful dispersal, and buffering from competition with the barred 
owl.
    KLW-9. The KLW-9 subunit consists of approximately 149,656 ac 
(60,564 ha) in Humboldt and Trinity Counties, California, all of which 
are Federal lands managed by the USFS as directed by the NWFP (USDA and 
USDI 1994, entire). Special management considerations or protection are 
required in this subunit to address threats to the essential physical 
or biological features from current and past timber harvest, losses due 
to wildfire and the effects on vegetation from fire exclusion, and 
competition with barred owls. This subunit is expected to function for 
demographic support.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicates that approximately 89 percent of the area of KLW-9 was 
covered by verified northern spotted owl home ranges at the time of 
listing. When combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and 
occupancy by nonterritorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider 
this subunit to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In 
addition, there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the 
habitat mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of 
listing. We have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely 
occupied areas in this subunit are essential for the conservation of 
the species to meet the recovery criterion that calls for the continued 
maintenance and recruitment of northern spotted owl habitat (USFWS 
2011, p. ix). The increase and enhancement of northern spotted owl 
habitat is necessary to provide for viable populations of northern 
spotted owls over the long term by providing for population growth, 
successful dispersal, and buffering from competition with the barred 
owl.

Unit 10: Klamath East (KLE)

    Unit 10 contains 1,052,731ac (426,025ha) and seven subunits. This 
unit consists of the eastern portion of the Klamath Mountains 
Ecological Section M261A, based on section descriptions of forest types 
from Ecological Subregions of the United States (McNab and Avers 1994c, 
Section M261A), and portions of the Southern Cascades Ecological 
Section M261D in Oregon. This region is characterized by a 
Mediterranean climate, greatly reduced influence of marine air, and 
steep, dissected terrain. Franklin and Dyrness (1988, pp. 137-149) 
differentiate the mixed-conifer forest occurring on the ``Cascade side 
of the Klamath from the more mesic mixed evergreen forests on the 
western portion (Siskiyou Mountains),'' and Kuchler (1977) separates 
out the eastern Klamath based on increased occurrence of ponderosa 
pine. The mixed-conifer/evergreen hardwood forest types typical of the 
Klamath region extend into the southern Cascades in the vicinity of 
Roseburg and the North Umpqua River, where they grade into the western 
hemlock forest typical of the Cascades. High summer temperatures and a 
mosaic of open forest conditions and Oregon white oak (Quercus 
garryana) woodlands act to influence northern spotted owl distribution 
in this region. Northern spotted owls occur at elevations up to 1,768 
m. Dwarf mistletoe provides an important component of nesting habitat, 
providing additional structure and enabling northern spotted owls to 
occasionally nest within stands of relatively younger, small trees.
Subunit Descriptions--Unit 10
    KLE-1. The KLE-1 subunit consists of approximately 242,338 ac 
(98,071 ha) in Jackson and Douglas Counties, Oregon, and comprises 
Federal lands managed by the USFS and the BLM under the NWFP (USDA and 
USDI 1994, entire). Special management considerations or protection are 
required in this subunit to address threats to the essential physical 
or biological features from current and past timber harvest, losses due 
to wildfire and the effects on vegetation from fire exclusion, and 
competition with barred owls. This subunit is expected to function 
primarily for demographic support to the overall population, as well as 
north-south and east-west connectivity between subunits and critical 
habitat units.

[[Page 71934]]

    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicates that approximately 84 percent of the area of KLE-1 was 
covered by verified northern spotted owl home ranges at the time of 
listing. When combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and 
occupancy by nonterritorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider 
this subunit to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In 
addition, there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the 
habitat mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of 
listing. We have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely 
occupied areas in this subunit are essential for the conservation of 
the species to meet the recovery criterion that calls for the continued 
maintenance and recruitment of northern spotted owl habitat (USFWS 
2011, p. ix). The increase and enhancement of northern spotted owl 
habitat is necessary to provide for viable populations of northern 
spotted owls over the long term by providing for population growth, 
successful dispersal, and buffering from competition with the barred 
owl.
    KLE-2. The KLE-2 subunit consists of approximately 101,942 ac 
(41,255 ha) in Josephine and Douglas Counties, Oregon, and comprises 
Federal lands managed by the USFS and the BLM under the NWFP (USDA and 
USDI 1994, entire). Special management considerations or protection are 
required in this subunit to address threats to the essential physical 
or biological features from current and past timber harvest, losses due 
to wildfire and the effects on vegetation from fire exclusion, and 
competition with barred owls. This subunit is expected to function 
primarily for east-west connectivity between subunits and critical 
habitat units, but also for demographic support. This subunit 
facilitates northern spotted owl movements between the western Cascades 
and coastal Oregon and the Klamath Mountains.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicates that approximately 92 percent of the area of KLE-2 was 
covered by verified northern spotted owl home ranges at the time of 
listing. When combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and 
occupancy by nonterritorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider 
this subunit to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In 
addition, there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the 
habitat mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of 
listing. We have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely 
occupied areas in this subunit are essential for the conservation of 
the species to meet the recovery criterion that calls for the continued 
maintenance and recruitment of northern spotted owl habitat (USFWS 
2011, p. ix). The increase and enhancement of northern spotted owl 
habitat is necessary to provide for viable populations of northern 
spotted owls over the long term by providing for population growth, 
successful dispersal, and buffering from competition with the barred 
owl.
    KLE-3. The KLE-3 subunit consists of approximately 111,410 ac 
(45,086 ha) in Jackson, Josephine, and Douglas Counties, Oregon, and 
comprises Federal lands managed by the USFS and the BLM under the NWFP 
(USDA and USDI 1994, entire). Special management considerations or 
protection are required in this subunit to address threats to the 
essential physical or biological features from current and past timber 
harvest, losses due to wildfire and the effects on vegetation from fire 
exclusion, and competition with barred owls. This subunit is expected 
to function primarily for east-west connectivity between subunits and 
critical habitat units, but also for demographic support. This subunit 
facilitates northern spotted owl movements between the western Cascades 
and coastal Oregon and the Klamath Mountains.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicates that approximately 97 percent of the area of KLE-3 was 
covered by verified northern spotted owl home ranges at the time of 
listing. When combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and 
occupancy by nonterritorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider 
this subunit to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In 
addition, there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the 
habitat mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of 
listing. We have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely 
occupied areas in this subunit are essential for the conservation of 
the species to meet the recovery criterion that calls for the continued 
maintenance and recruitment of northern spotted owl habitat (USFWS 
2011, p. ix). The increase and enhancement of northern spotted owl 
habitat is necessary to provide for viable populations of northern 
spotted owls over the long term by providing for population growth, 
successful dispersal, and buffering from competition with the barred 
owl.
    KLE-4. The KLE-4 subunit consists of approximately 254,442 ac 
(102,969 ha) in Jackson, Klamath, and Douglas Counties, Oregon, and 
comprises Federal lands managed by the USFS and the BLM under the NWFP 
(USDA and USDI 1994, entire). Special management considerations or 
protection are required in this subunit to address threats to the 
essential physical or biological features from current and past timber 
harvest, losses due to wildfire and the effects on vegetation from fire 
exclusion, and competition with barred owls. This subunit is expected 
to function primarily for east-west connectivity between subunits and 
critical habitat units, but also for demographic support.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicates that approximately 81 percent of the area of KLE-4 was 
covered by verified northern spotted owl home ranges at the time of 
listing. When combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and 
occupancy by nonterritorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider 
this subunit to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In 
addition, there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the 
habitat mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of 
listing. We have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely 
occupied areas in this subunit are essential for the conservation of 
the species to meet the recovery criterion that calls for the continued 
maintenance and recruitment of northern spotted owl habitat (USFWS 
2011, p. ix). The increase and enhancement of northern spotted owl 
habitat is necessary to provide for viable populations of northern 
spotted owls over the long term by providing for population growth, 
successful dispersal, and buffering from competition with the barred 
owl.
    KLE-5. The KLE-5 subunit consists of approximately 38,283 ac 
(15,493 ha) in Jackson County, Oregon, and comprises lands managed by 
the BLM and USFS. The BLM and USFS lands are managed per the NWFP (USDA 
and USDI 1994, entire). Special management considerations or protection 
are required in this subunit to address threats to the essential 
physical or biological features from current and past timber harvest, 
losses due to wildfire and the effects on vegetation from fire 
exclusion, and competition with barred owls. This subunit is expected 
to function primarily for north-south connectivity between subunits, 
but also for demographic support.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicates that approximately 86 percent of the area of KLE-5 was 
covered by verified

[[Page 71935]]

northern spotted owl home ranges at the time of listing. When combined 
with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and occupancy by 
nonterritorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider this subunit 
to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In addition, 
there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the habitat 
mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of listing. We 
have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely occupied areas in 
this subunit are essential for the conservation of the species to meet 
the recovery criterion that calls for the continued maintenance and 
recruitment of northern spotted owl habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The 
increase and enhancement of northern spotted owl habitat is necessary 
to provide for viable populations of northern spotted owls over the 
long term by providing for population growth, successful dispersal, and 
buffering from competition with the barred owl.
    KLE-6. The KLE-6 subunit consists of approximately 167,849 ac 
(67,926 ha) in Jackson County, Oregon, and Siskiyou County, California, 
all of which are Federal lands managed by the BLM and USFS per the NWFP 
(USDA and USDI 1994, entire). Special management considerations or 
protection are required in this subunit to address threats to the 
essential physical or biological features from current and past timber 
harvest, losses due to wildfire and the effects on vegetation from fire 
exclusion, and competition with barred owls. This subunit is expected 
to function primarily for north-south connectivity between subunits, 
but also for demographic support.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicates that approximately 97 percent of the area of KLE-6 was 
covered by verified northern spotted owl home ranges at the time of 
listing. When combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and 
occupancy by nonterritorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider 
this subunit to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In 
addition, there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the 
habitat mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of 
listing. We have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely 
occupied areas in this subunit are essential for the conservation of 
the species to meet the recovery criterion that calls for the continued 
maintenance and recruitment of northern spotted owl habitat (USFWS 
2011, p. ix). The increase and enhancement of northern spotted owl 
habitat is necessary to provide for viable populations of northern 
spotted owls over the long term by providing for population growth, 
successful dispersal, and buffering from competition with the barred 
owl.
    KLE-7. The KLE-7 subunit consists of approximately 66,078 ac 
(26,741 ha) in Siskiyou County, California, all of which are Federal 
lands managed by the BLM and USFS per the NWFP (USDA and USDI 1994, 
entire). Special management considerations or protection are required 
in this subunit to address threats to the essential physical or 
biological features from current and past timber harvest, losses due to 
wildfire and the effects on vegetation from fire exclusion, and 
competition with barred owls. This subunit is expected to function for 
demographic support and also for connectivity across the landscape.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicates that approximately 96 percent of the area of KLE-7 was 
covered by verified northern spotted owl home ranges at the time of 
listing. When combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and 
occupancy by nonterritorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider 
this subunit to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In 
addition, there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the 
habitat mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of 
listing. We have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely 
occupied areas in this subunit are essential for the conservation of 
the species to meet the recovery criterion that calls for the continued 
maintenance and recruitment of northern spotted owl habitat (USFWS 
2011, p. ix). The increase and enhancement of northern spotted owl 
habitat is necessary to provide for viable populations of northern 
spotted owls over the long term by providing for population growth, 
successful dispersal, and buffering from competition with the barred 
owl.

Unit 11: Interior California Coast (ICC)

    Unit 11 contains 941,568 ac (381,039 ha) and eight subunits. This 
unit consists of the Northern California Coast Ranges ecological 
Section M261B, based on section descriptions of forest types from 
Ecological Subregions of the United States (McNab and Avers 1994c, 
Section M261B), and differs markedly from the adjacent redwood coast 
region. Marine air moderates winter climate, but precipitation is 
limited by rainshadow effects from steep elevational gradients (328 to 
7,847 ft (100 to 2,400 m)) along a series of north-south trending 
mountain ridges. Due to the influence of the adjacent Central Valley, 
summer temperatures in the interior portions of this region are among 
the highest within the northern spotted owl's range. Forest communities 
tend to be relatively dry mixed-conifer, blue and Oregon white oak, and 
the Douglas-fir tanoak series. Northern spotted owl habitat within this 
region is poorly known; there are no Demographic Study Areas (DSAs--
areas within forested habitats specifically surveyed to determine 
northern spotted owl occupation and density), and few studies have been 
conducted here. Northern spotted owl habitat and occupancy data 
obtained during this project suggests that some northern spotted owls 
occupy steep canyons dominated by live oak and Douglas-fir. The 
distribution of dense conifer habitats most suitable for the northern 
spotted owl is limited to higher elevations on the Mendocino National 
Forest.
Subunit Descriptions--Unit 11
    ICC-1. The ICC-1 subunit consists of approximately 332,042 ac 
(134,372 ha) in Humboldt, Trinity, Shasta, and Tehama Counties, 
California, all of which are Federal lands managed by the BLM and the 
USFS per the NWFP (USDA and USDI 1994, entire). Special management 
considerations or protection are required in this subunit to address 
threats to the essential physical or biological features from current 
and past timber harvest, losses due to wildfire and the effects on 
vegetation from fire exclusion, and competition with barred owls. This 
subunit is expected to function primarily for demographic support, but 
also for connectivity between subunits and critical habitat units.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicates that approximately 97 percent of the area of ICC-1 was 
covered by verified northern spotted owl home ranges at the time of 
listing. When combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and 
occupancy by nonterritorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider 
this subunit to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In 
addition, there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the 
habitat mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of 
listing. We have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely 
occupied areas in this subunit are essential for the conservation of 
the species to meet the recovery criterion that calls for the continued 
maintenance and recruitment of northern spotted owl habitat (USFWS 
2011, p. ix). The increase and enhancement of northern

[[Page 71936]]

spotted owl habitat is necessary to provide for viable populations of 
northern spotted owls over the long term by providing for population 
growth, successful dispersal, and buffering from competition with the 
barred owl.
    ICC-2. The ICC-2 subunit consists of approximately 204,400 ac 
(82,718 ha) in Humboldt and Trinity Counties, California, all of which 
are Federal lands managed by the BLM and the USFS per the NWFP (USDA 
and USDI 1994, entire). Special management considerations or protection 
are required in this subunit to address threats to the essential 
physical or biological features from current and past timber harvest, 
losses due to wildfire and the effects on vegetation from fire 
exclusion, and competition with barred owls. This subunit is expected 
to function primarily for demographic support, but also for 
connectivity between subunits and critical habitat units.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicates that approximately 98 percent of the area of ICC-2 was 
covered by verified northern spotted owl home ranges at the time of 
listing. When combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and 
occupancy by nonterritorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider 
this subunit to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In 
addition, there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the 
habitat mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of 
listing. We have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely 
occupied areas in this subunit are essential for the conservation of 
the species to meet the recovery criterion that calls for the continued 
maintenance and recruitment of northern spotted owl habitat (USFWS 
2011, p. ix). The increase and enhancement of northern spotted owl 
habitat is necessary to provide for viable populations of northern 
spotted owls over the long term by providing for population growth, 
successful dispersal, and buffering from competition with the barred 
owl.
    ICC-3. The ICC-3 subunit consists of approximately 103,971 ac 
(42,035 ha) in Trinity, Tehama, and Mendocino Counties, California, all 
of which are Federal lands managed by the BLM and the USFS per the NWFP 
(USDA and USDI 1994, entire). Special management considerations or 
protection are required in this subunit to address threats to the 
essential physical or biological features from current and past timber 
harvest, losses due to wildfire and the effects on vegetation from fire 
exclusion, and competition with barred owls. This subunit is expected 
to function primarily for demographic support, but also for north-south 
connectivity between subunits.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicates that approximately 89 percent of the area of ICC-3 was 
covered by verified northern spotted owl home ranges at the time of 
listing. When combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and 
occupancy by nonterritorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider 
this subunit to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In 
addition, there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the 
habitat mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of 
listing. We have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely 
occupied areas in this subunit are essential for the conservation of 
the species to meet the recovery criterion that calls for the continued 
maintenance and recruitment of northern spotted owl habitat (USFWS 
2011, p. ix). The increase and enhancement of northern spotted owl 
habitat is necessary to provide for viable populations of northern 
spotted owls over the long term by providing for population growth, 
successful dispersal, and buffering from competition with the barred 
owl.
    ICC-4. The ICC-4 subunit consists of approximately 120,997 ac 
(48,966 ha) in Mendocino, Glenn, and Colusa Counties, California, all 
of which are Federal lands managed by the BLM and USFS per the NWFP 
(USDA and USDI 1994, entire). Special management considerations or 
protection are required in this subunit to address threats to the 
essential physical or biological features from current and past timber 
harvest, losses due to wildfire and the effects on vegetation from fire 
exclusion, and competition with barred owls. This subunit is expected 
to function primarily for demographic support.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicates that approximately 93 percent of the area of ICC-4 was 
covered by verified northern spotted owl home ranges at the time of 
listing. When combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and 
occupancy by nonterritorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider 
this subunit to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In 
addition, there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the 
habitat mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of 
listing. We have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely 
occupied areas in this subunit are essential for the conservation of 
the species to meet the recovery criterion that calls for the continued 
maintenance and recruitment of northern spotted owl habitat (USFWS 
2011, p. ix). The increase and enhancement of northern spotted owl 
habitat is necessary to provide for viable populations of northern 
spotted owls over the long term by providing for population growth, 
successful dispersal, and buffering from competition with the barred 
owl.
    ICC-5. The ICC-5 subunit consists of approximately 34,957 ac 
(14,147 ha) in Lake and Mendocino Counties, California, all of which 
are Federal lands managed by the USFS and BLM per the NWFP (USDA and 
USDI 1994, entire). Special management considerations or protection are 
required in this subunit to address threats to the essential physical 
or biological features from current and past timber harvest, losses due 
to wildfire and the effects on vegetation from fire exclusion, and 
competition with barred owls. This subunit is expected to function 
primarily for demographic support, but also for connectivity between 
subunits and critical habitat units.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicates that approximately 78 percent of the area of ICC-5 was 
covered by verified northern spotted owl home ranges at the time of 
listing. When combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and 
occupancy by nonterritorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider 
this subunit to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In 
addition, there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the 
habitat mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of 
listing. We have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely 
occupied areas in this subunit are essential for the conservation of 
the species to meet the recovery criterion that calls for the continued 
maintenance and recruitment of northern spotted owl habitat (USFWS 
2011, p. ix). The increase and enhancement of northern spotted owl 
habitat is necessary to provide for viable populations of northern 
spotted owls over the long term by providing for population growth, 
successful dispersal, and buffering from competition with the barred 
owl.
    ICC-6. The ICC-6 subunit consists of approximately 2,072 ac (839 
ha) of State and Federal lands in Napa and Sonoma Counties, California.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicates that approximately 90 percent of the

[[Page 71937]]

area of ICC-6 was covered by verified northern spotted owl home ranges 
at the time of listing. When combined with likely occupancy of suitable 
habitat and occupancy by nonterritorial owls and dispersing subadults, 
we consider this subunit to have been largely occupied at the time of 
listing. In addition, there may be some smaller areas of younger forest 
within the habitat mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the 
time of listing. We have determined that all of the unoccupied and 
likely occupied areas in this subunit are essential for the 
conservation of the species to meet the recovery criterion that calls 
for the continued maintenance and recruitment of northern spotted owl 
habitat (USFWS 2011, p. ix). The increase and enhancement of northern 
spotted owl habitat is necessary to provide for viable populations of 
northern spotted owls over the long term by providing for population 
growth, successful dispersal, and buffering from competition with the 
barred owl.
    ICC-7. The ICC-7 subunit consists of approximately 119,742 ac 
(48,458 ha) in Trinity and Shasta Counties, California, all of which 
are Federal lands managed by the BLM and USFS per the NWFP (USDA and 
USDI 1994, entire). Special management considerations or protection are 
required in this subunit to address threats to the essential physical 
or biological features from current and past timber harvest, losses due 
to wildfire and the effects on vegetation from fire exclusion, and 
competition with barred owls. This subunit is expected to function both 
for demographic support and for east-west connectivity between subunits 
in an area of sparse Federal ownership.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicates that approximately 73 percent of the area of ICC-7 was 
covered by verified northern spotted owl home ranges at the time of 
listing. When combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and 
occupancy by nonterritorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider 
this subunit to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In 
addition, there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the 
habitat mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of 
listing. We have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely 
occupied areas in this subunit are essential for the conservation of 
the species to meet the recovery criterion that calls for the continued 
maintenance and recruitment of northern spotted owl habitat (USFWS 
2011, p. ix). The increase and enhancement of northern spotted owl 
habitat is necessary to provide for viable populations of northern 
spotted owls over the long term by providing for population growth, 
successful dispersal, and buffering from competition with the barred 
owl.
    ICC-8. The ICC-8 subunit consists of approximately 83,376 ac 
(33,742 ha) in Siskiyou and Shasta Counties, California, all of which 
are Federal lands managed by the BLM and the USFS per the NWFP (USDA 
and USDI 1994, entire). Special management considerations or protection 
are required in this subunit to address threats from current and past 
timber harvest, losses due to wildfire and the effects on vegetation 
from fire exclusion, and competition with barred owls. This subunit is 
expected to function both for demographic support and for connectivity 
between subunits in an area of sparse Federal ownership.
    Our evaluation of sites known to be occupied at the time of listing 
indicates that approximately 84 percent of the area of ICC-8 was 
covered by verified northern spotted owl home ranges at the time of 
listing. When combined with likely occupancy of suitable habitat and 
occupancy by nonterritorial owls and dispersing subadults, we consider 
this subunit to have been largely occupied at the time of listing. In 
addition, there may be some smaller areas of younger forest within the 
habitat mosaic of this subunit that were unoccupied at the time of 
listing. We have determined that all of the unoccupied and likely 
occupied areas in this subunit are essential for the conservation of 
the species to meet the recovery criterion that calls for the continued 
maintenance and recruitment of northern spotted owl habitat (USFWS 
2011, p. ix). The increase and enhancement of northern spotted owl 
habitat is necessary to provide for viable populations of northern 
spotted owls over the long term by providing for population growth, 
successful dispersal, and buffering from competition with the barred 
owl.

IX. Effects of Critical Habitat Designation

Section 7 Consultation

    Section 7(a)(2) of the Act requires Federal agencies, including the 
Service, to ensure that any action they fund, authorize, or carry out 
is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered 
species or threatened species or result in the destruction or 
determinations of designated critical habitat of such species. 
Decisions by the Fifth and Ninth Circuit Courts of Appeals have 
invalidated our regulatory definition of ``destruction or adverse 
modification'' (50 CFR 402.02) (Gifford Pinchot Task Force v. U.S. Fish 
and Wildlife Service, 378 F. 3d 1059 (9th Cir. 2004); Sierra Club v. 
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service., 245 F.3d 434, 442 (5th Cir. 2001)), 
and we do not rely on this regulatory definition when analyzing whether 
an action is likely to destroy or adversely modify critical habitat. 
Under the statutory provisions of the Act, we determine destruction or 
adverse modification on the basis of whether, with implementation of 
the proposed Federal action, the affected critical habitat would 
continue to serve its intended conservation function or purpose for the 
species.
    If a Federal action may affect a listed species or its critical 
habitat, the responsible Federal agency (action agency) must enter into 
consultation with the Service. Examples of actions that are subject to 
the section 7 consultation process are actions on State, Indian, local, 
or private lands that require a Federal permit (such as a permit from 
the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers under section 404 of the Clean Water 
Act (33 U.S.C. 1251 et seq.) or a permit from the Service under section 
10 of the Act) or that involve some other Federal action (such as 
funding from the Federal Highway Administration, Federal Aviation 
Administration, or the Federal Emergency Management Agency). Federal 
actions not affecting listed species or critical habitat, and actions 
on State, Indian, local, or private lands that are not federally funded 
or federally authorized do not require section 7 consultation.
    Section 7 consultation results in issuance of:
    (1) A concurrence letter for Federal actions that may affect, but 
are not likely to adversely affect, listed species or critical habitat; 
or
    (2) A biological opinion for Federal actions that may affect, and 
are likely to adversely affect, listed species or critical habitat.
    When we issue a biological opinion concluding that a project is 
likely to jeopardize the continued existence of a listed species and/or 
destroy or adversely modify critical habitat, we provide reasonable and 
prudent alternatives to the project, if any are identifiable, that 
would avoid the likelihood of jeopardy and/or destruction or adverse 
modification of critical habitat. We define ``reasonable and prudent 
alternatives'' (at 50 CFR 402.02) as alternative actions identified 
during consultation that:

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    (1) Can be implemented in a manner consistent with the intended 
purpose of the action,
    (2) Can be implemented consistent with the scope of the Federal 
agency's legal authority and jurisdiction,
    (3) Are economically and technologically feasible, and
    (4) Would, in the Director's opinion, avoid the likelihood of 
jeopardizing the continued existence of the listed species and/or avoid 
the likelihood of destroying or adversely modifying critical habitat.
    Reasonable and prudent alternatives can vary from slight project 
modifications to extensive redesign or relocation of the project. Costs 
associated with implementing a reasonable and prudent alternative are 
similarly variable.
    Regulations at 50 CFR 402.16 require Federal agencies to reinitiate 
consultation on previously reviewed actions in instances where we have 
listed a new species or subsequently designated critical habitat that 
may be affected, and the Federal agency has retained discretionary 
involvement or control over the action, or the agency's discretionary 
involvement or control is authorized by law. Consequently, Federal 
agencies sometimes may need to request reinitiation of consultation 
with us on actions for which formal consultation has been completed, if 
those actions with discretionary involvement or control may affect 
subsequently listed species or designated critical habitat.

Determinations of Adverse Effects and Application of the ``Adverse 
Modification'' Standard

    The key factor involved in the destruction/adverse modification 
determination for a proposed Federal agency action is whether the 
affected critical habitat would continue to serve its intended 
conservation function or purpose for the species with implementation of 
the proposed action after taking into account any anticipated 
cumulative effects (USFWS 2004, in litt. entire). Activities that may 
destroy or adversely modify critical habitat are those that alter the 
physical or biological features to an extent that appreciably reduces 
the conservation value of critical habitat for the northern spotted 
owl. As discussed above, the role of critical habitat is to support 
life-history needs of the species and provide for the conservation of 
the species.
    Section 4(b)(8) of the Act requires us to briefly evaluate and 
describe, in any proposed or final regulation that designates critical 
habitat, activities involving a Federal action that may destroy or 
adversely modify such habitat, or that may be affected by such 
designation.
    Activities that may affect critical habitat, when carried out, 
funded, or authorized by a Federal agency, should result in 
consultation for the northern spotted owl under section 7(a)(2) of the 
Act. In general, there are five possible outcomes in terms of how 
proposed Federal actions may affect the PCEs or physical or biological 
features of northern spotted owl critical habitat or essential habitat 
qualities associated with that critical habitat area: (1) No effect; 
(2) wholly beneficial effects (e.g., improve habitat condition); (3) 
both short-term adverse effects and long-term beneficial effects; (4) 
insignificant or discountable adverse effects; or (5) wholly adverse 
effects. Actions with no effect on the PCEs and physical or biological 
features of occupied areas or the essential habitat qualities in 
unoccupied areas do not require section 7 consultation, although such 
actions may still require consultation if they have effects on the 
species itself as a result of its status as a threatened species under 
the Act. Actions with effects to the PCEs, physical or biological 
features, or other essential habitat qualities of northern spotted owl 
critical habitat that are discountable, insignificant, or wholly 
beneficial would be considered not likely to adversely affect critical 
habitat, and do not require formal consultation if the Service concurs 
in writing with that Federal action agency determination. Actions that 
are likely to adversely affect the physical or biological features or 
other essential habitat qualities of northern spotted owl critical 
habitat require formal consultation and the preparation of a Biological 
Opinion by the Service. The Biological Opinion sets forth the basis for 
our section 7(a)(2) determination as to whether the proposed Federal 
action is likely to destroy or adversely modify northern spotted owl 
critical habitat.
    Activities that may destroy or adversely modify critical habitat 
are those that alter the essential physical or biological features or 
other essential habitat qualities of the critical habitat to an extent 
that appreciably reduces the conservation value of the critical habitat 
for the listed species. As discussed above, the conservation role or 
value of northern spotted owl critical habitat is to adequately support 
the life-history needs of the species to the extent that well-
distributed and interconnected northern spotted owl nesting populations 
are likely to persist within properly functioning ecosystems at the 
critical habitat unit and range-wide scales.
    Proposed Federal actions that may affect northern spotted owl 
critical habitat will trigger the consultation requirements under 
section 7 of the Act and compliance with the section 7(a)(2) standard 
described above. The consultation process evaluates the effects of a 
proposed action to designated critical habitat regardless of the 
species' presence or absence. For an action that may affect critical 
habitat, the next step is to determine whether it is likely to 
adversely affect critical habitat. For example, where a project is 
designed to reduce fuels such that the effect of wildfires will be 
reduced, but will also reduce foraging opportunities within treatment 
areas, established interagency consultation teams should determine 
whether the proposed project has more than an insignificant impact on 
the foraging PCEs for northern spotted owls. A localized reduction in 
foraging habitat within a stand may have such an insignificant impact 
on foraging PCEs within the stand that a not likely to adversely affect 
determination is appropriate. Similarly, a hazard tree removal project 
in a stand with many suitable nest trees may have such a minimal 
reduction in nesting PCEs of that stand that the effect to nesting 
habitat is insignificant. In such a case, a ``not likely to adversely 
affect'' determination would be appropriate.
    For actions that are likely to adversely affect critical habitat, 
the agencies will enter into formal consultation. At this stage of 
consultation, scale and context are especially important in evaluating 
the potential effects of forest management on northern spotted owl 
habitat. The degree to which various forest management activities are 
likely to affect the capability of the critical habitat to support 
northern spotted owl nesting, roosting, foraging, or dispersal will 
vary depending on factors such as the scope and location of the action, 
and the quantity of the critical habitat affected. In addition, in 
analyzing whether an action will likely destroy or adversely modify 
critical habitat, the effects of the action on the factors that were 
the basis for determining the area to meet the definition of critical 
habitat should be considered.
    In general, we would anticipate that management actions that are 
consistent with the overall purpose for which a critical habitat unit 
was designated would not likely destroy or adversely modify critical 
habitat as those terms are used in the context of section 7(a)(2) of 
the Act. Such actions include activities whose intent is to restore 
ecological processes or long-term forest health to

[[Page 71939]]

forested landscapes that contain northern spotted owl habitat, such as 
those actions described in the Revised Recovery Plan for the Northern 
Spotted Owl (USFWS 2011) and elsewhere in this document. However, each 
proposed action will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Section 7 Process Under This Critical Habitat Rule

    The Presidential Memo, dated February 28, 2012 (77 FR 12985; March 
5, 2012), directed the Service to address six action items in the final 
revised critical habitat rule for the northern spotted owl. One item in 
the Memo called for the Service to develop clear direction ``for 
evaluating logging activity in areas of critical habitat, in accordance 
with the scientific principles of active forestry management and to the 
extent permitted by law.'' The following summarizes the evaluation 
process for logging activities in areas of northern spotted owl 
critical habitat under section 7 of the Act and its implementing 
regulations, and our plans for close coordination with the land 
management agencies to best meet the dual goals of recovering the 
northern spotted owl and managing our public forest lands for multiple 
use.
Coordination With Land Management Agencies
    The Service is committed to working closely with the U.S. Forest 
Service and BLM to implement the active management and ecological 
forestry concepts discussed in the Revised Recovery Plan and this 
critical habitat rule. Both recommend that land managers use the best 
science to maintain and restore forest health and resilience in the 
face of climate change and other challenges.
    To meet this goal, we have prioritized the timely review of 
forestry projects that will be proposed in critical habitat. We have 
already completed section 7 conference opinions on the proposed rule 
with the agencies, and have recently held interagency coordination 
meetings with the section 7 Level 1 staff in Oregon, Washington, and 
California. In these meetings, we identified ways to streamline the 
section 7 process to ensure that potential projects can be implemented 
in a timely manner consistent with northern spotted owl conservation. 
We are also closely involved in and supportive of the respective Forest 
Service and BLM landscape-level planning efforts currently underway, 
and will work with the agencies to incorporate the conservation 
planning recommended in the Revised Recovery Plan and discussed in this 
final critical habitat designation.
    Finally, appropriate Service staff have been directed that all 
levels of management and field teams stay fully engaged in this process 
to ensure these commitments are met.
Determining Whether an Action Is Likely to Adversely Affect Critical 
Habitat
    The 1992 northern spotted owl critical habitat rule (57 FR 1796; 
January 15, 1992) identified the primary constituent element (PCE) as 
the fundamental scale of analysis at which the ``evaluation of actions 
that may affect critical habitat for the northern spotted owl'' should 
occur. Those elements included nesting, roosting, foraging and 
dispersal habitats. In the 2008 northern spotted owl critical habitat 
rule (73 FR 47326; August 13, 2008), the forested stand is identified 
as the appropriate scale for determining whether an action was likely 
to adversely affect northern spotted owl critical habitat. The 2012 
proposed revised critical habitat rule identified a 500-ac (200-ha) 
circle as a logical scale for determining the effects of a timber sale 
to critical habitat because research shows northern spotted owls 
respond more favorably to an area larger than a single tree when 
choosing where to live.
    However, there are many variables to be considered when determining 
whether the effects to critical habitat are adverse or not. When making 
a determination as to whether an action is likely to adversely affect 
critical habitat, and thus require formal consultation, it is not 
possible to design a ``one size fits all'' set of rules due to 
differences in project types, habitat types, and habitat needs across 
the range of the species (Fontaine and Kennedy 2012, p. 1559). This 
determination should be conducted at a scale that is relevant to the 
northern spotted owl life-history functions supplied by the PCEs and 
affected by the project. We note that this more localized scale differs 
from that used in determining whether an action will destroy or 
adversely modify critical habitat, which is made at the scale of the 
designated critical habitat, as described further below.
    Northern spotted owl critical habitat PCE 4 (habitat to support the 
transience and colonization phases of dispersal) provides a life-
history need that functions at a landscape-level scale and should be 
assessed at a larger scale than the other PCEs. Potential scales of 
analysis include the local watershed (e.g., fifth-field watershed) or 
subwatershed (e.g., sixth-field watershed), a dispersal corridor, or a 
relevant landform. Both PCE 2 (habitat that provides for nesting and 
roosting) and PCE 3 (habitat that provides for foraging) provide life-
history needs that function at a more localized landscape, which should 
help inform the scale at which the determination of whether an action 
will likely adversely affect critical habitat should be conducted. We 
encourage the level one consultation teams to tailor this scale of the 
effects determination to the localized biology of the life-history 
needs of the northern spotted owl (such as the stand scale, a 500-ac 
(200-ha) circle, or other appropriate, localized scale).
    If a project produces an effect on critical habitat that is wholly 
beneficial, insignificant, or discountable, then the project is not 
likely to adversely affect critical habitat, and consultation would be 
concluded with a letter of concurrence. Wholly beneficial effects 
include those that actively promote the development or improve the 
functionality of critical habitat for the northern spotted owl without 
causing adverse effects to the PCEs. Such actions might involve 
variable-density thinning in forest stands that do not currently 
support nesting, roosting, or foraging habitat for the northern spotted 
owl, which would speed the development of these types of habitats, 
while maintaining dispersal habitat function. Thinning or other 
treatments in young plantations that are specifically designed to 
accelerate the development of owl habitat, and either are in areas that 
do not provide dispersal habitat or where the effects to dispersal 
capability would be insignificant or discountable, would also fall into 
the ``not likely to adversely affect'' category. While these wholly 
beneficial actions may affect critical habitat and would, therefore, 
require consultation under section 7 of the Act, they most likely would 
be completed via an informal consultation with a determination that 
they are not likely to adversely affect critical habitat.
    Likewise, if the adverse effects of a proposed Federal action on 
the life-history needs supported by physical or biological features of 
northern spotted owl critical habitat are expected to be discountable 
or insignificant, that action would also be considered not likely to 
adversely affect northern spotted owl critical habitat. In such cases, 
the section 7 consultation requirements can also be satisfied through 
the informal concurrence process. Examples of such actions may include: 
Pre-commercial or commercial thinning that does not delay the 
development of essential physical or biological features; fuel-
reduction treatments that have a negligible effect on northern spotted 
owl foraging habitat

[[Page 71940]]

within the stand; and the removal of hazard trees, where the removal 
has an insignificant effect on the capability of the stand to provide 
northern spotted owl nesting opportunities.
    Some proposed Federal forest management activities may have short-
term adverse effects and long-term beneficial effects on the physical 
or biological features of northern spotted owl critical habitat. The 
Revised Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl recommends that land 
managers actively manage portions of both moist and dry forests to 
improve stand conditions and forest resiliency, which should benefit 
the long-term recovery of the northern spotted owl (USFWS 2011, p. III-
11). For example, variable thinning in single-story, uniform forest 
stands to promote the development of multistory structure and nest 
trees may result in short-term adverse impacts to the habitat's current 
capability to support owl dispersal and foraging, but have long-term 
benefits by creating higher quality habitat that will better support 
territorial pairs of northern spotted owls. Such activities would have 
less impact in areas where foraging and dispersal habitat is not 
limiting, and ideally can be conducted in a manner that minimizes 
short-term negative impacts. Even though they may have long-term 
beneficial effects, if they have short-term adverse effects, such 
actions may adversely affect critical habitat, and would require formal 
consultation under section 7 of the Act. For efficiency, such actions 
may be evaluated under section 7 programmatically at the landscape 
scale (e.g., USFS or BLM District).
    Habitat conditions in moist/wet and dry/fire-prone forests within 
the range of the northern spotted owl vary widely, as do the types of 
management activities designed to accelerate or enhance the development 
of northern spotted owl habitat. ``Wet'' and ``dry'' are ends of a 
spectrum, not distinct categories that adequately describe the full 
range of forest types within the range of the northern spotted owl. 
Because these categories are broad, and conditions on the ground are 
more variable, land managers and cooperators should have the 
expectation that multiple forest types may be involved, and similar 
projects in different forest types may not always lead to the same 
effect determination for purposes of compliance with section 7 of the 
Act.
    To make effects determinations, we recommend generating area-
specific maps showing the current habitat condition (such as types of 
habitat, known nest trees, or other feature) and, using information on 
the proposed action (such as location, type and intensity of harvest, 
location of new roads and landings, or other proposed activity 
effects), produce a post-project habitat map such that the pre- and 
post-project comparison of the PCEs can be assessed. We also recommend 
the cooperative development of a spatial and temporal framework for 
evaluating the impact of both the short- and long-term effects of the 
proposed activities on the northern spotted owl. Framework examples 
include a landscape assessment or a checklist of key questions the 
answers to which will illustrate how the project will impact the 
northern spotted owl (see Spies et al. 2012, p. 11, for an example).
Determining Whether an Action Will Destroy or Adversely Modify Critical 
Habitat
    If the effects of the project have more than an insignificant or 
discountable impact on the ability of the PCEs to provide life-history 
functions for the northern spotted owl, then the project is likely to 
adversely affect northern spotted owl critical habitat, and formal 
consultation is warranted. For projects that will adversely affect 
critical habitat, it is the Service's responsibility to conduct an 
analysis of whether the action is likely to ``destroy or adversely 
modify critical habitat'' during the formal consultation process. As 
discussed below, the determination of whether an action is likely to 
destroy or adversely modify critical habitat is made at the scale of 
the entire critical habitat network. However, a proposed action that 
compromises the capability of a subunit or unit to fulfill its intended 
conservation function or purpose could represent an appreciable 
reduction in the conservation value of the entire designated critical 
habitat. Therefore, the biological opinion should describe the 
relationship between the conservation role of the action area, affected 
subunits, units, and the entire designated critical habitat. This 
analysis must incorporate all direct and indirect effects and any 
cumulative effects from the project within the action area. If, after 
the formal consultation analysis, it is determined that the proposed 
project will not destroy or adversely modify critical habitat, then the 
action can be conducted.
    Factors to consider in evaluating whether activities, including 
timber harvest, are likely to destroy or adversely modify critical 
habitat pursuant to section 7 include:
     The extent of the proposed action, both its temporal and 
spatial scale, relative to the critical habitat subunit and unit within 
which it occurs, and the entire critical habitat network.
     The specific purpose for which the affected subunit was 
identified and designated as critical habitat.
     The cumulative effects of all completed activities in the 
critical habitat unit.
     The impact of the proposed action on the ability of the 
affected critical habitat to continue to support the life-history 
functions supplied by the PCEs.
     The impact of the proposed action on the subunit's 
likelihood of serving its intended conservation function or purpose.
     The impact of the proposed action on the unit's likelihood 
of continuing to contribute to the conservation of the species.
     The overall consistency of the proposed action with the 
intent of the recovery plan or other landscape-level conservation 
plans.
     The special importance of project scale and context in 
evaluating the potential effects of timber harvest to northern spotted 
owl critical habitat.
    The first step is to describe the impacts to critical habitat in 
the action area with respect to the subunit's intended functions as 
identified in this rule. For example, if a particular subunit was 
designated to support northern spotted owl connectivity between 
subunits, then the loss or impact to connectivity must be assessed. 
Subunits that are expected to provide demographic support should be 
assessed for their ability to continue to support northern spotted owl 
nesting territories in conditions suitable for occupancy by pairs of 
owls (e.g., amount and location of nesting habitat, proximity of 
foraging habitat, etc.). The analysis should describe the extent to 
which the project is expected to prevent, preclude, or significantly 
impair the ability of that subunit to meet its intended function. The 
analysis should not incorporate the effect of the proposed action on 
individual northern spotted owls but, instead, on the life-history 
functions supplied by the PCEs and the physical biological features. 
Effects to northern spotted owls should be included in the effects to 
the species section of a biological opinion, as appropriate.
    The analysis in a biological assessment or a biological opinion 
should include an evaluation of the type, frequency, magnitude, and 
duration of impacts likely to be caused by the action on the PCEs of 
the action area, affected subunits and critical habitat units, and an 
assessment of how those impacts are likely to influence the capability 
of the affected critical habitat

[[Page 71941]]

units to provide for a well-distributed and self-sustaining northern 
spotted owl population. The analysis in a biological assessment or a 
biological opinion of cumulative effects on critical habitat should 
include a similar assessment for any future, non-Federal actions 
reasonably certain to occur in the action area, and at the level of the 
affected subunits and critical habitat units.
    Consideration of the effects of the action, together with any 
cumulative effects, will form the basis for the biological opinion's 
determination as to whether the action will destroy or adversely modify 
critical habitat. In accordance with Service policy, the adverse 
modification determination is made at the scale of the entire 
designated critical habitat, unless the critical habitat rule 
identifies another basis for the analysis (FWS and NMFS 1998). The 
adverse modification determination for the northern spotted owl will 
occur at the scale of the entire designated critical habitat, as 
described below, with consideration given to the need to conserve 
viable populations within each of the recovery units identified in the 
Revised Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl (USFWS 2011, 
Recovery Criterion 2).
    It is important to note that although the adverse modification 
determination is made at the scale of the entire designated critical 
habitat, a proposed action that compromises the capability of a subunit 
or unit to fulfill its intended conservation function or purpose could 
represent an appreciable reduction in the conservation value of the 
entire designated critical habitat. Therefore, the biological opinion 
should describe the relationship between the conservation role of the 
action area, affected subunits, units, and the entire designated 
critical habitat. In this way, the biological opinion establishes a 
sensitive analytical framework for informing the determination of 
whether a proposed action is likely to appreciably reduce the 
conservation role of critical habitat overall.
    The Service has assured the BLM and FS that it is committed to 
working closely with them to evaluate and implement active management 
and ecological forestry concepts of the recovery plan and critical 
habitat rule into potential timber management projects. Both documents 
recommend that land managers use the best science to maintain and 
restore forest health and resilience in the face of climate change and 
other challenges.
    To meet this goal we have prioritized the timely review of forestry 
projects that will be proposed in critical habitat. We have already 
completed section 7 conference opinions on the proposed rule with 
several of your units, and we have recently held interagency 
coordination meetings with the section 7 Level 1 staff in Oregon, 
Washington, and California. In these meetings, we identified ways to 
streamline the section 7 process to ensure that potential projects can 
be implemented in a timely manner consistent with northern spotted owl 
conservation. We are also closely involved in and supportive of the 
respective FS and BLM landscape-level planning efforts currently 
underway and will work with you to incorporate the conservation 
planning reflected in the revised recovery plan and the final critical 
habitat designation.
    Finally, appropriate Service staff have been directed that all 
levels of management and field teams--from Level 1 biologists up to the 
Assistant Regional Director--stay fully engaged in this process to 
ensure these commitments are met. Any problems or disagreement should 
be promptly elevated and resolved.
    Within dry forests, the Revised Recovery Plan for the Northern 
Spotted Owl (USFWS 2011) emphasizes active forest management that could 
meet overlapping goals of northern spotted owl conservation, climate 
change response, and restoration of dry forest ecological structure, 
composition, and process, including wildfire and other disturbances 
(USFWS 2011, pp. III-20). For the rest of the northern spotted owl's 
range that is not fire-prone, the Revised Recovery Plan emphasizes 
habitat management that accelerates the development of future habitat, 
restores larger habitat blocks, and reduces habitat fragmentation. The 
following discussion describes the type of management approaches that 
would be consistent with the Revised Recovery Plan in the West 
Cascades/Coast Ranges of Oregon and Washington, East Cascades, and the 
Redwood Coast zones, and in some cases includes consideration of 
possible corresponding effect determinations for activities 
implementing these approaches, for the purpose of analyzing effects to 
critical habitat under section 7 of the Act. The Klamath and Northern 
California Interior Coast Ranges regions contain conditions similar to 
the three regions discussed below, and similar management approaches 
would be consistent with the recovery needs of the owl.
West Cascades/Coast Ranges of Oregon and Washington
    The primary goal of the Revised Recovery Plan for this portion of 
the northern spotted owl's range is to conserve stands that support 
northern spotted owl occupancy or contain high-value northern spotted 
owl habitat (USFWS 2011, p. III-17). Silvicultural treatments are 
generally not needed to accomplish this goal. However, there is a 
significant amount of younger forest that occurs between and around the 
older stands, where silvicultural treatments may accelerate the 
development of these stands into future northern spotted owl nesting 
habitat, even if doing so temporarily degrades existing dispersal 
habitat, as is recommended in Recovery Action 6 (USFWS 2011, p. III-
19). The Revised Recovery Plan encourages silviculture designed to 
develop late-successional structural complexity and to promote 
resilience (USFWS 2011, pp. III-17 to III-19). Restoration or 
ecological prescriptions can help uniform stands of poor quality 
develop more quickly into more diverse, higher quality northern spotted 
owl habitat, and provide resiliency in the face of potential climate 
change impacts in the future. Targeted vegetation treatments could 
simultaneously increase canopy and age-class diversity, putting those 
stands on a more efficient trajectory towards nesting and roosting 
habitat, while reducing fuel loads. Introducing varying levels of 
spatial heterogeneity, both vertically and horizontally, into forest 
ecosystems can contribute to both of the goals stated above.
    On matrix lands under the NWFP where land managers have a range of 
management goals, the Service anticipates that not all forest 
management projects in critical habitat will be focused on the 
development or conservation of northern spotted owl habitat. Ideally, 
proposed actions within critical habitat should occur on relatively 
small patches of younger, mid-seral forest stands that do not cause 
reductions in higher quality northern spotted owl habitat. They should 
also be planned in such a way that their net occurrence on the regional 
landscape is consistent with broader ecosystem-based planning targets 
(e.g., Spies et al. 2007a, entire) to provide the physical or 
biological features that are essential to the conservation of the 
northern spotted owl. Within that context, thinning and targeted 
variable-retention harvest in moist forests could be considered where 
the conservation of complex early-seral forest habitat is a management 
goal. This approach provides a contrast to traditional clearcutting 
that does not mimic natural disturbance or create viable early-seral 
communities that grow into high-quality habitat (Dodson et al. 2012, p. 
353; Franklin et al. 2002,

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p. 419; Swanson et al. 2011, p. 123; Kane et al. 2011, pp. 2289-2290; 
Betts et al. 2010, p. 2127, Hagar 2007, pp. 117-118). Swanson (2012, 
entire) provides a good overview and some management considerations.
    In cases where these moist forest treatments in matrix are intended 
to meet management goals other than northern spotted owl conservation, 
they can be designed to enable the development of northern spotted owl 
habitat over time at the landscape scale. If planned well at this 
scale, these projects may have short-term adverse effects, but are not 
expected to adversely modify the role and function of critical habitat 
units. In other words, such treatments can be dispersed across the 
landscape and over time to both accommodate northern spotted owl 
habitat needs and conservation of diverse and complex early-seral 
habitat. Additional information about ecological forestry activities in 
moist forests can be found in the Revised Recovery Plan under Northern 
Spotted Owls and Ecological Forestry (USFWS 2011, p. III-11) and 
Habitat Management in Moist Forests (USFWS 2011, p. III-17).
East Cascades
    The Revised Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl (USFWS 2011) 
recommends that the dynamic, fire-prone portion of the northern spotted 
owl's range be actively managed to conserve northern spotted owls, but 
also address climate change and restore dry forest ecological 
structure, composition, and processes (e.g., wildfire) to provide for 
the long-term conservation of the species and its habitat in a dynamic 
ecosystem (USFWS 2011, pp. III-13, III-20). To do this, management 
actions should be considered to balance short-term adverse effects with 
long-term beneficial effects. In some cases, formal consultation on the 
effects of dry forest management activities on northern spotted owl 
critical habitat is likely to occur; in other cases, there may be no 
adverse effects and consultation can be concluded informally.
    Management in dry forests should increase the likelihood that 
northern spotted owl habitat will remain on the landscape longer and 
develop as part of the dynamic fire- and disturbance-adapted community. 
Several management approaches can be described for these systems. The 
first is to maintain adequate northern spotted owl habitat in the near 
term to allow owls to persist on the landscape in the face of threats 
from barred owl expansion and habitat alterations from fire and other 
disturbances. The next is to restore landscapes that are resilient to 
fire and other disturbances, including those projected to occur with 
climate change. This will require more than reducing fuels and thinning 
trees to promote low-severity fires; management will need to develop 
``more natural patterns and patch size distributions of forest 
structure, composition, fuels, and fire regime area'' (Hessburg et al. 
2007, p. 21).
    Our prime objective for vegetation management activities within 
northern spotted owl critical habitat is to maintain adequate amounts 
of nesting, roosting, foraging, or dispersal habitat where it currently 
exists, and to restore degraded habitat where it is essential to the 
owl and can be best sustained on the landscape, as recommended in the 
Revised Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl (USFWS 2011, Section 
III). Successfully accomplishing these objectives can be facilitated by 
spatially and temporally explicit landscape assessments that identify 
areas valuable for northern spotted owl conservation and recovery, as 
well as areas important for process restoration (e.g., Prather et al. 
2008, p. 149; Franklin et al. 2008, p. 46; Spies et al. 2012, entire). 
Such assessments could answer questions that are frequently asked about 
proposed forest management activities, namely ``why here?'' and ``why 
now?'' Providing well-reasoned responses to these questions becomes 
especially important when restoration activities degrade or remove 
existing northern spotted owl habitat. By scaling up conservation and 
restoration planning from the stand to the landscape level, many 
apparent conflicts may disappear because management actions can be 
prioritized and spatially partitioned (Prather et al. 2008, p. 149; 
Rieman et al. 2010, p. 464). For example, portions of the landscape can 
be identified where there may be no conflict between objectives, and 
where relatively aggressive approaches to ecosystem restoration can 
occur without placing listed species at substantial risk (Prather et 
al. 2008, pp. 147-149; Gaines et al. 2010, pp. 2049-2050). Conflicts 
between objectives will remain in some locations, such as in places 
where removing younger, shade-intolerant conifers to reduce competition 
with larger, legacy conifers may result in a substantial decrease in 
canopy cover that translates into a reduction in northern spotted owl 
habitat quality. However, when this sort of treatment is well designed, 
strategically located, and justified within a landscape approach to 
treatments, it is easier to assess its effectiveness in meeting both 
owl conservation and forest restoration needs.
    Landscape assessments developed at the scale of entire National 
Forests, Ranger Districts, or BLM Districts have the broad perspective 
that can improve ability to estimate effects of management activities 
on the function of critical habitat and better identify and prioritize 
treatment areas and the actions that will restore landscapes while 
conserving northern spotted owl habitat. The Okanogan-Wenatchee 
National Forest has developed a landscape evaluation process as part of 
their forest restoration strategy (USDA 2010, pp. 36-52) that can serve 
as an example for other administrative units when developing their own 
assessment approaches. We suggest that the value of such assessments in 
guiding vegetation management within critical habitat can be enhanced 
by spatially identifying locations where restoration objectives and 
northern spotted owl habitat objectives converge, are in conflict, or 
simply are not an issue (see, e.g., Davis et al. 2012, entire). We 
suggest the following approach for the East Cascades:
    1. Spatially identify and map:
    a. Existing northern spotted owl habitat and northern spotted owl 
nesting sites.
    b. Places on the landscape where northern spotted owl habitat is 
expected to be retained longer on the landscape in the face of 
disturbance activities such as fire and insect outbreaks.
    c. Places on the landscape where key ecosystem structures and 
processes are at risk and would benefit from restoration (e.g. legacy 
trees, unique habitats).
    2. Overlay what is known about landscape patterns of vegetation and 
disturbance processes with items from step 1 above to determine:
    a. Stands of high restoration value but low value as existing 
northern spotted owl habitat.
    b. Stands of low restoration value but high value as existing 
northern spotted owl habitat.
    c. Stands of low restoration value and low value as existing 
northern spotted owl habitat.
    d. Stands of high restoration value and high value as existing 
northern spotted owl habitat.
    In locations where there is high restoration value and high value 
as existing northern spotted owl habitat, a landscape assessment can 
help to build a strong rationale for impacting owl habitat 
functionality to achieve broader landscape goals. Conditions that may 
support management activities in these

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stands may include, but are not limited to the following:
    1. The patch of habitat is located in an area where it is likely 
unsustainable and has the potential for conveying natural disturbances 
across the landscape in ways that jeopardize large patches of suitable 
northern spotted owl habitat.
    2. There are nearby areas that are more likely to sustain suitable 
northern spotted owl habitat and are either currently habitat or will 
likely develop suitable conditions within the next 30 years.
    3. The patch of habitat does not appear to be associated with a 
northern spotted owl home range or to promote successful dispersal 
between existing home ranges.
    4. The area will still retain some habitat function after 
treatment, while still meeting the intended restoration objective. For 
example, stands that are suitable as foraging habitat may be degraded 
post treatment but remain foraging habitat after treatment. Or, stands 
may be downgraded to dispersal habitat as a result of treatment.
    We do not expect the desired landscape conditions will be achieved 
within the next decade or two; a longer time will be required as 
younger forests develop into northern spotted owl nesting, roosting, 
and foraging habitat. In the interim, we recommend that land managers 
consider management actions to protect current habitat, especially 
where it occurs in larger blocks on areas of the landscape, where it is 
more likely to be resistant or resilient to fires and other disturbance 
agents. We also encourage land managers to consider actions to 
accelerate the restoration of habitat, especially where it is 
consistent with overall forest restoration and occurs in those portions 
of the landscape that are less fire prone or are resilient in the face 
of these disturbances. The careful application of these types of 
activities is expected to achieve a landscape that is more resilient to 
future disturbances. As such, we anticipate that projects designed to 
achieve this goal will need to be of a larger spatial scale as to have 
a meaningful effect on wildfire behavior, regimes, and extent. The 
effects of these projects will vary depending on existing condition, 
prescriptions, proximity of habitat, and other factors. It is likely 
that such projects may affect northern spotted owl critical habitat and 
require section 7 consultation.
    Some situations also exist in the final critical habitat area where 
northern spotted owl habitat has been created through fire suppression 
activities (e.g., meadow conversion, white fir intrusion), but 
retention of those forested habitat elements is contrary to the overall 
goals of ecosystem restoration and long-term security for the owl. 
Restoration projects that modify these elements, while sometimes 
prudent and recommended (Franklin et al. 2008, p. 46), may adversely 
affect northern spotted owls or their critical habitat, and may need to 
be evaluated through the section 7 consultation process. Additional 
information about restoration activities in dry forests can be found in 
the Revised Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl under Restoring 
Dry Forest Ecosystems (USFWS 2011, p. III-32).
Redwood Coast
    While the Redwood Coast region of coastal northern California is 
similar to the West Cascades/Coast region in many respects, there are 
some distinct differences in northern spotted owl habitat use and diet 
within this zone. The long growing season, combined with the redwood's 
ability to resprout from stumps, allows redwood stands to attain 
suitable stand structure for nesting in a relatively short period of 
time (40 to 60 years) if legacy structures are present. In contrast to 
the large, contiguous, older stands desired in other wet provinces, 
some degree of fine-scale fragmentation in redwood forests appears to 
benefit northern spotted owls. These openings provide habitat for the 
northern spotted owl's primary prey, the dusky-footed woodrat. High 
woodrat abundance is associated with dense shrub and hardwood cover 
that persists for up to 20 years in recent forest openings created by 
harvesting or burns. Under dense shrub and hardwood cover, woodrats can 
forage, build nests, and reproduce, relatively secure from owl 
predation. These sites quickly become overpopulated, and surplus 
individuals are displaced into adjacent older stands where they become 
available as owl prey. When developing stands reach an age of around 20 
years, understory vegetation is increasingly shaded-out, cover and food 
sources become scarce, and woodrat abundance declines rapidly. By this 
time, the stand that once supported a dense woodrat population makes a 
structural transition into a stand where woodrats are subject to 
intense owl predation. In northern spotted owl territories within the 
Redwood Forest zone, active management that creates small openings 
within foraging habitat can enhance northern spotted owl foraging 
opportunities and produce or retain habitat suitability in the short 
term. Actions consistent with this type of land management are not 
expected to adversely modify critical habitat.
Summary of Section 7 Process
    This discussion has covered projects that may or may not require 
formal section 7 consultation. It is important to distinguish between a 
finding that a project is likely to adversely affect critical habitat 
and a finding at the conclusion of formal consultation that a project 
is likely to destroy or adversely modify critical habitat; these are 
two very different outcomes. It is not uncommon for a proposed project 
to be considered likely to adversely affect critical habitat, and thus 
require formal consultation, but still warrant a conclusion that it 
will not destroy or adversely modify critical habitat. An action may 
destroy or adversely modify critical habitat if it adversely affects 
the essential physical or biological features to an extent that the 
intended conservation function or purpose of critical habitat for the 
northern spotted owl is appreciably reduced.
    The adverse modification determination is made at the scale of the 
entire designated critical habitat, unless the final critical habitat 
rule identifies another basis for that determination, such as at the 
scale of discrete units and/or groups of units necessary for different 
life cycle phases, units representing distinctive habitat 
characteristics or gene pools, or units fulfilling essential 
geographical distribution requirements of the species (USFWS and NMFS 
1998, p. 4-39). In the case of northern spotted owl critical habitat, 
the adverse modification determination will be made at the scale of the 
entire designated critical habitat. However, by describing the 
relationship between the conservation role of affected subunits, units, 
and the entire designated critical habitat in the biological opinion, a 
sensitive analytical framework is established for informing the 
determination of whether a proposed action is likely to appreciably 
reduce the conservation role of the critical habitat overall. In this 
way, a proposed action that compromises the capability of a subunit or 
unit to fulfill its intended conservation function or purpose (e.g., 
demographic, genetic, or distributional support for northern spotted 
owl recovery) could represent an appreciable reduction in the 
conservation value of the entire designated critical habitat. This 
approach should avoid false no-adverse-modification determinations, 
when the functionality of a unit or subunit would actually be impaired 
by a proposed action.

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    As described above, in general, we do not anticipate that 
activities consistent with the stated management goals or recommended 
recovery actions of the Revised Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted 
Owl (USFWS 2011, Chapters II and III) would constitute adverse 
modification of critical habitat, even if those activities may have 
adverse effects in the short term, if the intended result over the long 
term is an improvement in the function of the habitat to provide for 
the essential life-history needs of the northern spotted owl. However, 
such activities will be evaluated under section 7, taking into account 
the specific proposed action, location, and other site-specific 
factors.

X. Exemptions

Application of Section 4(a)(3) of the Act

    The Sikes Act Improvement Act of 1997 (Sikes Act) (16 U.S.C. 670a) 
required each military installation that includes land and water 
suitable for the conservation and management of natural resources to 
complete an integrated natural resources management plan (INRMP) by 
November 17, 2001. An INRMP integrates implementation of the military 
mission of the installation with stewardship of the natural resources 
found on the base. Each INRMP includes:
    (1) An assessment of the ecological needs on the installation, 
including the need to provide for the conservation of listed species;
    (2) A statement of goals and priorities;
    (3) A detailed description of management actions to be implemented 
to provide for these ecological needs; and
    (4) A monitoring and adaptive management plan.
    Among other things, each INRMP must, to the extent appropriate and 
applicable, provide for fish and wildlife management; fish and wildlife 
habitat enhancement or modification; wetland protection, enhancement, 
and restoration where necessary to support fish and wildlife; and 
enforcement of applicable natural resource laws.
    The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2004 (Pub. 
L. 108-136) amended the Act to limit areas eligible for designation as 
critical habitat. Specifically, section 4(a)(3)(B)(i) of the Act (16 
U.S.C. 1533(a)(3)(B)(i)) now provides: ``The Secretary shall not 
designate as critical habitat any lands or other geographical areas 
owned or controlled by the Department of Defense, or designated for its 
use, that are subject to an integrated natural resources management 
plan prepared under section 101 of the Sikes Act (16 U.S.C. 670a), if 
the Secretary determines, in writing, that such plan provides a benefit 
to the species for which critical habitat is proposed for 
designation.''
    We consult with the military on the development and implementation 
of INRMPs for installations with listed species. We analyzed INRMPs 
developed by military installations located within the range of the 
designated critical habitat designation for the northern spotted owl to 
determine if they are exempt under section 4(a)(3) of the Act. The 
following areas are Department of Defense lands with completed, 
Service-approved INRMPs that fell within the area we proposed as 
revised critical habitat (77 FR 14062; March 8, 2012).

Approved INRMPs

U.S. Army Joint Base Lewis-McChord
    Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM), formerly known as Fort Lewis, is 
an 86,500-ac (35,000-ha) U.S. Army military reservation in western 
Washington, south of Tacoma and the Puget Sound. JBLM contains one of 
the largest remaining intact forest areas in the Puget Sound basin, 
with approximately 54,400 ac (22,000 ha) of forests and woodlands, 
predominantly of the dry Douglas-fir forest type and including some 
moist forest types (Douglas-fir, red cedar, hemlock). The forested area 
of JBLM is managed by the Base's Forestry Program, and the primary 
mission for the JBLM Forest is to provide a variety of forested 
environments for military training. JBLM has a history of applying an 
ecosystem management strategy to their forests to provide for multiple 
conservation goals, which have included promoting native biological 
diversity, maintaining and restoring unique plant communities, and 
developing late-successional (older) forest structure. There are 14,997 
ac (6,069 ha) of lands within the boundary of JBLM that were identified 
in the proposed critical habitat designation; these lands comprised 
subunit NCO-3 in the proposed rule (77 FR 14062; March 8, 2012).
    JBLM has an INRMP in place that was approved in 2008; JBLM is in 
the process of updating that INRMP. To date, JBLM has managed their 
forest lands according to their Forest Management Strategy, first 
prepared for then-Fort Lewis in 1995 by the Public Forestry Foundation 
based in Eugene, Oregon, in collaboration with The Nature Conservancy. 
The Forest Management Strategy was last revised in May 2005, and is 
also in the process of being updated (Forest Management Strategy 2005, 
entire). However, in 2012, JBLM amended their existing INRMP with 
specific regard to the northern spotted owl by completing an Endangered 
Species Management Plan (ESMP) that includes guidelines for protecting, 
maintaining, and enhancing habitat essential to support the northern 
spotted owl on JBLM. The Service has found, in writing, that the 
amended INRMP provides a net conservation benefit to the species.
    The ESMP identifies management objectives for the conservation of 
the northern spotted owl. Specifically, the ESMP includes three focus 
areas for management of northern spotted owl. The long-term objective 
for the first is development of all four types of owl habitat (nesting, 
roosting, foraging, and dispersal). The long-term objectives for Focus 
Areas 2 and 3 are development of owl foraging and dispersal habitat. 
The primary conservation goals for northern spotted owl habitat on JBLM 
are to protect and maintain existing northern spotted owl suitable 
habitat; manipulate unsuitable habitat to suitable habitat; and ensure 
long-term suitable habitat and monitor northern spotted owl habitat to 
assure that goals are met and actions are successful. Although northern 
spotted owls are not currently known to occupy JBLM, it is the only 
significant Federal ownership in this region of Washington, and it 
provides the largest contiguous block of forest in this area as well. 
The potential development of suitable owl habitat at JBLM provides one 
of the only feasible opportunities for establishing connectivity 
between owl populations in the Olympic Peninsula and the western 
Cascades Range. Connectivity allows gene flow between populations, and 
further maintains northern spotted owl distribution and metapopulation 
dynamics, which are important components of the recovery strategy for 
the northern spotted owl (USFWS 2011, p. III-1, III-44). The Forest 
Management Strategy (2005, p. 82) notes that the mosaic of dry forest, 
woodland, and prairie at JBLM is very different from typical forest 
landscapes that support northern spotted owls, and that while suitable 
habitat for dispersal of northern spotted owls can be achieved in the 
short term, at least 40 to 50 years may be needed to meet the desired 
condition for foraging, nesting, and roosting habitat.
    Based on the above considerations and in accordance with section 
4(a)(3)(B)(i) of the Act, we have determined that the identified lands 
are subject to the JBLM INRMP and that

[[Page 71945]]

conservation efforts identified in the INRMP through its ESMP for the 
northern spotted owl will provide a benefit to the species occurring in 
habitats within or adjacent to JBLM, including the northern spotted 
owl. Therefore, lands within this installation are exempt from critical 
habitat designation under section 4(a)(3) of the Act. We are not 
including approximately 14,997 ac (6,069 ha) of habitat in this final 
critical habitat designation as a result of this exemption.

XI. Exclusions

Application of Section 4(b)(2) of the Act
    Section 4(b)(2) of the Act states that the Secretary must designate 
or make revisions to critical habitat on the basis of the best 
available scientific data after taking into consideration the economic 
impact, national security impact, and any other relevant impacts of 
specifying any particular area as critical habitat. The Secretary may 
exclude an area from critical habitat if he determines that the 
benefits of such exclusion outweigh the benefits of specifying such 
area as part of the critical habitat, unless he determines, based on 
the best scientific data available, that the failure to designate such 
area as critical habitat will result in the extinction of the species. 
In making that determination, the statute on its face, as well as the 
legislative history, are clear that the Secretary has broad discretion 
regarding which factor(s) to use and how much weight to give to any 
factor.
    When considering the benefits of inclusion for an area, we consider 
the additional regulatory benefits that area would receive from the 
protection from adverse modification or destruction as a result of 
actions with a Federal nexus; the educational benefits of mapping 
essential habitat for recovery of the listed species; and any benefits 
that may result from a designation due to State or Federal laws that 
may apply to critical habitat.
    When considering the benefits of exclusion, we consider, among 
other things, whether exclusion of a specific area is likely to result 
in the overall conservation of the northern spotted owl through the 
continuation, strengthening, or encouragement of partnerships and the 
implementation of management plans or programs that provide equal or 
more conservation for the northern spotted owl than could be achieved 
through a designation of critical habitat. The Secretary can consider 
the existence of conservation agreements and other land management 
plans with Federal, State, private, and tribal entities when making 
decisions under section 4(b)(2) of the Act. The Secretary may also 
consider relationships with landowners, voluntary partnerships, and 
conservation plans, and weigh the implementation and effectiveness of 
these against that of designation to determine which provides the 
greatest conservation value to the listed species.
    Consideration of relevant impacts of designation or exclusion under 
section 4(b)(2) may include, but is not limited to, any of the 
following factors: (1) Whether the plan provides specific information 
on how it protects the species and the physical or biological features, 
and whether the plan is at a geographical scope commensurate with the 
species; (2) whether the plan is complete and will be effective at 
conserving and protecting the physical or biological features; (3) 
whether a reasonable expectation exists that conservation management 
strategies and actions will be implemented, that those responsible for 
implementing the plan are capable of achieving the objectives, that an 
implementation schedule exists, and that adequate funding exists; (4) 
whether the plan provides assurances that the conservation strategies 
and measures will be effective (i.e., identifies biological goals, has 
provisions for reporting progress, and is of a duration sufficient to 
implement the plan); (5) whether the plan has a monitoring program or 
adaptive management to ensure that the conservation measures are 
effective; (6) the degree to which the record supports a conclusion 
that a critical habitat designation would impair the benefits of the 
plan; (7) the extent of public participation; (8) a demonstrated track 
record of implementation success; (9) the level of public benefits 
derived from encouraging collaborative efforts and encouraging private 
and local conservation efforts; and (10) the effect designation would 
have on partnerships.
    After evaluating the benefits of inclusion and the benefits of 
exclusion, we carefully weigh the two sides to determine whether the 
benefits of excluding a particular area outweigh the benefits of its 
inclusion in critical habitat. If we determine that the benefits of 
excluding a particular area outweigh the benefits of its inclusion, 
then the Secretary can exercise his discretion to exclude the area, 
provided that the exclusion will not result in the extinction of the 
species.
    Under section 4(b)(2) of the Act, we must consider all relevant 
impacts of the designation of critical habitat, including economic 
impacts. In addition to economic impacts (discussed in the Economics 
Analysis section, below), we considered a number of factors in a 
section 4(b)(2) analysis. We considered whether Federal or private 
landowners or other public agencies have developed management plans, 
habitat conservation plans (HCPs) or Safe Harbor Agreements (SHAs) for 
the area or whether there are conservation partnerships or other 
conservation benefits that would be encouraged or discouraged by 
designation of, or exclusion from, critical habitat in an area. We also 
considered other relevant impacts that might occur because of the 
designation. To ensure that our final determination is based on the 
best available information, we also considered comments received on 
foreseeable economic, national security, or other potential impacts 
resulting from this designation of critical habitat from governmental, 
business, or private interests and, in particular, any potential 
impacts on small businesses.
    Based on the information provided by entities seeking exclusion, as 
well as any additional public comments received, we evaluated whether 
certain lands in the proposed revised critical habitat were appropriate 
for exclusion from this final designation pursuant to section 4(b)(2) 
of the Act. Based on our evaluation, we are excluding approximately 
3,879,506 ac (1,567,875 ha) of lands that meet the definition of 
critical habitat under section 4(b)(2) of the Act from final critical 
habitat.
Final Economic Analysis
    Under section 4(b)(2) of the Act, we consider the economic impacts 
of specifying any particular area as critical habitat. In order to 
consider economic impacts, we prepared a draft economic analysis (DEA) 
of the proposed critical habitat designation and related factors (IEC 
2012a). The draft analysis was made available for public review from 
June 1, 2012, through July 6, 2012 (77 FR 32483). Following the close 
of the comment period, we developed a final economic analysis (FEA) 
(IEC 2012b) of the potential economic effects of the designation taking 
into consideration the public comments and any new information.
    The intent of the FEA is to quantify economic impacts that may be 
directly attributable to the designation of critical habitat--that is, 
costs above and beyond what are considered ``baseline'' costs, as 
described below. The economic impact of the final critical habitat 
designation is analyzed by comparing scenarios both ``with critical 
habitat'' and ``without critical habitat.'' The ``without critical

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habitat'' scenario represents the baseline for the analysis, and 
considers the costs incurred as a result of protections already in 
place for the species (e.g., under the Federal listing and other 
Federal, State, and local regulations); these are costs that are 
incurred regardless of whether critical habitat is designated. The 
``with critical habitat'' scenario describes the ``incremental'' 
economic impacts associated specifically with the designation of 
critical habitat for the species--these costs are those not expected to 
occur but for the designation of critical habitat for the species. In 
other words, the incremental costs are those attributable solely to the 
designation of critical habitat above and beyond the baseline costs; 
these are the costs we consider in the final designation of critical 
habitat.
    The FEA also addresses how potential economic impacts are likely to 
be distributed, including an assessment of any local or regional 
impacts of habitat conservation and the potential effects of 
conservation activities on government agencies, private businesses, and 
individuals. Decisionmakers can use this information to assess whether 
the effects of the designation might unduly burden a particular group 
or economic sector. Finally, the FEA considers those costs that may 
occur in the 20 years following the revised designation of critical 
habitat, which was determined to be the appropriate period for analysis 
because limited planning information was available for most activities 
to forecast activity levels for projects beyond a 20-year timeframe. 
The FEA quantifies economic impacts of northern spotted owl 
conservation efforts associated with timber harvests, wildfire 
management, barred owl management, road construction, and linear 
projects (road and bridge construction and maintenance, installation of 
power transmission lines and utility pipelines), as these are the types 
of activities we determined were most likely to occur within northern 
spotted owl habitat.
    The results of the FEA concludes that only a portion of the overall 
proposed revised designation will result in more than incremental, 
minor administrative costs. Specifically, of the 13,962,449 ac proposed 
for designation, potential incremental changes in timber harvest 
practices were anticipated on only 1,449,534 ac (585,612 ha) of USFS 
and BLM lands, or approximately 10 percent of the proposed designation. 
In addition, there was potential for the owners of 307,308 ac (123,364 
ha) of private land to experience incremental changes in harvests 
(approximately 2 percent of the proposed designation). No incremental 
changes in harvests are expected on State lands.
    In addition, to address the uncertainty in the types of management 
and activities that may or may not occur within the proposed critical 
habitat, the FEA evaluated three scenarios to capture the full range of 
potential economic impacts of the designation. The first scenario 
contemplates that minimal or no changes to current timber management 
practices will occur, thus the incremental costs of the designation 
would be predominantly administrative. The potential additional 
administrative costs due to critical habitat designation on Federal 
lands range from $185,000 to $316,000 on an annualized basis for timber 
harvest.
    The second scenario posits that action agencies may choose to 
implement management practices that yield an increase in timber harvest 
relative to the baseline (current realized levels of timber harvest). 
For this scenario, baseline harvest projections were scaled upward by 
10 percent, resulting in a positive impact on Federal lands ranging 
from $893,000 to $2,870,000 on an annualized basis for timber harvest.
    The third scenario considers that actions agencies may choose to be 
more restrictive in response to critical habitat designation, resulting 
in a decline in harvest volumes relative to the baseline. To illustrate 
the potential for this effect, baseline harvest projections were scaled 
downward by 20 percent, resulting in a negative impact on timber 
harvest on Federal lands ranging from $2,650,000 to $6,480,000 on an 
annualized basis.
    The USFS and BLM suggested certain alterations to the baseline 
timber harvest projections, based on differing assumptions regarding 
northern spotted owl occupancy in matrix lands and projected levels of 
timber harvest relative to historical yields. The FEA presents the 
results of a sensitivity analysis considering these alternative 
assumptions, which widen the range of annualized potential impacts to 
Federal timber harvest relative to the scenarios described above (IEC 
2012b, pp. 4-37 to 4-39). This sensitivity analysis contemplated a 
situation in which 26.6 percent of northern spotted owl habitat on BLM 
matrix lands is unoccupied, and a 20 percent increase in baseline 
timber harvest in USFS Region 6 relative to historical yields. The 
range of incremental impacts under these alternative assumptions widens 
to a potential annualized increase of $0.7 million under Scenario 2, 
and an annualized decrease of $1.4 million under Scenario 3, relative 
to the results reported above.
    Timber harvest was not anticipated to change on State lands in 
response to critical habitat designation. Timber harvest effects on 
private lands were highly uncertain, and were only identified 
qualitatively as potential negative impacts associated with regulatory 
uncertainty, and possibly (but speculative) new regulation in the State 
of Washington.
    Under all three scenarios, linear projects reflected administrative 
costs only, ranging from $10,800 to $19,500 on an annualized basis.
    Counties receive Federal lands payments from a subset of four 
programs: The U.S. Forest Service 25% Fund; the BLM O&C lands payments; 
Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT); and Secure Rural Schools and Community 
Self-determination Act (SRS) (please see FEA pp. 3-19 to 3-21 for a 
thorough discussion of these programs). Counties have the option of 
receiving either SRS of 25%/O&C payments, but not both. For reasons 
unrelated to proposed critical habitat, the future of the PILT and SRS 
programs is uncertain and depends on forces, including Congressional 
action, unrelated to critical habitat designation. If funding is not 
appropriated to PILT, or SRS is not reauthorized, payments from the 
USFS 25% Fund and the BLM O&C lands become relatively more important. 
Payments for these latter two programs are based on commercial 
receipts, main from timber generated on Federal lands; payments from 
PILT and SRS are not as closely linked to fluctuations in timber sales. 
In recent years, most counties have opted to receive SRS payments; for 
example, in FY 2009 all 18 counties in Oregon that contain BLM lands 
opted to receive SRS payments instead of the LBM O&C lands revenue-
sharing payment. Therefore, it is difficult to quantify the effects 
that future changes in timber harvests from Federal lands resulting 
from critical habitat designation would have on counties if SRS and 
PILT payment programs ended and the counties were forced to rely on 
revenue-sharing payments only. Given the baseline uncertainty 
associated with the continuance of SRS and PILT payments, we were 
unable to quantify possible changes in county revenue payments that 
could result from the critical habitat designation. However, based on 
recent socioeconomic trends, we were able to identify those counties 
that may be more sensitive to future changes in timber harvests, 
industry employment, and Federal land payments. Potential timber 
harvest changes related to critical habitat designation, whether 
positive, negative, or neutral, are one potential aspect of

[[Page 71947]]

this sensitivity. The counties identified as relatively more sensitive 
to future changes in timber harvests, employment, and payments were Del 
Norte and Trinity Counties, California; Douglas and Klamath Counties, 
Oregon; and Skamania County, Washington.
    With regard to jobs, increases or decreases in timber harvests from 
Federal or private lands could result in positive or negative changes 
in jobs, respectively. The FEA notes that many factors affect timber 
industry employment (Chapter 6). The scope of our analysis was limited 
to the incremental effects of critical habitat within the area proposed 
for designation by the northern spotted owl. The FEA did not consider 
potential changes in timber activities outside the proposed critical 
habitat designation, and did not evaluate the potential effects related 
to the timber industry as a whole.
    Based on our economic analysis of the potential effects of the 
proposed revised designation of critical habitat for the northern 
spotted owl, there is a range of potential outcomes, ranging from 
positive to negative impacts of the designation. Most potential 
economic impacts would occur, if at all, on Federal matrix lands 
managed by BLM and the Forest Service, although we note that the amount 
of Federal matrix lands has been reduced from the proposed rule, as 
described in Changes from the Proposed Rule, which would have the 
effect of reducing the range of potential economic impacts presented by 
the FEA. While there is uncertainty over whether such impacts will 
occur and to what extent, even assuming higher economic impacts 
suggested by some commenters, we would not exclude these lands from 
designation under section 4(b)(2) because a critical habitat 
designation on these lands will have benefits in conserving this 
essential habitat. In addition, our evaluation of these matrix lands 
clearly demonstrates their importance to the conservation of the 
northern spotted owl; as also discussed in the section Changes from the 
Proposed Rule, our evaluation of a habitat network with reduced areas 
of high value habitat on matrix lands indicated a significant increase 
in extinction risk to the species as a result.
    A copy of the FEA with supporting documents may be obtained by 
contacting the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Office (see ADDRESSES) or by 
downloading from the Internet at http://www.regulations.gov.
National Security Impacts
    Under section 4(b)(2) of the Act, we consider whether there are 
lands owned or managed by the Department of Defense (DOD) where a 
national security impact might exist. In preparing this final rule, we 
have determined that the only lands within the proposed revised 
designation of critical habitat for the northern spotted owl that are 
owned or managed by the Department of Defense have an active INRMP 
which provides a benefit to the species, and are thus exempt from 
critical habitat designation under section 4(a)(3) of the Act (see 
Exemptions, above). We therefore anticipate no impact on national 
security from this designation. Consequently, the Secretary is not 
exercising his discretion to exclude any additional areas from this 
final revised designation based on impacts to national security.
Relevant Impacts
    Under section 4(b)(2) of the Act, we consider all relevant impacts, 
including but not limited to economic impacts and impacts on national 
security. We consider a number of factors including whether the 
landowners have developed any HCPs or other management plans for the 
area, or whether there are conservation partnerships that would be 
encouraged by designation of, or exclusion from, critical habitat. In 
addition, we look at any tribal issues, and consider the government-to-
government relationship of the United States with tribal entities. We 
also consider any social impacts that might occur because of the 
designation.
    Here we provide our analysis of areas that were proposed as revised 
designation of critical habitat for the northern spotted owl, for which 
there may be a greater conservation benefit to exclude rather than 
include in the designation. Our weighing of the benefits of inclusion 
versus exclusion considered all relevant factors in order to make our 
final determination as to what will result in the greatest conservation 
benefit to the owl. Depending on the specifics of each situation, there 
may be cases where the designation of critical habitat will not 
necessarily provide enhanced protection, and may actually lead to a net 
loss of conservation benefit.
Benefits of Designating Critical Habitat
    The process of designating critical habitat as described in the Act 
requires that the Service identify those lands within the geographical 
area occupied by the species at the time of listing on which are found 
the physical or biological features essential to the conservation of 
the species that may require special management considerations or 
protection, and those areas outside the geographical area occupied by 
the species at the time of listing that are essential for the 
conservation of the species.
    The identification of areas that contain the features essential to 
the conservation of the species, or are otherwise essential for the 
conservation of the species if outside the geographical area occupied 
by the species at the time of listing, is a benefit resulting from the 
designation. The critical habitat designation process includes peer 
review and public comment on the identified physical or biological 
features and areas, and provides a mechanism to educate landowners, 
State and local governments, and the public regarding the potential 
conservation value of an area. This helps focus and promote 
conservation efforts by other parties by clearly delineating areas of 
high conservation value for the species, and is valuable to land owners 
and managers in developing conservation management plans by describing 
the essential physical or biological features and special management 
actions or protections that are needed for identified areas. Including 
lands in critical habitat also informs State agencies and local 
governments about areas that could be conserved under State laws or 
local ordinances.
    However, the prohibition on destruction or adverse modification 
under section 7(a)(2) of the Act constitutes the only Federal 
regulatory benefit of critical habitat designation. As discussed above, 
Federal agencies must consult with the Service on actions that may 
affect critical habitat and must avoid destroying or adversely 
modifying critical habitat. Federal agencies must also consult with us 
on actions that may affect a listed species and refrain from 
undertaking actions that are likely to jeopardize the continued 
existence of such species. The analysis of effects to critical habitat 
is a separate and different analysis from that of the effects to the 
species. Therefore, the difference in outcomes of these two analyses 
also represents the regulatory benefit of critical habitat. For some 
species, and in some locations, the outcome of these analyses will be 
similar because effects on habitat will often result in effects on the 
species. However, these two regulatory standards are different. The 
jeopardy analysis evaluates how a proposed action is likely to 
influence the likelihood of a species' survival and recovery. The 
adverse modification analysis evaluates how an action affects the 
capability of the critical habitat to serve its intended conservation 
function or purpose (USFWS, in litt. 2004). Although these standards 
are different,

[[Page 71948]]

it has been the Service's experience that in many instances proposed 
actions that affect both a listed species and its critical habitat and 
that constitute jeopardy also constitute adverse modification. In some 
cases, however, application of these different standards results in 
different section 7(a)(2) determinations, especially in situations 
where the affected area is mostly or exclusively unoccupied critical 
habitat. Thus, critical habitat designations may provide greater 
benefits to the recovery of a species than would listing as endangered 
or threatened under the Act alone.
    There are two limitations to the regulatory effect of critical 
habitat. First, a section 7(a)(2) consultation is required only where 
there is a Federal nexus (an action authorized, funded, or carried out 
by any Federal agency)--if there is no Federal nexus, the critical 
habitat designation of non-Federal lands itself does not restrict any 
actions that destroy or adversely modify critical habitat. Aside from 
the requirement that Federal agencies ensure that their actions are not 
likely to result in destruction or adverse modification of critical 
habitat under section 7, the Act does not provide any additional 
regulatory protection to lands designated as critical habitat.
    Second, designating critical habitat does not create a management 
plan for the areas; does not establish numerical population goals or 
prescribe specific management actions (inside or outside of critical 
habitat); and does not have a direct effect on areas not designated as 
critical habitat. The designation only limits destruction or adverse 
modification of critical habitat, not all adverse effects. By its 
nature, the prohibition on adverse modification ensures that the 
conservation role and function of the critical habitat network is not 
appreciably reduced as a result of a Federal action.
    Once an agency determines that consultation under section 7(a)(2) 
of the Act is necessary, the process may conclude informally when the 
Service concurs in writing that the proposed Federal action is not 
likely to adversely affect the species or critical habitat. However, if 
we determine through informal consultation that adverse impacts are 
likely to occur, then formal consultation is initiated. Formal 
consultation concludes with a biological opinion issued by the Service 
on whether the proposed Federal action is likely to jeopardize the 
continued existence of listed species or result in destruction or 
adverse modification of critical habitat.
    For critical habitat, a biological opinion that concludes in a 
determination of no destruction or adverse modification may recommend 
additional conservation measures to minimize adverse effects to primary 
constituent elements, but such measures would be discretionary on the 
part of the Federal agency.
    The designation of critical habitat does not require that any 
management or recovery actions take place on the lands included in the 
designation. Even in cases where consultation has been initiated under 
section 7(a)(2) of the Act because of effects to critical habitat, the 
end result of consultation is to avoid adverse modification, but not 
necessarily to manage critical habitat or institute recovery actions on 
critical habitat. On the other hand, voluntary conservation efforts by 
landowners can remove or reduce known threats to a species or its 
habitat by implementing recovery actions. We find that in many 
instances the regulatory benefit of critical habitat is minimal when 
compared to the conservation benefit that can be achieved through 
implementing HCPs under section 10 of the Act, or other voluntary 
conservation efforts or management plans. The conservation achieved 
through implementing HCPs, or other habitat management plans can be 
greater than what we achieve through multiple site-by-site, project-by-
project section 7(a)(2) consultations involving project effects to 
critical habitat. Management plans can commit resources to implement 
long-term management and protection to particular habitat for at least 
one and possibly other listed or sensitive species. Section 7(a)(2) 
consultations commit Federal agencies to preventing adverse 
modification of critical habitat caused by the particular project; 
consultation does not require Federal agencies to provide for 
conservation or long-term benefits to areas not affected by the 
proposed project. Thus, implementation of any HCP, or management plan 
that incorporates enhancement or recovery as the management standard 
may often provide as much or more benefit than a consultation for 
critical habitat designation. After reviewing all current HCPs, SHAs, 
and any other active management plans or conservation agreements, and 
weighing the benefits of inclusion and exclusion (see below), we are 
excluding all State and private lands covered by such agreements from 
the final critical habitat designation.
    We are also excluding under section 4(b)(2) congressionally-
reserved natural areas such as national parks and wilderness areas, 
State parks, and other private lands that had been proposed for 
designation, for the reasons discussed below. These analyses are based 
in large part on the particular conservation requirements of the 
northern spotted owl or the State laws aimed at protecting this 
species, and are specific to this designation. Thus, our determination 
that the benefits of exclusion outweigh the benefits of inclusion in 
these cases, as well as the decision to exclude in these instances, do 
not necessarily have a bearing on any future critical habitat 
designations.
    Table 8 identifies all lands excluded from the final rule.

   Table 8--Lands Excluded From the Final Revised Designation of Critical Habitat for the Northern Spotted Owl
                                        Under Section 4(b)(2) of the Act
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                Critical habitat
      Type of agreement               unit          State     Land owner/agency        Acres         Hectares
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Safe Harbor Agreement........  WCC..............  WA        Port Blakely Tree                195              79
                                                             Farms, L.P., Safe
                                                             Harbor Agreement,
                                                             Landowner Option
                                                             Plan, Cooperative
                                                             Habitat Enhancement.
                               WCC/ECN..........  WA        SDS Co. & Broughton            2,035             824
                                                             Lumber Co.
                                                             Conservation Plan.
                               RWC..............  CA        Forster-Gill, Inc...             238              96
                               RWC..............  CA        Van Eck Forest                 2,774           1,122
                                                             Foundation, Safe
                                                             Harbor Agreement.
Habitat Conservation Plan....  WCC..............  WA        Cedar River                    3,244           1,313
                                                             Watershed Habitat
                                                             Conservation Plan.
                               WCC..............  WA        Green River Water              3,162           1,280
                                                             Supply Operations
                                                             and Watershed
                                                             Protection Habitat
                                                             Conservation Plan.
                               WCC/ECN..........  WA        Plum Creek Timber             33,144          13,413
                                                             Central Cascades I-
                                                             90 Habitat
                                                             Conservation Plan.

[[Page 71949]]

 
                               WCC..............  WA        West Fork Timber               5,105           2,066
                                                             Habitat
                                                             Conservation Plan.
                               RWC..............  CA        Green Diamond                369,384         149,484
                                                             Resource Company
                                                             Habitat
                                                             Conservation Plan.
                               RWC..............  CA        Humboldt Redwood             208,172          84,244
                                                             Company, Habitat
                                                             Conservation Plan.
                               RWC..............  CA        Regli Estate Habitat             484             196
                                                             Conservation Plan.
                               ICC..............  CA......  Terra Springs                     39              16
                                                             Habitat
                                                             Conservation Plan.
                               .................  WA        Washington                   225,751          91,358
                                                             Department of
                                                             Natural Resources
                                                             State Lands HCP.
Other Conservation Measures    ECN..............  WA        Scofield Corporation              40              16
 or Partnerships.
                               RWC..............  CA        Mendocino Redwood            232,584          94,123
                                                             Company.
National Parks, State Parks,                                National Parks......         998,585         404,113
 and Congressionally Reserved
 Lands.
                                                            State Parks and              180,894          73,267
                                                             Natural Areas.
                                                            Congressionally            1,625,068         657,644
                                                             Reserved USFS and
                                                             BLM Lands.
Other Private Lands..........  .................  WA        ....................          42,513          17,204
                               .................  CA        ....................         123,348          49,917
                                                           -----------------------------------------------------
    Total lands excluded       .................  ........  ....................       4,056,759       1,641,777
     under section 4(b)(2) of
     the Act.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Benefits of Excluding Lands With Safe Harbor Agreements
    A Safe Harbor Agreement (SHA) is a voluntary agreement involving 
private or other non-Federal property owners whose actions contribute 
to the recovery of listed species. The agreement is between cooperating 
non-Federal property owners and the Service. In exchange for actions 
that contribute to the recovery of listed species on non-Federal lands, 
participating property owners receive formal assurances from the 
Service that, if they fulfill the conditions of the SHA, the Service 
will not require any additional or different management activities by 
the participants without their consent. In addition, at the end of the 
agreement period, participants may return the enrolled property to the 
baseline conditions that existed at the beginning of the SHA.
    Because many endangered and threatened species occur exclusively, 
or to a large extent, on privately owned property, the involvement of 
the private sector in the conservation and recovery of species is 
crucial. Property owners are often willing partners in efforts to 
recover listed species. However, some property owners may be reluctant 
to undertake activities that support or attract listed species on their 
properties, due to fear of future property-use restrictions related to 
the Act. To address this concern, an SHA provides that future property-
use limitations will not occur without the landowner's consent if the 
landowner is in compliance with the permit and agreement and the 
activity is not likely to result in jeopardy to the listed species.
    Central to this approach is that the actions taken under the SHA 
must provide a net conservation benefit that contributes to the 
recovery of the covered species. Examples of conservation benefits 
include:
     Reduced habitat fragmentation;
     Maintenance, restoration, or enhancement of existing 
habitats;
     Increases in habitat connectivity;
     Stabilized or increased numbers or distribution;
     The creation of buffers for protected areas; and
     Opportunities to test and develop new habitat management 
techniques.
    By entering into a SHA, property owners receive assurances that 
land use restrictions will not be required even if the voluntary 
actions taken under the agreement attract particular listed species 
onto enrolled properties or increase the numbers of distribution of 
those listed species already present on those properties. The 
assurances are provided through an enhancement of survival permit 
issued to the property owner, under the authority of section 
10(a)(1)(A) of the Act. To implement this provision of the Act, the 
Service and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) issued a joint 
policy for developing SHAs for listed species on June 17, 1999 (64 FR 
32717). The Service simultaneously issued regulations for implementing 
SHAs on June 17, 1999 (64 FR 32706). A correction to the final rule was 
announced on September 30, 1999 (64 FR 52676). The enhancement of 
survival permit issued in association with an SHA authorizes incidental 
take of species that may result from actions undertaken by the 
landowner under the SHA, which could include returning the property to 
the baseline conditions at the end of the agreement. The permit also 
specifies that the Service will not require any additional or different 
management activities by participants without their consent if the 
permittee is in compliance with the requirements of the permit and the 
SHA and the permittee's actions are not likely to result in jeopardy.
    The benefits of excluding lands with approved SHAs from critical 
habitat designation may include relieving landowners, communities, and 
counties of any additional regulatory burden that might be imposed as a 
result of the critical habitat designation. Even if any additional 
regulatory burden would be unlikely due to a lack of a Federal nexus, 
the designation of critical habitat could nonetheless have an 
unintended negative effect on our relationship with non-Federal 
landowners, due to the perceived imposition of government regulation. 
An additional benefit of excluding lands covered by approved SHAs from 
critical habitat designation is that it may make it easier for us to 
seek new partnerships with future SHA participants, including States, 
counties,

[[Page 71950]]

local jurisdictions, conservation organizations, and private 
landowners, in cases where potential partners may be reluctant to 
encourage the development of habitat that supports endangered or 
threatened species. In such cases, we may be able to implement 
conservation actions that we would be unable to accomplish otherwise. 
By excluding these lands, we may preserve our current partnerships and 
encourage additional future conservation actions.
    In weighing the benefits of inclusion versus the benefits of 
exclusion for lands subject to approved SHAs, it is important to note 
that a fundamental requirement of an SHA is an advance determination by 
the Service that the provisions of the SHA will result in a net 
conservation benefit to the listed species. Approved SHAs have, 
therefore, already been determined to provide a net conservation 
benefit to the listed species; in addition, the management activities 
provided in an SHA often provide conservation benefits to unlisted 
sensitive species as well. As described earlier, the designation of 
critical habitat may not provide any substantial realized conservation 
benefit to the species on non-Federal lands absent a Federal nexus for 
an activity. Especially where further Federal action is unlikely, the 
net conservation benefit provided by the terms of the SHA itself, 
considered in conjunction with the benefit of excluding lands subject 
to an SHA by preserving our working relationships with landowners who 
have entered into SHAs with the Service, and the benefit of laying the 
positive groundwork for possible future agreements with other 
landowners, may collectively outweigh the potentially limited benefit 
that would be realized on these lands from the designation of critical 
habitat. However, as with all potential exclusions under consideration, 
lands subject to an SHA will only be excluded if we determine that the 
benefits of exclusion outweigh the benefits of inclusion following a 
rigorous examination of the record on a case-by-case basis.
    We note that permit issuance in association with SHA applications 
requires consultation under section 7(a)(2) of the Act, which would 
include the review of the effects of all SHA-covered activities that 
might adversely impact the species under a jeopardy standard, including 
possibly significant habitat modification (see definition of ``harm'' 
at 50 CFR 17.3), even without the critical habitat designation. In 
addition, all other Federal actions that may affect the listed species 
would still require consultation under section 7(a)(2) of the Act, and 
we would review these actions for possible significant habitat 
modification in accordance with the definition of harm, described in 
the Benefits of Excluding Lands with Habitat Conservation Plans, below.
    We further note that SHAs may include a provision that the 
landowner may return the area to baseline conditions upon expiration of 
the permit. The term of the permit is thus an important consideration 
in weighing the relative benefits of inclusion versus exclusion from 
the designation of critical habitat. However, the Service has the right 
to revise a critical habitat designation at any time. Furthermore, the 
potential benefit of acknowledging the positive conservation 
contributions of landowners willing to enter into voluntary 
conservation agreements with the Service for the recovery of endangered 
or threatened species may nonetheless outweigh the loss of benefit that 
may be incurred through a possible return to baseline following permit 
expiration. As stated above, such circumstances require careful 
consideration on a case-by-case basis in order to make a final 
determination of the benefits of exclusion or inclusion in a critical 
habitat designation.
    Below is a description of each SHA and our analysis of the benefits 
of including and excluding it from the critical habitat designation 
under section 4(b)(2) of the Act.
State of California
Forster-Gill, Inc., Safe Harbor Agreement
    In this final designation, the Secretary has exercised his 
authority to exclude 238 ac (96 ha) of lands from critical habitat, 
under section 4(b)(2) of the Act, that are covered by the Safe Harbor 
Agreement (SHA) of Forster-Gill, Inc., within subunit 1 of the Redwood 
Coast CHU in Humboldt County, California. The enhancement of survival 
permit associated with this SHA was noticed in the Federal Register on 
March 22, 2002 (67 FR 13357), and issued June 18, 2002. The term of the 
agreement is 80 years, and the term of the permit is 90 years. The SHA 
provides for the creation and enhancement of habitat for the northern 
spotted owl on 238 ac (96 ha) of lands in Humboldt County, California, 
and provides for continued timber harvest on those lands. There are two 
baseline conditions that will be maintained under the SHA: (1) 
Protection of an 11.2-ac (5-ha) no-harvest area that will buffer the 
most recent active northern spotted owl nest site, but will also be 
maintained in the absence of a nest site; and (2) maintenance of 216 ac 
(87 ha) on the property such that the trees will always average 12 to 
24 in (30 to 60 cm) dbh with a canopy cover of 60 to 100 percent. At 
the time of the agreement, forest conditions were on the lower end of 
the diameter and canopy cover ranges. By the end of the agreement, the 
property will be at the upper end of the diameter and canopy cover 
ranges. Under the SHA, Forster-Gill, Inc., agrees to: (1) Annually, 
survey and monitor for the location and reproductive status of northern 
spotted owls on the property; (2) protect all active nest sites 
(locations where nesting behavior is observed during any of the 
previous 3 years) with a no-harvest area that buffers the nest site by 
no less than 300 ft (90 m) and limits timber harvest operations within 
1,000 ft (305 m) of an active nest site during the breeding season, 
allowing only the use of existing haul roads; and (3) manage the 
second-growth redwood timber on the property in a manner that maintains 
suitable northern spotted owl habitat, while creating, over time, the 
multilayered canopy structure with an older, larger tree component 
associated with high-quality northern spotted owl habitat. The SHA is 
expected to provide, maintain, and enhance for the 80-year life of the 
agreement over 200 ac (80 ha) of northern spotted owl habitat within a 
matrix of private timberland. The cumulative impact of the agreement 
and the timber management activities it covers, which are facilitated 
by the allowable incidental take, is expected to provide a net benefit 
to the northern spotted owl.
    Benefits of Inclusion--We find there are minimal benefits to 
including these lands in critical habitat. As discussed above, the 
designation of critical habitat invokes the provisions of section 7. 
However, in this case, we find the requirement that Federal agencies 
consult with us and ensure that their actions are not likely to destroy 
or adversely modify critical habitat will not result in significant 
benefits to the species because the possibility of a Federal nexus for 
a project on these lands that might trigger such consultation is 
limited (there is little likelihood of an action that will involve 
Federal funding, authorization, or implementation). In addition, since 
the lands under the SHA in question are occupied by the northern 
spotted owl, if a Federal nexus were to occur, section 7 consultation 
would already be triggered and the Federal agency would consider the 
effects of its actions on the species through a jeopardy analysis. 
Because one of the primary threats to the northern spotted owl is 
habitat loss and degradation, the consultation

[[Page 71951]]

process under section 7 of the Act for projects with a Federal nexus 
will, in evaluating effects to the northern spotted owl, evaluate the 
effects of the action on the conservation or functionality of the 
habitat for the species regardless of whether critical habitat is 
designated for these lands. The analytical requirements to support a 
jeopardy determination on excluded land are similar, but not identical, 
to the requirements in an analysis for an adverse modification 
determination on included land. However, the additional conservation 
that could be attained through the supplemental adverse modification 
analysis for critical habitat under section 7 would likely not be 
significant, and would be triggered only in the event of a Federal 
action. Furthermore, any such potential benefit would be small in 
comparison to the benefits derived from the SHA, which already 
incorporates measures that specifically benefit the northern spotted 
owl and its habitat, as described above, and remains in place 
regardless of the designation of critical habitat.
    Another benefit of including lands in a critical habitat 
designation is that it serves to educate landowners, State and local 
governments, and the public regarding the potential conservation value 
of an area. This helps focus and promote conservation efforts by other 
parties by identifying areas of high conservation value for northern 
spotted owls. Any information about the northern spotted owl and its 
habitat that reaches a wider audience, including parties engaged in 
conservation activities, is valuable. However, in this case the 
landowners are aware of the needs of the species through the 
development of their SHA, in which they have agreed to take measures to 
protect the northern spotted owl on their property and create and 
enhance suitable habitat for the species as well. Any additional 
educational and information benefits that might arise from critical 
habitat designation have been largely accomplished through the public 
review of and comment on the SHA and the associated permit. The release 
of the Revised Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl in 2011 was 
also preceded by outreach efforts and public comment opportunities. In 
addition, the rulemaking process associated with critical habitat 
designation included several opportunities for public comment, and we 
also held multiple public information meetings across the range of the 
species. Through these outreach opportunities, land owners, State 
agencies, and local governments have become aware of the current status 
of and threats to the northern spotted owl, and the conservation 
actions needed for recovery.
    The designation of critical habitat may also indirectly cause State 
or county jurisdictions to initiate their own additional requirements 
in areas identified as critical habitat. These measures may include 
additional permitting requirements or a higher level of local review on 
proposed projects. However, CALFIRE has indicated to us that it is 
unlikely to impose any new requirements on project proponents if 
critical habitat is designated in areas already subject to California 
Forest Practice Rules. Therefore, we believe this potential benefit of 
critical will be limited.
    Benefits of Exclusion--The benefits of excluding from designated 
critical habitat the approximately 236 ac (96 ha) of lands currently 
managed under the SHA are substantial. We have created a close 
partnership with Forster-Gill through the development of the SHA, which 
incorporates protections and management objectives for the northern 
spotted owl and the habitat upon which it depends for breeding, 
sheltering, and foraging activities, as described above. The 
conservation approach identified in the Forster-Gill, Inc. SHA, along 
with our close coordination with the company, addresses the identified 
threats to northern spotted owl habitat on the covered lands that 
contain the physical or biological features essential to the 
conservation of the species.
    The conservation measures identified within the SHA seek to achieve 
conservation goals for northern spotted owls and their habitat, and 
thus can be of greater conservation benefit than the designation of 
critical habitat, which does not require specific, proactive management 
actions. If there is a Federal nexus, consultation under critical 
habitat requires only that the action agency avoid actions that destroy 
or adversely modify critical habitat. In contrast, SHA conservation 
measures that provide a benefit to the northern spotted owl and its 
habitat have been, and will be, implemented continuously beginning with 
the enactment of the SHA in 2002 through the 80-year term of the ITP, 
through 2082, on all covered lands owned and managed by Forster-Gill, 
Inc. The key conservation measure is a provision that will lead to an 
approximate doubling of mean tree diameter from roughly 12 to 24 in (30 
to 60 cm) on covered lands over the life of the permit, leading to 
enhancement of habitat suitability.
    The designation of critical habitat could have an unintended 
negative effect on our relationship with non-Federal landowners due to 
the perceived imposition of redundant government regulation. If lands 
within the Forster-Gill SHA are designated as critical habitat, it 
would likely have a chilling effect on our continued ability to seek 
new partnerships with future participants including States, counties, 
local jurisdictions, conservation organizations, and private 
landowners, which together can implement various conservation actions 
(such as SHAs, HCPs, and other conservation plans, particularly large, 
regional Conservation Plans that involve numerous participants and/or 
address landscape-level conservation of species and habitats) that we 
would be unable to accomplish otherwise.
    Excluding the approximately 238 ac (96 ha) owned and managed by 
Forster-Gill, Inc. from critical habitat designation will sustain and 
enhance the working relationship between the Service and this private 
lands partner. The willingness of Forster-Gill to work with the Service 
to manage federally listed species will continue to reinforce those 
conservation efforts and our partnership, which contribute toward 
achieving recovery of the northern spotted owl. We consider this 
voluntary partnership in conservation vital to our understanding of the 
status of species on non-Federal lands and necessary to implement 
recovery actions such as habitat protection and restoration, and 
beneficial management actions for species. By excluding these lands, we 
preserve our current conservation partnership with Forster-Gill and 
encourage additional conservation actions by this partner, and 
potentially others as well, in the future. We consider the positive 
effect of excluding proven conservation partners from critical habitat 
to be a significant benefit of exclusion.
    The Benefits of Exclusion Outweigh the Benefits of Inclusion--We 
reviewed and evaluated the exclusion of approximately 238 ac (96 ha) of 
land owned and managed by Forster-Gill, Inc. from our designation of 
critical habitat. The benefits of including these lands in the 
designation are relatively small. The habitat on the covered lands is 
already being monitored and managed under the SHA to improve the 
habitat elements that are equivalent to the physical or biological 
features that are outlined in this critical habitat rule. The 
additional designation of critical habitat would provide unnecessarily 
duplicative protections, and would in any case be unlikely to be 
triggered under section 7, since there is little probability of a 
Federal nexus for any

[[Page 71952]]

activity on these lands. Even if triggered, since the lands in question 
are occupied by the species, section 7 consultation would already be 
required under the jeopardy standard, and as noted, the analysis under 
the adverse modification standard would be unlikely to provide 
additional protections beyond those already in place under the SHA. The 
regulatory benefit of additional Federal review on individual proposed 
actions is episodic and confined to the scope and scale of the specific 
actions, whereas implementation of the SHA is continuous and affects 
the entire property.
    Educational benefits are also limited. The landowner is already 
aware of the conservation needs of the species through development of 
the SHA. Because there is no public access to the land, we are not 
aware of any public constituency connected with this ownership which 
would derive informational benefits from the designation of critical 
habitat. However, as noted, we have conducted extensive outreach 
efforts, both in relation to the SHA and its associated permit, as well 
as our proposed critical habitat, which have provided opportunity for 
public education and comment on critical habitat for the northern 
spotted owl. As such, much of the potential educational benefit of 
critical habitat on these lands has already been accomplished.
    On the other hand, the SHA has provisions for protecting and 
maintaining northern spotted owl habitat that far exceed the 
conservation benefits that could be obtained through section 7 
consultation. These measures will not only prevent the degradation of 
essential features of the northern spotted owl, but they will maintain 
or improve these features over time. Furthermore, landowners always 
have the option not to return to baseline after the term of the SHA is 
over. Exclusion of these lands from critical habitat will help foster 
the partnership we have developed with Forster-Gill through the 
development and continuing implementation of the SHA, and may encourage 
the landowner to continue these cooperative efforts even after the term 
of the SHA. In addition, this partnership may serve as a model and aid 
in fostering future cooperative relationships with other parties in 
other locations for the benefit of listed species. For these reasons, 
we have determined that the benefits of exclusion of lands covered by 
the Forster-Gill, Inc. SHA outweigh the benefits of critical habitat 
designation.
    Exclusion Will Not Result in Extinction of the Species--We have 
determined that the exclusion of 238 ac (96 ha) from the designation of 
critical habitat for the northern spotted owl of lands owned and 
managed by Forster-Gill, Inc., as identified in their SHA will not 
result in extinction of the species because current conservation 
efforts under the plan adequately protect the geographical areas 
containing the physical or biological features essential to the 
conservation of the species. For projects having a Federal nexus and 
affecting northern spotted owls in occupied areas, as in this case, the 
jeopardy standard of section 7 of the Act, coupled with protection 
provided under the terms of the SHA, would provide assurances that this 
species will not go extinct as a result of excluding these lands from 
the critical habitat designation. Based on the above discussion, the 
Secretary is exercising his discretion under section 4(b)(2) of the Act 
to exclude from this final critical habitat designation portions of the 
proposed critical habitat units or subunits that are within the 
Forster-Gill, Inc. SHA boundary totaling 238 ac (96 ha).
Van Eck Forest Foundation Safe Harbor Agreement
    In this final designation, the Secretary has exercised his 
authority to exclude lands from critical habitat, under section 4(b)(2) 
of the Act, that are covered by the SHA between the Fred M. Van Eck 
Forest Foundation and the Service within subunit 1 of the Redwood Coast 
CHU in California. These lands are also protected under a conservation 
easement held by the Pacific Forest Trust. The enhancement of survival 
permit associated with this SHA was noticed in the Federal Register on 
July 8, 2008 (73 FR 39026), and issued August 18, 2008. The term of the 
permit and the agreement is 90 years. The SHA provides for the creation 
and enhancement of habitat for the northern spotted owl on 2,774 ac 
(1,122 ha) of lands in Humboldt County, California, and provides for 
continued timber harvest on those lands. At the time of the agreement, 
the lands under consideration supported 1,730 ac (700 ha) of northern 
spotted owl nesting and roosting habitat and one northern spotted owl 
activity center (a location where owls are observed nesting or 
roosting). We anticipate that under the northern spotted owl habitat 
creation and enhancement timber management regime proposed in the SHA 
that approximately 1,947 ac (788 ha) of nesting and roosting habitat 
and potentially up to five northern spotted owl activity centers could 
exist on the property at the end of 90 years. The SHA does not provide 
for a return to baseline conditions at the end of the agreement term. 
Instead, the agreement provides that if more than five northern spotted 
owl activity centers should become established on the property during 
the 90-year term, the landowner would be allowed to remove such 
additional activity centers during the agreement period.
    Under the SHA, the Fred M. van Eck Forest Foundation agrees to: (1) 
Conduct surveys annually to determine the locations and reproductive 
status of any northern spotted owls; (2) protect up to five activity 
centers with a no-harvest area that buffers the activity center by no 
less than 100 ft (30 m); (3) utilize selective timber harvest methods 
such that suitable nesting habitat is maintained within 300 ft (91 m) 
of each activity center; (4) limit noise disturbance from timber 
harvest operations within 1,000 ft (305 m) of an active nest during the 
breeding season; and (5) manage all second-growth redwood timber on the 
property in a manner that maintains or creates suitable nesting and 
roosting habitat over time. The term of the SHA and ITP is 90 years; 
there is no term limitation on the easement deed held by the Pacific 
Forest Trust. Specific long-term management targets for second-growth 
timber are enumerated in the easement deed. All are expressed as 
propertywide averages; for example, a stocking target of 100,000 board 
feet (bf) per acre, 75 percent minimum conifer occupancy, 25 percent of 
standing inventory made up of trees greater than 200 years of age, 15 
dominant conifers per acre 36-inches DBH or greater, 4 standing snags 
per acre 30-inches DBH or greater, 1,600 cubic feet per acre of dead 
and down logs. The cumulative impact of the SHA and the easement, is 
expected to provide a substantial net benefit to the northern spotted 
owl.
    Benefits of Inclusion--We find there are minimal benefits to 
including these lands in critical habitat. As discussed above, the 
designation of critical habitat invokes the provisions of section 7. 
However, in this case, we find the requirement that Federal agencies 
consult with us and ensure that their actions are not likely to destroy 
or adversely modify critical habitat will not result in significant 
benefits to the species because the possibility of a Federal nexus for 
a project on these lands is limited (there is little likelihood of an 
action that will involve Federal funding, authorization, or 
implementation). In addition, since the lands under the SHA in question 
are occupied by the northern spotted owl, if a Federal nexus were to 
occur, section

[[Page 71953]]

7 consultation would already be triggered and the Federal agency would 
consider the effects of its actions on the species through a jeopardy 
analysis. Because one of the primary threats to the northern spotted 
owl is habitat loss and degradation, the consultation process under 
section 7 of the Act for projects with a Federal nexus will, in 
evaluating effects to the northern spotted owl, evaluate the effects of 
the action on the habitat for the species regardless of whether 
critical habitat is designated for these lands. The analytical 
requirements to support a jeopardy determination on excluded land are 
similar, but not identical, to the requirements in an analysis for an 
adverse modification determination on included land. However, the 
additional conservation that could be attained through the supplemental 
adverse modification analysis for critical habitat under section 7 
would likely not be significant, and would be triggered only in the 
event of a Federal action. Furthermore, any such potential benefit 
would be small in comparison to the benefits already derived from the 
SHA, which already incorporates measures that specifically benefit the 
northern spotted owl and its habitat, as described above, and remains 
in place regardless of the designation of critical habitat.
    Another benefit of including lands in a critical habitat 
designation is that it serves to educate landowners, State and local 
governments, and the public regarding the potential conservation value 
of an area. This helps focus and promote conservation efforts by other 
parties by identifying areas of high conservation value for northern 
spotted owls. Any information about the northern spotted owl and its 
habitat that reaches a wider audience, including parties engaged in 
conservation activities, is valuable. The landowners in this case are 
aware of the needs of the species through the development of their SHA, 
in which they have agreed to take measures to protect the northern 
spotted owl on their property and create and enhance suitable habitat 
for the species as well. Any additional educational and information 
benefits that might arise from critical habitat designation have been 
largely accomplished through the public review of and comment on the 
SHA and the associated permit. The release of the Revised Recovery Plan 
for the Northern Spotted Owl in 2011 was also preceded by outreach 
efforts and public comment opportunities. In addition, the rulemaking 
process associated with critical habitat designation included several 
opportunities for public comment, and we also held multiple public 
information meetings across the range of the species. Through these 
outreach opportunities, land owners, State agencies, and local 
governments have become aware of the current status of and threats to 
the northern spotted owl, and the conservation actions needed for 
recovery.
    The designation of critical habitat may also indirectly cause State 
or county jurisdictions to initiate their own additional requirements 
in areas identified as critical habitat. These measures may include 
additional permitting requirements or a higher level of local review on 
proposed projects. However, CALFIRE has indicated to us that it is 
unlikely to impose any new requirements on project proponents if 
critical habitat is designated in areas already subject to California 
Forest Practice Rules. Therefore, we believe this potential benefit of 
critical will be limited.
    Benefits of Exclusion--The benefits of excluding from designated 
critical habitat the approximately 2,774 ac (1,122 ha) of lands 
currently managed under the SHA are substantial. We have created a 
close partnership with the Foundation through the development of the 
SHA, which incorporates protections and management objectives for the 
northern spotted owl and the habitat upon which it depends for 
breeding, sheltering, and foraging activities, as described above. The 
conservation approach identified in the Van Eck Forest Foundation SHA, 
along with our close coordination with the Foundation, addresses the 
identified threats to northern spotted owl on covered lands that 
contain the physical or biological features essential to the 
conservation of the species.
    The SHA conservation measures that provide a benefit to the 
northern spotted owl and its habitat have been, and will be, 
implemented continuously beginning with the enactment of the SHA in 
2008 through the 90-year term of the ITP, through 2088, on all covered 
lands owned and managed by the Van Eck Forest Foundation. Such measures 
include the examples we identified above: A volume-based mean stocking 
target, mean conifer occupancy, mean percentages of standing inventory 
in older age classes, mean size and density of dominant conifers, mean 
size and density of standing snags, and mean volume of dead and down 
logs. The measures provided in the SHA are aimed at the maintenance and 
enhancement of suitable nesting and roosting habitat over time to 
benefit the northern spotted owl.
    The designation of critical habitat could have an unintended 
negative effect on our relationship with non-Federal landowners due to 
the perceived imposition of redundant government regulation. If lands 
within the Van Eck Forest Foundation SHA are designated as critical 
habitat, it would likely have a chilling effect on our continued 
ability to seek new partnerships with future participants including 
States, counties, local jurisdictions, conservation organizations, and 
private landowners, which together can implement various conservation 
actions (such as SHAs, HCPs, and other conservation plans) that we 
would be unable to accomplish otherwise. Excluding the approximately 
2,774 ac (1,122 ha) owned and managed by the Van Eck Forest Foundation 
from critical habitat designation will sustain and enhance this working 
relationship between the Service and the Foundation. The willingness of 
the Foundation to work with us to manage federally listed species will 
continue to reinforce those conservation efforts and our partnership, 
which contribute toward achieving recovery of the northern spotted owl. 
We consider this voluntary partnership in conservation vital to our 
understanding of the status of species on non-Federal lands and 
necessary for us to implement recovery actions, such as habitat 
protection and restoration, and beneficial management actions for 
species. Further, this partnership may aid in fostering future 
cooperative relationships with other parties in other locations for the 
benefit of listed species. We consider the positive effect of excluding 
proven conservation partners from critical habitat to be a significant 
benefit of exclusion.
    The Benefits of Exclusion Outweigh the Benefits of Inclusion--We 
reviewed and evaluated the exclusion of approximately 2,774 ac (1,122 
ha) of land owned and managed by the Van Eck Forest Foundation from our 
designation of critical habitat. The benefits of including these lands 
in the designation are relatively small, since the habitat on the 
covered lands is already being monitored and managed under the SHA to 
improve the habitat elements that are equivalent to the physical or 
biological features that are outlined in this critical habitat rule. 
The additional designation of critical habitat would provide 
unnecessarily duplicative protections, and would in any case be 
unlikely to be triggered under section 7, since there is little 
probability of a Federal nexus on these lands. Even if triggered, since 
the lands

[[Page 71954]]

in question are occupied by the species, section 7 consultation would 
already be required under the jeopardy standard, and, as noted, the 
analysis under the adverse modification standard would be unlikely to 
provide additional protections beyond those already in place under the 
SHA.
    Educational benefits are also limited. The landowner is already 
aware of the conservation needs of the species through development of 
the SHA. Because the Van Eck lands, for the most part, are not open to 
the general public, there is no public constituency that would derive 
informational benefits from the designation of critical habitat. 
However, as noted, we have conducted extensive outreach efforts, both 
in relation to the SHA and its associated permit, as well as our 
proposed revision of critical habitat, which have provided opportunity 
for public education and comment on critical habitat for the northern 
spotted owl. As such, much of the potential educational benefit of 
critical habitat on these lands has already been accomplished.
    On the other hand, the conservation measures identified within the 
SHA seek to achieve conservation goals for northern spotted owls and 
their habitat, and thus can be of greater conservation benefit than the 
designation of critical habitat, which does not require specific, 
proactive actions. Thus, the implementation of the SHA provides a 
substantially greater benefit to the northern spotted owl than would be 
obtained through section 7 consultation. The measures provided in the 
SHA will not only prevent the degradation of essential features for the 
northern spotted owl, but they are designed to maintain or enhance 
these features over time. Furthermore, landowners always have the 
option not to return to baseline after the term of the SHA is over. 
Exclusion of these lands from critical habitat will help foster the 
partnership we have developed with the Van Eck Forest Foundation 
through the development and continuing implementation of the SHA and 
may encourage the landowner to continue these cooperative efforts even 
after the term of the SHA. In addition, this partnership may serve as a 
model and aid in fostering future cooperative relationships with other 
parties in other locations for the benefit of listed species. For these 
reasons we have determined that the benefits of exclusion of lands 
covered by the Van Eck Forest Foundation SHA outweigh the benefits of 
critical habitat designation.
    Exclusion Will Not Result in Extinction of the Species--We have 
determined that the exclusion of 2,774 ac (1,122 ha) from the 
designation of critical habitat for the northern spotted owl of lands 
owned and managed by the Van Eck Forest Foundation, as identified in 
their SHA will not result in extinction of the species because current 
conservation efforts under the plan adequately protect the geographical 
areas containing the physical or biological features essential to the 
conservation of the species. For projects having a Federal nexus and 
affecting northern spotted owls in occupied areas, such as in this 
case, the jeopardy standard of section 7 of the Act, coupled with 
protection provided under the terms of the SHA and Conservation 
Easement Agreement, would provide assurances that this species will not 
go extinct as a result of excluding these lands from the critical 
habitat designation. Based on the above discussion, the Secretary is 
exercising his discretion under section 4(b)(2) of the Act to exclude 
from this final critical habitat designation portions of the proposed 
critical habitat units or subunits that are within the Van Eck Forest 
Foundation SHA boundary totaling 2,774 ac (1,122 ha).
State of Washington
Port Blakely Tree Farms L.P. (Morton Block) Safe Harbor Agreement, 
Landowner Option Plan, and Cooperative Habitat Enhancement Agreement
    In this final designation, the Secretary has exercised his 
authority to exclude lands from critical habitat, under section 4(b)(2) 
of the Act, totaling approximately 195 ac (79 ha) that are covered 
under the Port Blakely Tree Farms (also known as Morton Block) SHA in 
the West Cascades Central CHU in Washington. The enhancement of 
survival permit associated with this SHA was noticed in the Federal 
Register on December 17, 2008 (73 FR 76680) and issued May 22, 2009. 
The SHA and permit include both the marbled murrelet (Brachyramphus 
marmoratus) and the northern spotted owl, and covers an area of 45,306 
ac (18,335 ha) of managed forest lands known as the ``Morton Block,'' 
in Lewis and Skamania Counties. The term of the permit and SHA is 60 
years.
    The covered lands have been intensively managed for timber 
production and at the time the permit was issued were not known to be 
occupied by northern spotted owls. The environmental baseline was 
measured in terms of dispersal habitat. There are no known northern 
spotted owls nesting on Port Blakely lands. However, northern spotted 
owls have historically nested on adjacent Federal lands and the 1.82-
mile (2.9-km) radius circles around those sites that are used for 
evaluating potential habitat availability for northern spotted owls 
extend onto Port Blakely lands. Because of this, Port Blakely Tree 
Farms conducted habitat evaluations of their properties to determine 
the amount of suitable northern spotted owl habitat present. The 
baseline estimate to be provided by the SHA is 8,360 ac (3,383 ha) of 
northern spotted owl dispersal habitat.
    Under the SHA, Port Blakely is implementing conservation measures 
that are expected to provide net conservation benefits to the northern 
spotted owl and marbled murrelet. The SHA also provides that Port 
Blakely will manage their tree farm in a manner that contributes to the 
goals of the Mineral Block Northern Spotted Owl Special Emphasis Area 
(SOSEA) according to Washington Forest Practices Rules and Regulations 
(Washington Forest Practices Board 2002, WAC 222-16-080, WAC 222-16- 
086). This area is intended to facilitate dispersal of juvenile 
northern spotted owls, as well as provide demographic support to core 
northern spotted owl populations.
    Under the SHA, Port Blakely is implementing enhanced forest-
management measures that would create potential habitat for the 
northern spotted owl and marbled murrelet, such as longer harvest 
rotations, additional thinning to accelerate forest growth, a snag-
creation program, retention of more fallen wood than is required by 
Washington Forest Practices Rules, establishment of special management 
areas and special set-aside areas, and monitoring. The terms of the 
agreement are intended to produce conditions that will facilitate the 
dispersal of the northern spotted owl across the Port Blakely 
ownership.
    At present, there are no known nesting sites for owls in the 
covered area. However, portions of the covered area are within owl 
management circles associated with site centers on adjacent ownerships. 
The majority of the stand-management units are composed of 20- to 60-
year-old timber. There are no stands that would provide nesting 
opportunities for owls in the covered area, and very little young 
forest marginal habitat is present in the areas of the Morton Block 
with the potential for utilization by owls that may occur on adjacent 
ownerships. The young forest marginal habitat known to exist on Port 
Blakely's ownership is within circles that have greater than 40 percent 
suitable habitat and, thus, may be

[[Page 71955]]

harvested under Washington State Forest Practices Rules.
    The SHA landscape-management approach contributes to owl recovery 
by complementing the existing owl landscape-management strategies on 
adjacent Federal and State forestlands. The SHA goals and objectives 
for the northern spotted owl are to provide demographic interchange 
through dispersal and foraging habitat across their ownership on a 
dynamic basis, as well as higher-quality habitat in harvest set-asides. 
These habitats provide for both dispersal and demographic interchange. 
SOSEA goals are identified in the Washington State Forest Practices 
Rules and shown on the SOSEA maps (see WAC 222-16-086). SOSEA goals 
provide for demographic and dispersal support as necessary to 
complement the northern spotted owl protection strategies on Federal 
lands within or adjacent to the SOSEA (WAC 222-16-010).
    Port Blakely will achieve these goals and objectives both in the 
near term and over the term of the SHA by immediately protecting 
special management areas and special set-aside areas of northern 
spotted owl habitat, and managing commercial forested lands in the plan 
area on an average rotation length of 60 years. In addition, the SHA 
provides silvicultural measures to benefit the northern spotted owl, 
including a thinning program and a snag-retention and creation program.
    Port Blakely has agreed to collaborate with State and Federal 
biologists in research efforts to better understand how their 
management will influence dispersal habitat conditions in the plan 
area. Port Blakely is working cooperatively with the Service, WDFW, 
WDNR, and other entities that have expertise, in designing a 
statistically robust snag-monitoring study. Port Blakely will also map 
all leave tree areas, and mark a sample of snag and defective trees for 
use in snag-monitoring studies. The SHA acknowledges uncertainty in 
some aspects of anticipated results. Areas of uncertainty include the 
likelihood that green retention trees will become snags during the 
period between commercial thinning and future entries, as well as the 
recruitment success and persistence of snags. Port Blakely has 
committed to work collaboratively with agencies in these matters. The 
SHA also contains monitoring and reporting requirements.
    Benefits of Inclusion--Critical habitat designation on private 
lands introduces a higher level of Federal scrutiny under the 
interagency consultation process in section 7 of the Act. This higher 
level of scrutiny can arise through two avenues. Under section 7(a)(2) 
of the Act, Federal agencies that grant funds or issue permits for 
proposed actions on private lands, whether or not those lands are 
designated critical habitat, are required to consult with the Service 
to ensure that the proposed action ``* * * is not likely to jeopardize 
the continued existence of any endangered species or threatened species 
* * *'' When lands are designated critical habitat, the section 7(a)(2) 
consultation requirement is expanded so that the granting or permitting 
Federal agencies and the Service are required to ensure that the 
proposed action will not ``* * * result in the destruction or adverse 
modification of critical habitat * * *'' of any endangered species or 
threatened species. Critical habitat designation adds a new element to 
the Federal consultation: The consideration and analysis of adverse 
effects to habitat that might potentially arise from the proposed 
action. In evaluating the effects of proposed actions on critical 
habitat, the Service must be satisfied that the essential physical or 
biological features of the critical habitat likely will not be altered 
or destroyed by proposed activities to the extent that the conservation 
function of the designated critical habitat would be appreciably 
diminished. Briefly, if the land potentially affected by the proposed 
action is not designated critical habitat, the scope of the 
consultation must include a consideration of ``jeopardy'' to threatened 
or endangered species; but if the same land is designated critical 
habitat, the consultation must include considerations of both 
``jeopardy'' and ``adverse modification'' of critical habitat.
    We find that the conservation achieved through implementing these 
types of agreements is typically greater than would be achieved through 
multiple site-by-site, project-by-project, section 7 consultations 
involving consideration of critical habitat. In addition, it is 
unlikely that Federal projects would be proposed on these relatively 
remote forest lands unless it was a linear project such as a powerline, 
pipeline, or transportation project. Due to the scope of such projects, 
they would likely already have a Federal nexus regardless whether these 
lands are designated as critical habitat. While the SHA lands may not 
have nesting sites on them at this time, degradation of the habitats on 
the SHA or adjacent lands could be considered an adverse effect to the 
species. Because one of the primary threats to the northern spotted owl 
is habitat loss and degradation, the consultation process under section 
7 of the Act for projects with a Federal nexus likely would, in 
evaluating effects to the northern spotted owl, evaluate the effects of 
the action on the conservation or functionality of the habitat for the 
species, regardless of whether critical habitat is designated for these 
lands. The analytical requirements to support a jeopardy determination 
on excluded land are similar, but not identical, to the requirements in 
an analysis for an adverse modification determination on land 
designated as critical habitat. However, the amount of conservation 
that could be attained through the addition of a critical habitat 
analysis to the section 7 consultation would be relatively low in 
comparison to the conservation provided by the SHA. The additional 
benefits of inclusion on the section 7 process are therefore relatively 
small.
    The benefits of inclusion are further minimized because, as 
mentioned above, the Port Blakely SHA provides for the needs of the 
northern spotted owl by protecting and preserving landscape levels of 
suitable northern spotted owl nesting, roosting, and foraging habitat, 
as well as foraging and dispersal habitat over the term of the SHA in 
strategic landscapes, and implementing species-specific conservation 
measures designed to avoid and minimize effects to northern spotted 
owls. A fundamental requirement of an SHA is a determination by the 
Service that the provisions of the SHA will result in a net 
conservation benefit to the listed species. Approved SHAs have, 
therefore, already been determined to provide a net conservation 
benefit to the listed species. In addition, monitoring will track SHA 
progress over the term of the permit and provide feedback on management 
actions. Therefore, designation of critical habitat would be redundant 
on these lands, and would not provide additional measureable 
protections.
    Another benefit of including lands in a critical habitat 
designation is that it serves to educate landowners, State and local 
governments, and the public regarding the potential conservation value 
of an area. This helps focus and promote conservation efforts by other 
parties by identifying areas of high conservation value for northern 
spotted owls. Designation of critical habitat could inform State 
agencies and local governments about areas that could be conserved 
under State laws or local ordinances, such as the Washington State 
Growth Management Act, which encourage the protection of ``critical 
areas'' including fish and wildlife habitat conservation areas. 
However, not

[[Page 71956]]

only has the public process for this rulemaking provided information to 
the landowner, State agencies and local governments and the public 
about the importance of this area, but the process for approving a SHA, 
which requires public notice and comment, has served this educational 
function as well. Through these opportunities, land owners, State 
agencies, and local governments have become more aware of the status of 
and threats to listed species, and the conservation actions needed for 
recovery particularly as it relates to this property. For this reason, 
we believe that the educational benefits that might accrue from 
critical habitat designation would be minimal.
    Thus, we find that there is minimal benefit from designating 
critical habitat for the northern spotted owl within the Port Blakely 
SHA.
    Benefits of Exclusion--The benefits of excluding from designated 
critical habitat the approximately 195 ac (79 ha) of lands currently 
managed under the SHA are substantial and include maintaining our 
partnership with this landowner. This is important because it may 
encourage the company not to return to baseline immediately after 
expiration of the SHA.
    Excluding lands with SHAs from critical habitat designation may 
also enhance our ability to seek new partnerships with future 
participants including States, counties, local jurisdictions, 
conservation organizations, and private landowners, which together can 
implement conservation actions that we would be unable to accomplish 
otherwise. If lands within the plan area are designated as critical 
habitat, it could have a negative effect on our ability to work with 
various companies to accomplish our goals for the SHA program and 
recovery of the northern spotted owl. This SHA is located in a key 
landscape between the Mineral Block and other Federal lands, and 
represents a unique opportunity to maintain northern spotted owls at 
the western extreme of the Cascades, which may support dispersal 
between the Cascades and Olympics. This SHA contributes meaningfully to 
the recovery of the northern spotted owl and serves as an example to 
other industrial companies. This SHA was the first to combine a Federal 
SHA effort with similar planning processes under State jurisdiction and 
serves as a role model in combining SHA planning with State processes. 
By excluding these lands, we preserve our current private and local 
conservation partnerships and encourage additional conservation actions 
in the future.
    Benefits of Exclusion Outweigh the Benefits of Inclusion--In 
summary, we determine that the benefits of excluding the Port Blakely 
SHA from the designation of critical habitat for the northern spotted 
owl outweigh the benefits of including this area in critical habitat. 
We find that including the Port Blakely SHA would result in minimal, if 
any, additional benefits to the northern spotted owl, as explained 
above. We also find that the benefits of including these lands are 
further minimized by the fact that the management strategies of the 
Port Blakely SHA are designed to maintain and enhance habitat for the 
northern spotted owl. The SHA includes species-specific avoidance and 
minimization measures, monitoring requirements to track success and 
ensure proper implementation, and forest-management practices and 
habitat conservation objectives that benefit the northern spotted owl 
and its habitat, which exceeds any conservation value provided as a 
result of a critical habitat designation. Furthermore, encouraging 
landowners to enter into voluntary conservation agreements with the 
Service for the recovery of endangered or threatened species which we 
believe would be one of the benefits of exclusion may outweigh the loss 
of benefit that may be incurred through a possible return to baseline 
following permit expiration.
    Therefore, in consideration of the factors discussed above in the 
Benefits of Exclusion section, including the relevant impact to current 
and future partnerships, we have determined that the benefits of 
exclusion of lands covered by the Port Blakely SHA outweigh the 
benefits of critical habitat designation.
    Exclusion Will Not Result in Extinction of the Species--We have 
determined that exclusion of a net of approximately 195 ac (79 ha) of 
lands within the Port Blakely SHA will not result in extinction of the 
northern spotted owl because current and future conservation efforts 
under the agreement provide management to facilitate dispersal of 
juvenile northern spotted owls, as well as provide demographic support 
to core northern spotted owl populations. Further, should nesting 
populations of the owl become reestablished in this area (and projects 
subsequently planned that have a Federal nexus and would potentially 
affect northern spotted owls), the jeopardy standard of section 7 of 
the Act, coupled with protection provided by the Port Blakely SHA, 
would provide a level of assurance that this species will not go 
extinct as a result of excluding these lands from the critical habitat 
designation. Based on the above discussion, the Secretary is exercising 
his discretion under section 4(b)(2) of the Act to exclude from this 
final critical habitat designation portions of the proposed critical 
habitat units or subunits that are within the Port Blakely SHA totaling 
about 195 ac (79 ha).
SDS Company LLC and Broughton Lumber Company Safe Harbor Agreement
    In this final designation, the Secretary has exercised his 
authority to exclude lands from critical habitat, under section 4(b)(2) 
of the Act, lands totaling about 2,035 ac (824 ha) that are covered 
under the SDS Lumber Company LLC and its registered business name 
Stevenson Land Company (together SDS) and Broughton Lumber Company (in 
total are related companies and are herein known as ``the Companies'') 
SHA, in Washington and Oregon. (Note the proposed rule contained an 
error, in which we mistakenly identified approximately 16,031 ac (6,487 
ha) of SDS and Broughton lands for potential exclusion). The 
enhancement of survival permits associated with this SHA were noticed 
in the Federal Register on August 21, 2012 (77 FR 50526) and issued to 
the Companies on October 26, 2012. The term of each of the permits is 
60 years. The Companies collectively manage approximately 83,000 ac 
(33,589 ha) of forestland in Skamania and Klickitat Counties in 
Washington, and Hood River and Wasco Counties in Oregon. Much of this 
ownership is composed of potential habitat outside of any owl circles 
and, therefore, is currently available for harvest under Washington 
State Forest Practices Rules. However, 30 northern spotted owl home 
ranges overlap some portion of the Companies' land base. Most site 
centers are currently located on Federal or State ownership; only one 
site center is located on Companies' ownership. Because the Companies 
have committed to manage their commercial forest lands for a 
substantially longer rotation than the typical 45-year rotation, and to 
implement additional conservation measures, northern spotted owls could 
occupy the covered area in the future under the SHA.
    The Companies' landscape management approach contributes to owl 
recovery by complementing the existing owl landscape-management 
strategies on adjacent Federal and State forestlands. The Companies' 
SHA goals and objectives for the northern spotted owl are to provide 
dispersal and young forest marginal habitat across their

[[Page 71957]]

ownership on a dynamic basis, as well as submature and higher quality 
habitat in harvest set-asides. These habitats provide both dispersal 
and demographic support, an established goal for lands within the two 
northern spotted owl special emphasis areas (SOSEAs). SOSEA goals are 
identified in the Forest Practices Rules and shown on the SOSEA maps 
(see WAC 222-16-086). SOSEA goals provide for demographic and/or 
dispersal support as necessary to complement the northern spotted owl 
protection strategies on Federal lands within or adjacent to the SOSEA 
(WAC 222-16-010).
    The Companies will achieve these goals and objectives both in the 
near term and over the term of the SHA by immediately protecting 
special set-aside areas of northern spotted owl habitat and managing 
commercial forested lands in the plan area on an average rotation 
length of 60 years. In addition, the SHA provides silvicultural 
measures to benefit the northern spotted owl, including a snag-
retention and creation program.
    The SHA includes an elevated baseline, provisions for a 240-acre 
nesting set-aside and a 411-acre reserve in the White Salmon SOSEA, a 
10-year deferral of harvest of any habitat in the 0.7-mile circle of 
the four site centers in which the Companies' covered lands comprise 
greater than 15 percent, future nest site protection, and the support 
and enhancement of existing conservation agreements. The SHA will 
include a monitoring and reporting schedule to ensure that the 
anticipated benefits will accrue both in the near term and over the 
term of the SHA.
    Benefits of Inclusion--We find that there is minimal benefit from 
designating critical habitat for the northern spotted owl within the 
SDS SHA. It is unlikely that Federal projects would be proposed on 
these relatively remote forest lands unless it was a linear project 
such as a powerline, pipeline, or transportation project. Due to the 
scope of such projects, they would likely already have a Federal nexus 
regardless whether these lands are designated as critical habitat. Even 
where the SHA lands may not have nesting sites on them at this time, 
degradation of the habitats on the SHA or adjacent lands could be 
considered an adverse effect to the species. Because one of the primary 
threats to the northern spotted owl is habitat loss and degradation, 
the consultation process under section 7 of the Act for projects with a 
Federal nexus likely would, in evaluating effects to the northern 
spotted owl, evaluate the effects of the action on the conservation or 
functionality of the habitat for the species, regardless of whether 
critical habitat is designated for these lands. The analytical 
requirements to support a jeopardy determination on excluded land are 
similar, but not identical, to the requirements in an analysis for an 
adverse modification determination on land designated as critical 
habitat. However, the amount of conservation that could be attained 
through the addition of a critical habitat analysis to the section 7 
consultation would be relatively low in comparison to the conservation 
provided by the SHA, as discussed below. The additional benefits of 
inclusion on the section 7 process are therefore relatively small.
    The benefits of inclusion are further minimized because this SHA 
provides for the needs of the northern spotted owl by protecting and 
preserving landscape levels of suitable northern spotted owl nesting, 
roosting, and foraging habitat, as well as foraging and dispersal 
habitat over the term of the SHA in strategic landscapes, and 
implementing species-specific conservation measures designed to avoid 
and minimize effects to northern spotted owls. A fundamental 
requirement of an SHA is a determination by the Service that the 
provisions of the SHA will result in a net conservation benefit to the 
listed species. Approved SHAs have, therefore, already been determined 
to provide a net conservation benefit to the listed species. In 
addition, funding for management is ensured through the Implementation 
Agreement. Such assurances are typically not provided by section 7 
consultations, which in contrast to SHAs, do not commit the project 
proponent to long-term, special management practices or protections. In 
addition, monitoring will track SHA progress over the term of the 
permit and provide feedback on management actions. Therefore, 
designation of critical habitat would be redundant on these lands, and 
would not provide additional measureable protections.
    Another benefit of including lands in a critical habitat 
designation is that it serves to educate landowners, State and local 
governments, and the public regarding the potential conservation value 
of an area. This helps focus and promote conservation efforts by other 
parties by identifying areas of high conservation value for northern 
spotted owls. Designation of critical habitat could inform State 
agencies and local governments about areas that could be conserved 
under State laws or local ordinances, such as the Washington State 
Growth Management Act, which encourage the protection of ``critical 
areas'' including fish and wildlife habitat conservation areas. 
However, not only has the public process for this rulemaking provided 
information to the landowner, State agencies and local governments and 
the public about the importance of this area, but the process for 
approving a SHA, which also requires public notice and comment, has 
served this educational function too. Through these opportunities, land 
owners, State agencies, and local governments have become more aware of 
the status of and threats to listed species, and the conservation 
actions needed for recovery particularly as it relates to this 
property. For these reasons, we believe that the educational benefits 
that might accrue from critical habitat designation would be minimal.
    Therefore, we find that there is minimal benefit from designating 
critical habitat for the northern spotted owl within this SHA.
    Benefits of Exclusion--The benefits of excluding from designated 
critical habitat the approximately 2,035 ac (824 ha) of lands currently 
managed under the SHA are substantial and include maintaining our 
partnership with this landowner. This is important because it may 
encourage the company not to return to baseline immediately after 
expiration of the SHA.
    Excluding lands with SHAs from critical habitat designation may 
also enhance our ability to seek new partnerships with future 
participants including States, counties, local jurisdictions, 
conservation organizations, and private landowners, which together can 
implement conservation actions that we would be unable to accomplish 
otherwise. If lands within the plan area are designated as critical 
habitat, it could have a negative effect on our ability to work with 
various companies to accomplish our goals for the SHA program and 
recovery of the northern spotted owl. This SHA is located in key 
northern spotted owl landscapes and contributes meaningfully to the 
recovery of the northern spotted owl. Two SOSEAs, the White Salmon and 
Columbia Gorge SOSEAs, encompass approximately 54 percent of the 
Companies' lands in Skamania and Klickitat Counties. The Companies' 
landscape-management approach contributes to northern spotted owl 
recovery by complementing the existing northern spotted owl landscape-
management strategies on adjacent Federal and State forestlands. With 
the Companies' participation in northern spotted owl conservation, it 
will be the first time in these SOSEAs, that a private landowner has 
joined State and Federal land managers to

[[Page 71958]]

implement a landscape approach for northern spotted owl habitat. The 
Companies' lands provide a major link in the goal of managing both the 
Columbia River and White Salmon SOSEAs under a unified landscape-
management regime rather than a competitive harvesting regime under 
owl-circle management.
    The designation of critical habitat could nonetheless have an 
unintended negative effect on our relationship with non-Federal 
landowners due to the perceived imposition of redundant government 
regulation. If lands within the SDS SHA plan area are designated as 
critical habitat, it would likely have a negative effect on our ability 
to establish new partnerships to develop SHAs, HCPs, and other 
conservation plans, particularly plans that address landscape-level 
conservation of species and habitats. This SHA is being observed by 
other land and timber companies in Washington and Oregon and may serve 
as a model for ongoing and future efforts. By excluding these lands, we 
preserve our current private and local conservation partnerships and 
encourage additional conservation actions in the future.
    Benefits of Exclusion Outweigh the Benefits of Inclusion--In 
summary, we determine that the benefits of excluding the SDS SHA from 
the designation of critical habitat for the northern spotted owl 
outweigh the benefits of including this area in critical habitat. We 
find that including it would result in minimal, if any, additional 
benefits to the northern spotted owl, as explained above. We also find 
that the benefits of including these lands are further minimized by the 
fact that the management strategies of the SHA are designed to maintain 
and enhance habitat for the northern spotted owl. The SHA includes 
species-specific avoidance and minimization measures, monitoring 
requirements to track success and ensure proper implementation, and 
forest-management practices and habitat conservation objectives that 
benefit the northern spotted owl and its habitat, which exceeds any 
conservation value provided as a result of a critical habitat 
designation. Furthermore, encouraging landowners to enter into 
voluntary conservation agreements with the Service for the recovery of 
endangered or threatened species which we believe would be one of the 
benefits of exclusion may outweigh the loss of benefit that may be 
incurred through a possible return to baseline following permit 
expiration.
    Therefore, in consideration of the factors discussed above in the 
Benefits of Exclusion section, including the relevant impact to current 
and future partnerships, we have determined that the benefits of 
exclusion of lands covered by the Port Blakely SHA outweigh the 
benefits of critical habitat designation.
    Exclusion Will Not Result in Extinction of the Species--We have 
determined that exclusion of a net of approximately 2,035 ac (824 ha) 
of lands within the SDS SHA will not result in extinction of the 
northern spotted owl because, under this agreement, the landscape 
management approach contributes to owl recovery by complementing the 
existing owl landscape-management strategies on adjacent Federal and 
State forestlands. The SDS SHA goals and objectives for the northern 
spotted owl are to provide dispersal and young forest marginal habitat 
across their ownership on a dynamic basis, as well as submature and 
higher quality habitat in harvest set-asides. These habitats provide 
both dispersal and demographic support, an established goal for lands 
within the two northern spotted owl special emphasis areas (SOSEAs). 
Further, for projects having a Federal nexus and affecting northern 
spotted owls in occupied areas, the jeopardy standard of section 7 of 
the Act, coupled with protection provided by the SDS SHA, would provide 
a level of assurance that this species will not go extinct as a result 
of excluding these lands from the critical habitat designation. We find 
that exclusion of these lands within the SDS SHA will not result in 
extinction of the northern spotted owl. Based on the above discussion, 
the Secretary is exercising his discretion under section 4(b)(2) of the 
Act to exclude from this final critical habitat designation portions of 
the proposed critical habitat units or subunits that are within the SDS 
SHA totaling about 2,035 ac (824 ha).
How We Evaluate Lands Protected Under HCPs for Exclusion
    The consultation provisions under section 7(a)(2) of the Act 
constitute a regulatory benefit of critical habitat. Federal agencies 
must consult with us on actions that may affect critical habitat and 
must avoid destroying or adversely modifying critical habitat. In areas 
without designated critical habitat, Federal agencies consult with us 
on actions that may affect a listed species and must refrain from 
undertaking actions that are likely to jeopardize the continued 
existence of the species. Thus, the analysis of effects to critical 
habitat is a separate and different analysis from that of the effects 
to the species. The difference in outcomes of these two analyses 
represents the regulatory benefit of critical habitat. For some 
species, and in some locations, the outcome of these analyses will be 
similar, because effects on habitat will often result in effects on the 
species. However, the regulatory standard is different: The jeopardy 
analysis looks at the action's impact on survival and recovery of the 
species, while the adverse modification analysis looks at the action's 
effects on the designated habitat's contribution to the species' 
conservation. This will, in some instances, lead to different results 
or consultation where it might not have otherwise occurred (e.g. in 
habitat not currently occupied by the species).
    Once an agency determines that consultation under section 7 of the 
Act is necessary, the process may conclude informally when we concur in 
writing that the proposed Federal action is not likely to adversely 
affect critical habitat. However, if the action agency determines 
through informal consultation that adverse effects are likely to occur, 
then it would initiate formal consultation, which would conclude when 
we issue a biological opinion on whether the proposed Federal action is 
likely to result in destruction or adverse modification of critical 
habitat. A biological opinion that concludes in a determination of no 
destruction or adverse modification may contain discretionary 
conservation recommendations to minimize adverse effects to critical 
habitat, but it would not contain any mandatory reasonable and prudent 
measures or terms and conditions because these do not apply to critical 
habitat. In addition, we suggest reasonable and prudent alternatives to 
the proposed Federal action only when our biological opinion finds that 
the action may destroy or adversely modify critical habitat.
    The process of designating critical habitat as described in the Act 
requires, in part, that the Service identify those lands occupied at 
the time of listing on which are found the physical or biological 
features essential to the conservation of the species, which may 
require special management considerations or protection and any 
unoccupied lands that are essential to the conservation of the species. 
In identifying those lands, the Service must consider the recovery 
needs of the species. Once critical habitat has been designated, 
Federal agencies must consult with the Service under section 7(a)(2) of 
the Act on their actions that may adversely affect the species or 
critical habitat to ensure that their actions are not likely to 
adversely

[[Page 71959]]

modify critical habitat or jeopardize the continued existence of the 
species.
    We find that in some cases, the conservation benefits to a species 
and its habitat that may be achieved through the designation of 
critical habitat are less than those that could be achieved through the 
implementation of a habitat conservation management plan that includes 
specific provisions based on enhancement or recovery as the management 
standard. Consequently, the implementation of any HCP or management 
plan that considers enhancement or recovery as the management standard 
will often provide as much or more benefit than a section 7(a)(2) 
consultation under the Act. There may be some regulatory benefit that 
results from designating critical habitat in the areas covered by the 
HCPs because of section 7 consultation requirements; however, they are 
often minimal compared to the benefits of exclusion.
    Non-Federal landowners are often motivated to work with the Service 
collaboratively to develop HCPs because of the regulatory certainty 
provided by an incidental take permit under section 10(a)(1)(B) of the 
Act, including assurances under the No Surprises Policy (63 FR 8859; 
February 23, 1998). The No Surprises Policy sets forth a clear 
commitment to incidental take permittees that, to the extent consistent 
with the Act and other Federal laws, the government will not seek 
additional mitigation under an approved HCP where the permittee is 
implementing the HCP's terms and conditions. Although the HCP process 
can be complex and time-consuming, the benefit to landowners in 
undertaking this extensive process is not only incidental take 
authorization but the resulting regulatory certainty, which translates 
into real savings for private landowners in terms of opportunity costs, 
as well as direct savings and avoided costs. Designation of critical 
habitat within the boundaries of already approved HCPs may be viewed as 
a disincentive by other entities currently developing HCPs or 
contemplating them in the future, because it may be perceived as 
imposing duplicative regulatory burdens. In discussions with the 
Service, HCP permittees have indicated they view critical habitat 
designation as an unnecessary additional intrusion on their property, 
and have expressed concern that the Service may request new 
conservation measures for the northern spotted owl, even though they 
have an existing HCP and associated incidental take permit that has 
already gone through NEPA and the section 7 consultation process 
already in place.
    Although parties whose actions may take listed species may still 
desire incidental take permits to avoid liability under section 9 of 
the Act, failure to exclude HCP lands from critical habitat could 
reduce the conservation value of the HCP program in several ways. 
First, parties may be less willing to seek a section 10 (a)(2) permit 
and develop an HCP where they are not certain their actions will cause 
incidental take in order to avoid involving the Federal government when 
that involvement could lead to future section 7 consultations because 
of critical habitat designation. Second, in any given HCP, applicants 
may reduce the amount of protection to which they are willing to agree, 
in effect holding some additional protective measures ``in reserve'' 
for use in any future discussions to address critical habitat. The 
failure to exclude qualified HCP lands from critical habitat 
designations could decrease the program's efficacy and have profound 
effects on our ability to establish and maintain important conservation 
partnerships with stakeholders.
    Excluding qualified HCP lands from critical habitat provides 
permittees with the greatest possible certainty, and thereby may help 
foster the cooperation necessary to allow the HCP program to achieve 
the greatest possible conservation benefit. Thus, excluding the lands 
covered by HCPs may improve the Service's ability to enter into new 
partnerships. In addition, permittees who trust and benefit from the 
HCP process may encourage future HCP participants, such as States, 
counties, local jurisdictions, conservation organizations, and private 
landowners, leading to new HCPs that may result in implementation of 
conservation actions we would be unable to accomplish otherwise.
    Excluding lands covered under HCPs from the critical habitat 
designation may also relieve landowners from the possibility of any 
additional regulatory burden and costs associated with the preparation 
of section 7 documents related to critical habitat. While the costs of 
providing these additional documents to the Service is minor, there may 
be resulting delays that generate perceived or very real costs to 
private landowners in the form of opportunity costs, as well as direct 
costs.
    HCPs can provide other important conservation benefits, including 
the development of important biological information needed to guide 
conservation efforts and assist in species conservation outside the HCP 
planning area. Each of the HCPs evaluated below have some component of 
adaptive forest management to address uncertainties in achieving their 
agreed-upon conservation objectives for the northern spotted owl. The 
adaptive management strategy helps to ensure management will continue 
to be consistent with agreed-upon northern spotted owl conservation 
objectives.
    Below is a brief description of each HCP and the lands proposed as 
critical habitat covered by each plan that we have excluded from 
critical habitat designation under section 4(b)(2) of the Act.
State of California
Green Diamond Resource Company Habitat Conservation Plan
    In this final designation, the Secretary has exercised his 
authority to exclude lands from critical habitat, under section 4(b)(2) 
of the Act, that are covered under the Green Diamond Resource Company 
Northern Spotted Owl Habitat Conservation Plan of 1992. The Green 
Diamond Resource Company (Green Diamond, formerly Simpson Timber 
Company) operates under a northern spotted owl HCP within the Redwood 
Coast Critical Habitat Unit in California. The Incidental Take Permit 
(ITP) issued in association with this HCP was initially noticed in the 
Federal Register on May 27, 1992 (57 FR 22254) and issued September 17, 
1992. Both the HCP and the permit had a term of 30 years, with a 
comprehensive review scheduled after 10 years to review the efficacy of 
the plan. The permit allows incidental take of up to 50 pairs of 
northern spotted owls and their habitat during the course of timber 
harvest operations on 369,384 ac (149,484 ha) of forest lands in Del 
Norte and Humboldt Counties.
    At the time the permit was issued, more than 100 northern spotted 
owl nest sites or activity centers were known or suspected on the 
property. The Service determined that the projected growth and harvest 
rates indicated more habitat of the age class primarily used by 
northern spotted owls would exist on the property at the end of the 30-
year permit period. In addition, the HCP provided that nest sites would 
be protected during the breeding season, and no direct killing or 
injuring of owls was anticipated. Green Diamond also agreed to continue 
their monitoring programs, in which more than 250 adult owls and more 
than 100 juveniles were already banded, as well as analyses of timber 
stands used by owls. As required by the terms of the HCP, Green Diamond 
and the Service conducted a comprehensive review of the first 20

[[Page 71960]]

years of implementation, including a comparison of actual and estimated 
levels of owl displacement, a comparison of estimated and actual 
distribution of habitat, a reevaluation of the biological basis for the 
HCP's conservation strategy, an examination of the efficacy of and 
continued need for habitat set-asides, and an estimate of future owl 
displacements. During the comprehensive review, Green Diamond requested 
an amendment to the 1992 ITP to allow incidental take of up to eight 
additional northern spotted owl pairs. This request was noticed in the 
Federal Register on February 26, 2007 (72 FR 8393) and the modified 
permit was issued in October 2007.The original Green Diamond Northern 
Spotted Owl HCP relied on extensive monitoring and research to inform 
development of more comprehensive conservation strategies for their 
lands. The outcome of 20 years of implementation of Green Diamond's 
1992 informed the Service and Green Diamond on how to develop new, or 
modify the original, conservation strategies to further benefit the 
northern spotted owl.
    On April 16, 2010, we announced our intent to prepare an 
Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) under the National Environmental 
Policy Act (NEPA) in response to an expected new HCP from Green 
Diamond, which would include provisions for the northern spotted owl 
and possibly the Pacific fisher (Martes pennanti), a species that may 
be considered for listing during the term of the HCP. This new HCP, if 
completed and approved, would replace the 1992 HCP, and would require 
the issuance of a new incidental take permit. The proposed new HCP is 
intended to address the retention of suitable northern spotted owl 
nesting habitat, the development of older forest habitat elements and 
habitat structures, and future establishment of northern spotted owl 
nest sites in streamside retention zones. In addition, the new plan 
will help cluster owl sites in favorable habitat areas, and initiate 
future research on other wildlife species such as fishers and barred 
owls. Since this new draft HCP has not yet been completed, the draft 
HCP does not serve as the basis for exclusion and we only provide this 
information in terms of demonstrating the progression of involvement 
and partnership between the Service and Green Diamond. The existing 
HCP, originally completed in 1992, is still in effect as of this date 
and serves, in part, as the basis for this exclusion.
    Since approval of the 1992 HCP, personnel from Green Diamond, along 
with academic and research institutions, have been the largest single 
contributor of scientific information on the ecology of northern 
spotted owls and their habitats on managed forest lands in the redwood 
region, in the form of graduate theses and peer-reviewed papers. Since 
the initial listing of the northern spotted owl in 1990, Green Diamond 
has maintained on their lands 1 of the 11 demographic study areas 
within the range of the northern spotted owl that have been used for 
rangewide monitoring and evaluation of populations and population 
trends in the Pacific northwest. This important demographic information 
is reported in a continuing series of monographs, the most recent being 
Forsman et al. (2011).
    Benefits of Inclusion--We find there are minimal benefits to 
including these lands in critical habitat. As discussed above, the 
designation of critical habitat invokes the provisions of section 7. 
However, in this case, we find the requirement that Federal agencies 
consult with us and ensure that their actions are not likely to destroy 
or adversely modify critical habitat will not result in significant 
benefits to the species because the possibility of a Federal nexus for 
a project on these lands that might trigger such consultation is 
limited; there is little likelihood of an action that will involve 
Federal funding, authorization, or implementation. In addition, since 
the lands under the HCP in question are occupied by the northern 
spotted owl, if a Federal nexus were to occur, section 7 consultation 
would already be triggered and the Federal agency would consider the 
effects of its actions on the species through a jeopardy analysis. 
While the jeopardy and adverse modification standards are different, 
the additional conservation that could be attained through the 
supplemental adverse modification analysis for critical habitat under 
section 7 would not be significant in light of the benefits of the HCP, 
which already incorporates protections and management objectives for 
the northern spotted owl and the habitat upon which it depends for 
breeding, sheltering, and foraging activities. The conservation 
approach identified in the Green Diamond HCP, along with our close 
coordination with the company, addresses the identified threats to 
northern spotted owl on lands covered by the HCP that contain the 
physical or biological features essential to the conservation of the 
species. The conservation measures identified within the HCP seek to 
achieve conservation goals for northern spotted owls and their habitat, 
and thus can be of greater conservation benefit than the designation of 
critical habitat, which does not require specific, proactive actions. 
HCPs typically provide for greater conservation benefits to a covered 
species than section 7 consultations because HCPs ensure the long-term 
protection and management of a covered species and its habitat. In 
addition, funding for such management is ensured through the 
Implementation Agreement. Such assurances are typically not provided by 
section 7 consultations, which in contrast to HCPs, often do not commit 
the project proponent to long-term, special management practices or 
protections. Thus, a section 7 consultation typically does not afford 
the lands it covers similar extensive benefits as an HCP. In addition, 
the protections of critical habitat come into play only in the event of 
a Federal action, whereas the protections of an HCP are in continuous 
force.
    Another potential benefit of including lands in a critical habitat 
designation is that the designation can serve to educate landowners, 
State and local government agencies, and the public regarding the 
potential conservation value of an area, and may help focus 
conservation efforts on areas of high conservation value for certain 
species. Any information about the northern spotted owl and its habitat 
that reaches a wider audience, including parties engaged in 
conservation activities, is valuable. However, in this case the 
educational value of critical habitat is limited. Green Diamond has 
already made substantial contributions to our knowledge of the species 
through research and monitoring without critical habitat designated on 
their lands. In addition, the educational and informational benefits 
that might arise from critical habitat designation have been largely 
accomplished through the public review and comment on the HCP and 
associated documents. The release of the Revised Recovery Plan for the 
Northern Spotted Owl in 2011 was also preceded by outreach efforts and 
public comment opportunities. Furthermore, we conducted extensive 
outreach efforts on the proposed revision of critical habitat, 
including multiple public information meetings and opportunities for 
public comment. Through these outreach opportunities, land owners, 
State agencies, and local governments have become aware of the status 
of and threats to the northern spotted owl, and the conservation 
actions needed for recovery.
    The designation of critical habitat may also indirectly cause State 
or county jurisdictions to initiate their own additional requirements 
in areas identified as critical habitat. These

[[Page 71961]]

measures may include additional permitting requirements or a higher 
level of local review on proposed projects. However, CALFIRE has 
indicated to us that it is unlikely to impose any new requirements on 
project proponents if critical habitat is designated in areas already 
subject to California Forest Practice Rules. Therefore, we believe this 
potential benefit of critical will be limited.
    Benefits of Exclusion--The benefits of excluding from designated 
critical habitat the approximately 369,864 ac (149,484 ha) of lands 
currently managed under the Green Diamond HCP are significant. We have 
created a close partnership with Green Diamond through development of 
the HCP, and they have proven to be an invaluable partner in the 
conservation of the northern spotted owl. Green Diamond has made a 
significant contribution to our knowledge of the northern spotted owl 
through their support of continuing research on their lands. Excluding 
the approximately 369,864 ac (149,484 ha) owned and managed by Green 
Diamond from critical habitat designation will sustain and enhance the 
working relationship between the Service and Green Diamond. The 
willingness of Green Diamond to work with the Service in innovative 
ways to conduct solid scientific research and manage federally listed 
species will continue to reinforce those conservation efforts and our 
partnership, which contribute toward achieving recovery of the northern 
spotted owl. Due to the important research they are facilitating, we 
consider this voluntary partnership in conservation vital to our 
understanding of the northern spotted owl status of species on non-
Federal lands and necessary for us to implement recovery actions such 
as habitat protection and restoration, and beneficial management 
actions for species.
    The designation of critical habitat could have an unintended 
negative effect on our relationship with non-Federal landowners due to 
the perceived imposition of redundant government regulation. If lands 
within the Green Diamond HCP are designated as critical habitat, it 
would likely have a negative effect on our continued ability to seek 
new partnerships with future participants including States, counties, 
local jurisdictions, conservation organizations, and private 
landowners, which together can implement various conservation actions 
(such as SHAs, HCPs, and other conservation plans) that we would be 
unable to accomplish otherwise. In addition, our conservation 
partnership with Green Diamond may serve as a model and aid in 
fostering future cooperative relationships with other parties in other 
locations for the benefit of listed species. We consider the positive 
effect of excluding proven conservation partners from critical habitat 
to be a significant benefit of exclusion.
    The Benefits of Exclusion Outweigh the Benefits of Inclusion--We 
reviewed and evaluated the exclusion of approximately 369,864 ac 
(149,484 ha) of land owned and managed by the Green Diamond Resource 
Company from our designation of critical habitat. The benefits of 
including these lands in the designation are comparatively small, since 
the habitat on the covered lands is already being monitored and managed 
under the current HCP to improve the habitat elements that are 
equivalent to the physical or biological features outlined in this 
critical habitat rule. Any potential regulatory benefits of critical 
habitat would be minimal, at best, as additional Federal review on 
individual proposed actions is episodic and confined to the scope and 
scale of the specific Federal actions that take the form of project 
review or granting of funds. In any case, any potential regulatory 
benefit that would be gained from a supplemental adverse modification 
analysis, should section 7 be triggered, would likely be minimal since 
the protections afforded by critical habitat would be duplicative with 
the protections provided through the HCP. Educational benefits to the 
company that might be attributed to critical habitat designation are 
limited because the company already has an active program of research 
and analysis that is embedded in company planning. In addition, 
extensive outreach efforts that have already occurred in conjunction 
with the HCP, Revised Recovery Plan, and the proposed revision of 
critical habitat have raised awareness of the current status of and 
threats to the northern spotted owl, and the conservation actions 
needed for recovery. Green Diamond has made a significant contribution 
to the body of scientific information about the northern spotted owl in 
the redwood region.
    In this instance, the regulatory and educational benefits of 
inclusion in critical habitat are minimal compared to the significant 
benefits gained through our conservation partnership with Green 
Diamond. In addition, the conservation measures of their HCP serves not 
only an educational function for the company and local and State 
regulatory jurisdictions, but also provides for significant 
conservation and management of northern spotted owl habitat and 
contributes to the recovery of the species. The HCP provisions for 
protecting and maintaining northern spotted owl habitat far exceed the 
conservation benefits that would be obtainable through section 7 
consultation. The company's current program of research on the northern 
spotted owl habitat and demographics could not be obtained through 
section 7 consultation.
    Exclusion of these lands from critical habitat will help foster the 
partnership we have developed with Green Diamond, partly through the 
development and continuing implementation of the HCP, and partly 
through the encouragement of elective actions by the company that are 
unconnected to the HCP. For example, Green Diamond's elective role in 
maintaining a demographic study area, which is a key part of the 
network of demographic study areas essential to determining the 
rangewide population trends of the northern spotted owl, is integral to 
continuing research on the species. Our partnership with Green Diamond 
not only provides a benefit for the conservation of the northern 
spotted owl, but it may also serve as a model and aid in fostering 
future cooperative relationships with other parties in other locations 
for the benefit of listed species. For these reasons, we have 
determined that the benefits of exclusion of lands covered by the Green 
Diamond Resource Company HCP outweigh the benefits of critical habitat 
designation.
    Exclusion Will Not Result in Extinction of the Species--We have 
determined that the exclusion of 369,864 ac (149,484 ha) from the 
designation of critical habitat for the northern spotted owl of lands 
owned and managed by the Green Diamond Resource Company, as identified 
in their HCP, will not result in extinction of the species because 
current conservation efforts under the plan adequately protect the 
geographical areas containing the physical or biological features 
essential to the conservation of the species. For those infrequent 
projects having a Federal nexus and affecting northern spotted owls on 
these lands, which are occupied by the species, the jeopardy standard 
of section 7 of the Act, coupled with protection provided by the 
current Green Diamond HCP, would provide a level of assurance that this 
species will not go extinct as a result of excluding these lands from 
the critical habitat designation. Based on the above discussion, the 
Secretary is exercising his discretion under section 4(b)(2) of

[[Page 71962]]

the Act to exclude from this final critical habitat designation 
portions of the proposed critical habitat units or subunits that are 
within the Green Diamond HCP boundary totaling 369,864 ac (149,484 ha).
Humboldt Redwood Company Habitat Conservation Plan
    In this final designation, the Secretary has exercised his 
authority to exclude lands from critical habitat, under section 4(b)(2) 
of the Act, that are covered under the Humboldt Redwood Company 
(formerly Pacific Lumber) HCP in the Redwood Coast CHU in California. 
The permit under this HCP with a term of 50 years was noticed on July 
14, 1998 (63 FR 37900) and issued on March 1, 1999. The HCP includes 
208,172 ac (84,244 ha) of commercial timber lands in Humboldt County, 
essentially all of the formerly Pacific Lumber timberlands outside of 
the Headwaters Reserve, which is currently under Bureau of Land 
Management administration. The Humboldt Redwood Company HCP includes 
nine nonlisted species (including one candidate species) and three 
listed species, including the northern spotted owl. Activities covered 
by the HCP include forest management activities and mining or other 
extractive activities. With regard to the northern spotted owl in 
particular, the HCP addresses the harvest, retention, and recruitment 
of requisite habitat types and elements within watershed assessment 
areas and individual northern spotted owl activity sites. The 
management objectives of the HCP are to minimize disturbance to 
northern spotted owl activity sites, monitor to determine whether these 
efforts maintain a high-density and productive population of northern 
spotted owls, and apply adaptive forest management provisions as 
necessary to evaluate or modify existing conservation measures. In 
addition, there are specific habitat retention requirements to conserve 
habitat for foraging, roosting, and nesting at northern spotted owl 
activity sites. The other conservation elements of the HCP are also 
expected to aid in the retention and recruitment of potential foraging, 
roosting, and nesting habitat in watersheds across the ownership. For 
example, the HCP establishes a network of marbled murrelet conservation 
areas, outlines silvicultural requirements associated with riparian 
management zones and mass wasting avoidance areas, imposes cumulative 
effects/disturbance index restrictions, and contains a retention 
standard of 10 percent late seral habitat in each watershed assessment. 
Each of these measures is likely to provide additional suitable habitat 
for the northern spotted owl.
    Benefits of Inclusion--We find there are minimal benefits to 
including these lands in critical habitat. As discussed above, the 
designation of critical habitat invokes the provisions of section 7. 
However, in this case, we find the requirement that Federal agencies 
consult with us and ensure that their actions are not likely to destroy 
or adversely modify critical habitat will not result in significant 
benefits to the species because the possibility of a Federal nexus for 
a project on these lands that might trigger such consultation is 
limited since there is little likelihood of an action that will involve 
Federal funding, authorization, or implementation. In addition, since 
the lands under the HCP in question are occupied by the northern 
spotted owl, if a Federal nexus were to occur, section 7 consultation 
would already be triggered and the Federal agency would consider the 
effects of its actions on the species through a jeopardy analysis. 
Although the jeopardy and adverse modification standards are different, 
the additional conservation that could be attained through the 
supplemental adverse modification analysis for critical habitat under 
section 7 would not be significant because the HCP incorporates 
protections and management objectives for the northern spotted owl and 
the habitat upon which it depends for breeding, sheltering, and 
foraging activities. The conservation approach identified in the HCP, 
along with our close coordination with the Humboldt Redwood Company, 
addresses the identified threats to northern spotted owl on lands 
covered by the HCP that contain the physical or biological features 
essential to the conservation of the species. The conservation measures 
identified within the HCP seek to achieve conservation goals for 
northern spotted owls and their habitat, and thus can be of greater 
conservation benefit than the designation of critical habitat, which 
does not require specific, proactive actions. HCPs typically provide 
for greater conservation benefits to a covered species than section 7 
consultations because HCPs ensure the long-term protection and 
management of a covered species and its habitat. In addition, funding 
for such management is ensured through the Implementation Agreement. 
Such assurances are typically not provided by section 7 consultations, 
which in contrast to HCPs, often do not commit the project proponent to 
long-term, special management practices or protections. Thus, a section 
7 consultation typically does not afford the lands it covers similar 
extensive benefits as an HCP. In addition, the protections of critical 
habitat come into play only in the event of a Federal action, whereas 
the protections of an HCP are in continuous force.
    The HCP conservation measures that provide direct and indirect 
benefits to the northern spotted owl and its habitat have been 
implemented continuously since 1999 on all covered lands owned and 
managed by the Humboldt Redwood Company. Northern spotted owl 
conservation measures are subject to re-evaluation and modification 
through active adaptive forest management provisions in the Plan, which 
can be initiated by the Service or by the Company.
    Another benefit of including lands in a critical habitat 
designation is that it serves to educate landowners, State and local 
governments, and the public regarding the potential conservation value 
of an area. This helps focus and promote conservation efforts by other 
parties by identifying areas of high conservation value for northern 
spotted owls. Any information about the northern spotted owl and its 
habitat that reaches a wider audience, including parties engaged in 
conservation activities, is valuable. The landowners in this case are 
aware of the needs of the species through the development of their HCP, 
in which they have agreed to take measures to protect the northern 
spotted owl and its habitat. Any additional educational and information 
benefits that might arise from critical habitat designation have been 
largely accomplished through the public review of and comment on the 
HCP and the associated permit. The release of the Revised Recovery Plan 
for the Northern Spotted Owl in 2011 was also preceded by outreach 
efforts and public comment opportunities. In addition, the rulemaking 
process associated with critical habitat designation included several 
opportunities for public comment, and we also held multiple public 
information meetings across the range of the species. Through these 
outreach opportunities, land owners, State agencies, and local 
governments have become aware of the current status of and threats to 
the northern spotted owl, and the conservation actions needed for 
recovery.
    The designation of critical habitat may also indirectly cause State 
or county jurisdictions to initiate their own additional requirements 
in areas identified as critical habitat. These measures may include 
additional permitting requirements or a higher

[[Page 71963]]

level of local review on proposed projects. However, CALFIRE has 
indicated to use that it is unlikely to impose any new requirements on 
project proponents if critical habitat is designated in areas already 
subject to California Forest Practice Rules. Therefore, we believe this 
potential benefit of critical will be limited.
    Benefits of Exclusion--The benefits of excluding from designated 
critical habitat the approximately 208,172 ac (84,244 ha) of lands 
currently managed under the Humboldt Redwood Company (formerly Pacific 
Lumber Company) HCP are significant. Although the HCP was originally 
negotiated with Pacific Lumber, we have developed a good working 
rapport with Humboldt Redwood Company, and expect this conservation 
partnership to continue through the implementation of the HCP. We 
consider conservation partnerships with private landowners to represent 
an integral component of recovery for listed species. However, the 
designation of critical habitat could have an unintended negative 
effect on our relationship with non-Federal landowners due to the 
perceived imposition of redundant government regulation. If lands 
within the Humboldt Redwood Company HCP are designated as critical 
habitat, it would likely have a chilling effect on our continued 
ability to seek new partnerships with future participants including 
States, counties, local jurisdictions, conservation organizations, and 
private landowners, which together can implement various conservation 
actions (such as SHAs, HCPs, and other conservation plans) that we 
would be unable to accomplish otherwise.
    Excluding the approximately 208,172 ac (84,244 ha) owned and 
managed by the Humboldt Redwood Company from critical habitat 
designation will sustain and enhance the working relationship between 
the Service and the Company, and will bolster our ability to pursue 
additional conservation partnerships for the benefit of listed species. 
The willingness of the Humboldt Redwood Company to work with us to 
manage their forest lands for the benefit of the northern spotted owl 
will continue to reinforce those conservation efforts and our 
partnership, which contributes to the recovery of the species. We 
consider this voluntary partnership in conservation important to our 
understanding of the status of northern spotted owls on non-Federal 
lands and necessary for us to implement recovery actions such as 
habitat protection and restoration, and beneficial management actions 
for species. In addition, as noted above, our conservation partnership 
with the Humboldt Redwood Company may serve as a model and aid in 
fostering future cooperative relationships with other parties in other 
locations for the benefit of listed species. We consider the positive 
effect of excluding proven conservation partners from critical habitat 
to be a significant benefit of exclusion.
    The Benefits of Exclusion Outweigh the Benefits of Inclusion--We 
have reviewed and evaluated the exclusion, from critical habitat 
designation, of approximately 208,172 ac (84,244 ha) of land owned and 
managed by the Humboldt Redwood Company. The benefits of including 
these lands in the designation are comparatively small, since the 
habitat on the covered lands is already being monitored and managed 
under the current HCP to improve the habitat elements that are 
equivalent to the physical or biological features that are outlined in 
this critical habitat rule. Because one of the primary threats to the 
northern spotted owl is habitat loss and degradation, the consultation 
process under section 7 of the Act for projects with a Federal nexus in 
areas occupied by the species, such as is the case here, will, in 
evaluating effects to the northern spotted owl, evaluate the effects of 
the action on the conservation or function of the habitat for the 
species regardless of whether critical habitat is designated for these 
lands. The analytical requirements to support a jeopardy determination 
on excluded land are similar, but not identical, to the requirements in 
an analysis for an adverse modification determination on included land. 
However, the HCP provides habitat conservation measures that apply for 
the benefit of northern spotted owl. In addition, educational benefits 
are limited, since outreach efforts associated with various 
conservation actions for this species have been extensive, and members 
of the public, as well as State and local agencies, are likely familiar 
with the species and its biological needs. Company personnel are 
knowledgeable in the ecology of the northern spotted owl and have 
contributed to the body of scientific information about the northern 
spotted owl in the redwood region. In this case, the regulatory and 
education benefits of inclusion are less than the continued benefit of 
this conservation partnership.
    Humboldt Redwood Company has made important contributions to our 
understanding of the ecology of the northern spotted owl and its 
habitats in the redwood region, and continues to do so through HCP 
implementation and long-term monitoring. The Service recognizes the 
conservation value of partnerships with non-Federal landowners, such as 
the Humboldt Redwood Company, which allow us to achieve conservation 
measures that would not otherwise be attainable on these private lands. 
We have determined that our conservation partnership with the Humboldt 
Redwood Company HCP, in conjunction with the conservation measures 
provided in the HCP, provide a greater benefit than would the 
regulatory and educational benefits of critical habitat designation. 
Furthermore, we have determined that the additional regulatory benefits 
of designating critical habitat, afforded through the section 7(a)(2) 
consultation process, are minimal because of limited Federal nexus and 
because conservation measures specifically benefitting the northern 
spotted owl and its habitat are in place through the implementation of 
the HCP. Therefore, in consideration of the factors discussed above in 
the Benefits of Exclusion section, including the relevant impact to 
current and future partnerships, we have determined that the benefits 
of exclusion of lands covered by the Humboldt Redwood Company HCP 
outweigh the benefits of critical habitat designation.
    Exclusion Will Not Result in Extinction of the Species--We have 
determined that the exclusion of 208,172 ac (84,244 ha) from the 
designation of critical habitat for the northern spotted owl of lands 
owned and managed by the Humboldt Redwood Company, as identified in 
their HCP, will not result in extinction of the species because current 
conservation efforts under the plan adequately protect the geographical 
areas containing the physical or biological features essential to the 
conservation of the species. For projects having a Federal nexus and 
affecting northern spotted owls in occupied areas, which is the case 
here, the jeopardy standard of section 7 of the Act, coupled with 
protection provided by the current Humboldt Redwood Company HCP, would 
provide a high level of assurance that this species will not go extinct 
as a result of excluding these lands from the critical habitat 
designation. Based on the above discussion, the Secretary is exercising 
his discretion under section 4(b)(2) of the Act to exclude from this 
final critical habitat designation portions of the proposed critical 
habitat units or subunits that are within the Humboldt Redwood Company 
HCP boundary totaling 208,172 ac (84,244 ha).

[[Page 71964]]

Regli Estate Habitat Conservation Plan
    In this final designation, the Secretary has exercised his 
authority to exclude lands from critical habitat, under section 4(b)(2) 
of the Act, that are covered under the Regli Estate HCP in the Redwood 
Coast CHU. The permit issued under this HCP in 1995 (noticed July 17, 
1995 (60 FR 36432) and issued August 30, 1995) covers 484 ac (196 ha) 
in Humboldt County, California, to be used for forest management 
activities.
    Two listed species, the marbled murrelet and northern spotted owl, 
as well as two nonlisted species, are covered under the incidental take 
permit. Provisions in the HCP for the northern spotted owl include the 
mitigation of impacts from forest management activities by using 
single-tree selection silviculture that would retain owl foraging 
habitat suitability in all harvested areas; protecting an 80-ac (32-ha) 
core nesting area for one of the two owl pairs known to exist in the 
HCP area; and planting conifer tree species on approximately 73 ac (30 
ha) of currently nonforested habitat within the HCP area, which would 
result in a net increase in forested habitat over time. In addition, 
take of owls would be minimized using seasonal protection measures 
specified in the HCP.
    Benefits of Inclusion--We find there are minimal benefits to 
including these lands in critical habitat. As discussed above, the 
designation of critical habitat invokes the provisions of section 7. 
However, in this case, we find the requirement that Federal agencies 
consult with us and ensure that their actions are not likely to destroy 
or adversely modify critical habitat will not result in significant 
benefits to the species because the possibility of a Federal nexus for 
a project on these lands that might trigger such consultation is 
limited since there is little likelihood of an action that will involve 
Federal funding, authorization, or implementation. In addition, since 
the lands under the HCP in question are occupied by the northern 
spotted owl, if a Federal nexus were to occur, section 7 consultation 
would already be triggered and the Federal agency would consider the 
effects of its actions on the species through a jeopardy analysis. The 
additional conservation that could be attained through the supplemental 
adverse modification analysis for critical habitat under section 7 
would not be significant because this HCP incorporates measures that 
specifically benefit the northern spotted owl and its habitat. The HCP 
incorporates protections and management objectives for the northern 
spotted owl designed to produce a net increase in forested habitat for 
the species over time. The conservation measures identified within the 
HCP seek to achieve conservation goals for northern spotted owls and 
their habitat can be of greater conservation benefit than the 
designation of critical habitat, which does not require specific, 
proactive actions. HCPs typically provide for greater conservation 
benefits to a covered species than section 7 consultations because HCPs 
ensure the long-term protection and management of a covered species and 
its habitat. In addition, funding for such management is ensured 
through the Implementation Agreement. Such assurances are typically not 
provided by section 7 consultations, which in contrast to HCPs, often 
do not commit the project proponent to long-term, special management 
practices or protections. Thus, a section 7 consultation typically does 
not afford the lands it covers similar extensive benefits as an HCP. In 
addition, the protections of critical habitat come into play only in 
the event of a Federal action, whereas the protections of an HCP are in 
continuous force.
    Another benefit of including lands in a critical habitat 
designation is that it serves to educate landowners, State and local 
governments, and the public regarding the potential conservation value 
of an area. This helps focus and promote conservation efforts by other 
parties by identifying areas of high conservation value for northern 
spotted owls. Any information about the northern spotted owl and its 
habitat that reaches a wider audience, including parties engaged in 
conservation activities, is valuable. The landowners in this case are 
aware of the needs of the species through the development of their HCP, 
in which they have agreed to take measures to protect the northern 
spotted owl and its habitat. Any additional educational and information 
benefits that might arise from critical habitat designation have been 
largely accomplished through the public review of and comment on the 
HCP and the associated permit. The release of the Revised Recovery Plan 
for the Northern Spotted Owl in 2011 was also preceded by outreach 
efforts and public comment opportunities. In addition, the rulemaking 
process associated with critical habitat designation included several 
opportunities for public comment, and we also held multiple public 
information meetings across the range of the species. Through these 
outreach opportunities, land owners, State agencies, and local 
governments have become aware of the current status of and threats to 
the northern spotted owl, and the conservation actions needed for 
recovery.
    The designation of critical habitat may also indirectly cause State 
or county jurisdictions to initiate their own additional requirements 
in areas identified as critical habitat. These measures may include 
additional permitting requirements or a higher level of local review on 
proposed projects. However, CALFIRE has indicated to us that it is 
unlikely to impose any new requirements on project proponents if 
critical habitat is designated in areas already subject to California 
Forest Practice Rules. Therefore, we believe this potential benefit of 
critical will be limited.
    Benefits of Exclusion--The benefits of excluding from critical 
habitat designation the approximately 484 ac (196 ha) of lands 
currently managed under the HCP are greater than those that would 
accrue from inclusion. We have developed a conservation partnership 
with Regli Estate through the development and implementation of the 
HCP. The conservation measures that provide a benefit to the northern 
spotted owl and its habitat have been, and will continue to be, 
implemented continuously beginning with the issuance of the Incidental 
Taking Permit in 1995 and continuing through the 20-year term of the 
permit, through 2015. These measures include use of single-tree 
selection silviculture to retain owl foraging habitat suitability, 
protection of an 80-ac (32-ha) core nesting area for one of the two 
known owl pairs, and reforestation of approximately 73 ac (30 ha) of 
``old-field'' grasslands, the latter which has already been 
accomplished and will result in a net increase in forested habitat over 
time. A significant benefit of exclusion would be the increased 
likelihood of this landowner continuing with conservation actions for 
the northern spotted owl and its habitat, such as the development of a 
new HCP and application for a new incidental take permit upon the 
expiration of their current permit.
    The HCP incorporates protections and management objectives for the 
northern spotted owl and the habitat upon which it depends for 
breeding, sheltering, and foraging activities. The approach used in the 
HCP, along with our close coordination with the landowner, addresses 
the identified threats to northern spotted owl on covered lands that 
contain the physical or biological features essential to the 
conservation of the species. The conservation measures identified 
within the HCP seek to maintain or surpass current habitat

[[Page 71965]]

suitability for northern spotted owls, and thus can be of greater 
conservation benefit than the designation of critical habitat, which 
does not require specific, proactive actions.
    Excluding the approximately 484 ac (196 ha) of this covered land 
from critical habitat designation will sustain and enhance the working 
relationship between the Service and the owner, and will increase the 
likelihood that the owner will update the HCP and apply for a new 
incidental take permit when the current permit expires in 2015. The 
willingness of the landowner to work with the Service to manage 
federally listed species will continue to reinforce those conservation 
efforts and our partnership, which contribute toward achieving recovery 
of the northern spotted owl. We consider this voluntary partnership in 
conservation important in maintaining our ability to implement recovery 
actions such as habitat protection and restoration, and beneficial 
management actions for species on non-Federal lands. The Service 
recognizes the importance of non-Federal landowners in contributing to 
the conservation and recovery of listed species, and seeks to maintain 
and promote these partnerships for the benefit of all threatened and 
endangered species.
    We consider conservation partnerships with private landowners to 
represent an integral component of recovery for listed species. 
However, the designation of critical habitat could have an unintended 
negative effect on our relationship with non-Federal landowners due to 
the perceived imposition of redundant government regulation. If lands 
within the Regli Estate HCP are designated as critical habitat, it 
would likely have a chilling effect on our continued ability to seek 
new partnerships with future participants including States, counties, 
local jurisdictions, conservation organizations, and private 
landowners, which together can implement various conservation actions 
(such as SHAs, HCPs, and other conservation plans) that we would be 
unable to accomplish otherwise. We therefore consider the positive 
effect of excluding proven conservation partners from critical habitat 
to be a significant benefit of exclusion.
    The Benefits of Exclusion Outweigh the Benefits of Inclusion--We 
reviewed and evaluated the exclusion of approximately 484 ac (196 ha) 
of land owned and managed by Regli Estate from our designation of 
critical habitat. The benefits of including these lands in the 
designation are relatively small. Because one of the primary threats to 
the northern spotted owl is habitat loss and degradation, the 
consultation process under section 7 of the Act for projects with a 
Federal nexus in areas occupied by the species, such as is the case 
here, will, in evaluating effects to the northern spotted owl, evaluate 
the effects of the action on the conservation or function of the 
habitat for the species regardless of whether critical habitat is 
designated for these lands. The analytical requirements to support a 
jeopardy determination on excluded land are similar, but not identical, 
to the requirements in an analysis for an adverse modification 
determination on included land. However, the HCP provides habitat 
conservation measures that apply for the benefit of northern spotted 
owl, and remains in place regardless of critical habitat. In addition, 
for the reasons described above, the educational benefits of 
designation in this instance are minimal.
    Exclusion of these lands from critical habitat will help foster the 
partnership we have developed with the company, through the continuing 
implementation of the HCP. Furthermore, we believe exclusion of these 
lands from critical habitat will increase the likelihood that the owner 
will update the HCP and apply for a new incidental take permit when the 
current permit expires in 2015, thereby ensuring continuing benefits to 
the northern spotted owl and its habitat on these lands. The HCP has 
provisions for protecting and maintaining northern spotted owl habitat 
that exceed the conservation benefits that could be obtained through 
section 7 consultation. These measures will not only prevent the 
degradation of essential features of the northern spotted owl, but they 
will maintain or improve these features over time. Finally, this 
partnership may serve as a model and aid in fostering future 
cooperative relationships with other parties in other locations for the 
benefit of listed species.
    In summary, we have determined that our conservation partnership 
with the Regli Estate, in conjunction with the conservation measures 
provided in the HCP, provide a greater benefit than would the 
regulatory and educational benefits of critical habitat designation. We 
have determined that the additional regulatory benefits of designating 
critical habitat, afforded through the section 7(a)(2) consultation 
process, are minimal because the probability of a Federal nexus for 
projects on this land is limited in scope and will occur episodically 
at most. On the other hand, the conservation measures specifically 
benefitting the northern spotted owl and its habitat are in continuous 
effect throughout the lands covered by this HCP. Finally, the Service 
acknowledges the importance of conservation partnerships with private 
landowners in achieving the recovery of listed species, such as the 
northern spotted owl, and recognizes the positive benefits that accrue 
to conservation through the exclusion of recognized conservation 
partners from critical habitat. Therefore, in consideration of the 
factors discussed above in the Benefits of Exclusion section, including 
the relevant impact to current and future partnerships, we have 
determined that the benefits of exclusion of lands covered by the Regli 
Estate Habitat Conservation Plan outweigh the benefits of critical 
habitat designation.
    Exclusion Will Not Result in Extinction of the Species--We have 
determined that the exclusion of 484 ac (196 ha) of Regli Estate lands 
from the designation of critical habitat for the northern spotted owl, 
as identified in their HCP, will not result in extinction of the 
species because current conservation efforts under the plan adequately 
protect the geographical areas containing the physical or biological 
features essential to the conservation of the species. For projects 
having a Federal nexus and affecting northern spotted owls in occupied 
areas, as is the case here, the jeopardy standard of section 7 of the 
Act, coupled with protection provided under the terms of the HCP, would 
provide assurances that this species will not go extinct as a result of 
excluding these lands from the critical habitat designation. Based on 
the above discussion, the Secretary is exercising his discretion under 
section 4(b)(2) of the Act to exclude from this final critical habitat 
designation portions of the proposed critical habitat units or subunits 
that are within the Regli Estate Habitat Conservation Plan boundary 
totaling 484 ac (196 ha).
Terra Springs Habitat Conservation Plan
    In this final designation, the Secretary has exercised his 
authority to exclude 39 ac (16 ha) of lands from critical habitat, 
under section 4(b)(2) of the Act, that are covered under the Terra 
Springs LLC HCP in subunit 6 of the Interior California Coast CHU. The 
permit issued in association with this HCP (noticed October 29, 2002 
(67 FR 65998), and issued in 2004) has a term of 30 years and includes 
a total of 76 ac (31 ha) of covered land second-growth forest lands in 
Napa County, California. This HCP addresses the effects of timber 
harvest and conversion of forest lands to vineyard and subsequent 
maintenance, in perpetuity, of suitable northern

[[Page 71966]]

spotted owl habitat characteristics on the remaining 39 ac (16 ha) of 
mature (80-120 years) Douglas-fir forest on covered lands. The HCP 
provides a conservation program to minimize and mitigate for the 
covered activities, including a deed restriction that requires 
management in perpetuity of 39 ac (16 ha) of the property as nesting 
and roosting quality habitat for the northern spotted owl. In addition 
to mitigation, the Plan also includes measures to minimize take of the 
northern spotted owl.
    Benefits of Inclusion--We find there are minimal benefits to 
including these lands in critical habitat. As discussed above, the 
designation of critical habitat invokes the provisions of section 7. 
However, in this case, we find the requirement that Federal agencies 
consult with us and ensure that their actions are not likely to destroy 
or adversely modify critical habitat will not result in significant 
benefits to the species because the possibility of a Federal nexus for 
a project on these lands that might trigger such consultation is 
limited since there is little likelihood of an action that will involve 
Federal funding, authorization, or implementation. In addition, since 
the lands under the HCP in question are occupied by the northern 
spotted owl, if a Federal nexus were to occur, section 7 consultation 
would already be triggered and the Federal agency would consider the 
effects of its actions on the species through a jeopardy analysis. The 
additional conservation that could be attained through the supplemental 
adverse modification analysis for critical habitat under section 7 
would not be significant because this HCP incorporates measures that 
specifically benefit the northern spotted owl and its habitat. The HCP 
incorporates protections and management objectives for the northern 
spotted owl designed to maintain suitable habitat on the property for 
the species in perpetuity. The conservation measures identified within 
the HCP seek to achieve conservation goals for northern spotted owls 
and their habitat that can be of greater conservation benefit than the 
designation of critical habitat, which does not require specific, 
proactive actions. HCPs typically provide for greater conservation 
benefits to a covered species than section 7 consultations because HCPs 
ensure the long-term protection and management of a covered species and 
its habitat. In addition, funding for such management is ensured 
through the Implementation Agreement. Such assurances are typically not 
provided by section 7 consultations, which in contrast to HCPs, often 
do not commit the project proponent to long-term, special management 
practices or protections. Thus, a section 7 consultation typically does 
not afford the lands it covers similar extensive benefits as an HCP. In 
addition, the protections of critical habitat come into play only in 
the event of a Federal action, whereas the protections of an HCP are in 
continuous force.
    Another benefit of including lands in a critical habitat 
designation is that it serves to educate landowners, State and local 
governments, and the public regarding the potential conservation value 
of an area. This helps focus and promote conservation efforts by other 
parties by identifying areas of high conservation value for northern 
spotted owls. The landowners in this case are aware of the needs of the 
species through the development of their HCP, in which they have agreed 
to take measures to protect the northern spotted owl and its habitat. 
Any additional educational and information benefits that might arise 
from critical habitat designation have been largely accomplished 
through the public review of and comment on the HCP and the associated 
permit. The release of the Revised Recovery Plan for the Northern 
Spotted Owl in 2011 was also preceded by outreach efforts and public 
comment opportunities. In addition, the rulemaking process associated 
with critical habitat designation included several opportunities for 
public comment, and we also held multiple public information meetings 
across the range of the species. Through these outreach opportunities, 
land owners, State agencies, and local governments have become aware of 
the current status of and threats to the northern spotted owl, and the 
conservation actions needed for recovery.
    The designation of critical habitat may also indirectly cause State 
or county jurisdictions to initiate their own additional requirements 
in areas identified as critical habitat. These measures may include 
additional permitting requirements or a higher level of local review on 
proposed projects. However, CALFIRE has indicated to use that it is 
unlikely to impose any new requirements on project proponents if 
critical habitat is designated in areas already subject to California 
Forest Practice Rules. Therefore, we believe this potential benefit of 
critical will be limited.
    Benefits of Exclusion--The benefits of excluding from designated 
critical habitat the approximately 39 ac (16 ha) of lands currently 
managed under the HCP are substantial. We have developed a conservation 
partnership with Terra Springs through the development and 
implementation of the HCP.
    Excluding the approximately 39 ac (16 ha) owned and managed by 
Terra Springs, LLC from critical habitat designation will sustain and 
enhance the working relationship between the Service and the company. 
The willingness of the company to work with the Service to manage 
federally listed species will continue to reinforce those conservation 
efforts and our partnership, which contribute toward achieving recovery 
of the northern spotted owl. We consider this voluntary partnership in 
conservation important in maintaining our ability to implement recovery 
actions, such as habitat protection and restoration, and beneficial 
management actions for species on non-Federal lands. The Service 
recognizes the importance of non-Federal landowners in contributing to 
the conservation and recovery of listed species, and seeks to maintain 
and promote these partnerships for the benefit of all threatened and 
endangered species.
    We consider conservation partnerships with private landowners to 
represent an integral component of recovery for listed species. 
However, the designation of critical habitat could have an unintended 
negative effect on our relationship with non-Federal landowners due to 
the perceived imposition of redundant government regulation. If lands 
within the Terra Springs HCP are designated as critical habitat, it 
would likely have a chilling effect on our continued ability to seek 
new partnerships with future participants including States, counties, 
local jurisdictions, conservation organizations, and private 
landowners, which together can implement various conservation actions 
(such as SHAs, HCPs, and other conservation plans) that we would be 
unable to accomplish otherwise. We therefore consider the positive 
effect of excluding proven conservation partners from critical habitat 
to be a significant benefit of exclusion.
    The Benefits of Exclusion Outweigh the Benefits of Inclusion--We 
reviewed and evaluated the exclusion of approximately 39 ac (16 ha) of 
land owned and managed by Terra Springs, LLC from our designation of 
critical habitat. The benefits of including these lands in the 
designation are relatively small. Because one of the primary threats to 
the northern spotted owl is habitat loss and degradation, the 
consultation process under section 7 of the Act for projects with a 
Federal nexus

[[Page 71967]]

in areas occupied by the species, such as is the case here, will, in 
evaluating effects to the northern spotted owl, evaluate the effects of 
the action on the conservation or function of the habitat for the 
species regardless of whether critical habitat is designated for these 
lands. The analytical requirements to support a jeopardy determination 
on excluded land are similar, but not identical, to the requirements in 
an analysis for an adverse modification determination on included land. 
However, the HCP provides habitat conservation measures that apply for 
the benefit of northern spotted owl, and remains in place regardless of 
critical habitat. These measures will not only prevent the degradation 
of essential features of the northern spotted owl, but will preserve 
some suitable northern spotted owl habitat in perpetuity.
    We have determined that the preservation of our conservation 
partnership with Terra Springs, in conjunction with the conservation 
measures provided by the HCP, provide a greater benefit than would the 
regulatory and educational benefits of critical habitat designation. 
The additional regulatory benefits of designating critical habitat, 
afforded through the section 7(a)(2) consultation process, are minimal 
because there is little probability of a Federal nexus on these private 
lands. On the other hand, the conservation measures specifically 
benefitting the northern spotted owl and its habitat are in continuous 
effect throughout the lands covered by this HCP. Finally, the Service 
acknowledges the importance of conservation partnerships with private 
landowners in achieving the recovery of listed species, such as the 
northern spotted owl, and recognizes the positive benefits that accrue 
to conservation through the exclusion of recognized conservation 
partners from critical habitat. Therefore, in consideration of the 
factors discussed above in the Benefits of Exclusion section, including 
the relevant impact to current and future partnerships, we have 
determined that the benefits of exclusion of lands covered by the Terra 
Springs Habitat Conservation Plan outweigh the benefits of critical 
habitat designation.
    Exclusion Will Not Result in Extinction of the Species--We have 
determined that the exclusion of 39 ac (16 ha) from the designation of 
critical habitat for the northern spotted owl of lands owned and 
managed by Terra Springs, LLC, as identified in their HCP, will not 
result in extinction of the species because current conservation 
efforts under the plan adequately protect the geographical areas 
containing the physical or biological features essential to the 
conservation of the species. For projects having a Federal nexus and 
affecting northern spotted owls in occupied areas, as is the case here, 
the jeopardy standard of section 7 of the Act, coupled with protection 
provided under the terms of the HCP would provide assurances that this 
species will not go extinct as a result of excluding these lands from 
the critical habitat designation. Based on the above discussion, the 
Secretary is exercising his discretion under section 4(b)(2) of the Act 
to exclude from this final critical habitat designation portions of the 
proposed critical habitat units or subunits that are within the Terra 
Springs, LLC Habitat Conservation Plan boundary totaling 76 ac (31 ha).
State of Oregon
    No lands covered under an HCP in the State of Oregon are designated 
as critical habitat.
State of Washington
Cedar River Watershed Habitat Conservation Plan in King County, 
Washington
    In this final designation, the Secretary has exercised his 
authority to exclude lands from critical habitat, under section 4(b)(2) 
of the Act, totaling approximately 3,244 ac (1,313 ha) that are covered 
under the Cedar River Watershed HCP (Cedar River HCP) in King County, 
Washington. The permit associated with this HCP was noticed in the 
Federal Register on December 11, 1998 (63 FR 68469), and issued on 
April 21, 2000. The term of the permit and HCP is 50 years. The plan 
was prepared to address declining populations of salmon, steelhead, 
bull trout, northern spotted owl, marbled murrelet, and 76 unlisted 
species of fish and wildlife in the Cedar River watershed. The City of 
Seattle's HCP covers 90,535 ac (36,368 ha) of City-owned land in the 
upper Cedar River watershed and the City's water supply and 
hydroelectric operations on the Cedar River, which flows into Lake 
Washington. Participants involved in the development and implementation 
of the Cedar River HCP include the City of Seattle, Seattle City Light, 
Seattle Public Utilities, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, 
Washington Department of Ecology, Muckelshoot Indian Tribe, King 
County, and several conservation-oriented nongovernmental 
organizations.
    At the time the HCP was approved, the 90,535 ac (36,638 ha) in 
upper Cedar River Watershed, owned and managed by the City of Seattle 
as a closed-watershed, consisted of approximately 13,889 ac (5,620 ha) 
of old growth forest (190-800 years old), 91 ac (37 ha) of late-
successional (120-189 years old), 1,074 ac (435 ha) of mature forests 
(80-119 years old), and 70,223 ac (28,418 ha) of second growth forests 
(greater than 80 years old). Conservation strategies in the HCP for 
covered lands are centered around protecting and preserving the 
remaining old growth, late-successional, and mature forest habitats; 
accelerating the development of mature forest characteristics in the 
existing second growth forests though a combination of riparian, 
ecological, and restoration thinnings; and minimizing human disturbance 
through road closures and road abandonments, elimination of commercial 
harvest on covered lands, and continued management of the covered lands 
as a closed municipal watershed.
    At the time the HCP was approved, only two northern spotted owl 
reproductive site centers and two single-resident site centers had been 
identified on covered lands. In addition, two reproductive site enters 
located outside the watershed boundary had owl circles that partially 
overlap the Cedar River watershed. The boundaries of all known 
reproductive site centers are protected by the City of Seattle's 
commitment to conservation strategies and species-specific measures in 
the Cedar River HCP. The objectives of the northern spotted owl 
conservation strategy are to avoid, minimize, and mitigate impacts of 
watershed activities to northern spotted owls, provide a long-term net 
benefit to the northern spotted owl, and contribute to the owl's 
recovery. These objectives are to be accomplished by protecting 
existing habitat; enhancing and recruiting significantly more nesting, 
roosting, foraging, and dispersal habitat in the Cedar River watershed; 
and protecting nest sites, reproductive pairs, and their offspring from 
disturbances. In addition, the City of Seattle committed to 
implementing a monitoring and research program that will be used to 
help determine if the conservation strategies for the northern spotted 
owl achieve their conservation objectives and support the adaptive 
management program designed to provide a means by which conservation 
measures could be altered to meet these conservation objectives. 
Elements of the monitoring and research program important to northern 
spotted owls include a project to improve the City's forest habitat 
inventory and data base, a project to track changes in forest habitat 
characteristics, a study to classify old-growth types in the Cedar 
River

[[Page 71968]]

watershed, and projects to monitor all forest restoration efforts.
    Benefits of Inclusion--We find that there is minimal benefit from 
designating critical habitat for the northern spotted owl within the 
Cedar River HCP because, as explained above, these covered lands are 
already managed for the conservation of the species over the term of 
the HCP. As discussed above, the inclusion of these covered lands as 
critical habitat could provide some additional Federal regulatory 
benefits for the species consistent with the conservation standard 
based on the Ninth Circuit Court's decision in Gifford Pinchot. A 
benefit of inclusion would be the requirement of a Federal agency to 
ensure that their actions on these non-Federal lands would not likely 
result in the destruction or adverse modification of critical habitat. 
However, this additional analysis to determine whether a Federal action 
is likely to result in destruction or adverse modification of critical 
habitat is not likely to be significant because these covered lands are 
not under Federal ownership making the application of section 7 less 
likely, and we are not aware of any other potential Federal nexus. In 
addition, any Federal agency proposing a Federal action on these 
covered lands would have to consider the conservation restrictions on 
these lands and incorporate measures necessary to ensure the 
conservation of these resources, thereby reducing any incremental 
benefit critical habitat may have.
    The incremental benefit from designating critical habitat for the 
northern spotted owl within the Cedar River HCP is further minimized 
because, as explained above, these covered lands are already managed 
for the conservation of the species over the term of the HCP and the 
conservation measures provided by the HCP will provide greater 
protection to northern spotted owl habitat than the designation of 
critical habitat.
    The Cedar River HCP provides for the needs of the northern spotted 
owl by protecting and preserving thousands of acres of existing 
suitable northern spotted owl habitat in the Cedar River watershed, 
committing to the enhancement and recruitment of approximately 70,000 
ac (28,328 ha) of additional habitat over the term of the Cedar River 
HCP, and implementing species-specific conservation measures designed 
to avoid and minimize impacts to northern spotted owls. Monitoring and 
research and adaptive management programs were developed to track HCP 
progress over the term of the permit and provide critical feedback on 
management actions that allow for management changes in response to 
this feedback or to larger trends outside the HCP boundaries such as 
climate change. Therefore, designation of critical habitat would be 
redundant on these lands, and would not provide additional measureable 
protections.
    Another benefit of including lands in a critical habitat 
designation is that it serves to educate landowners, State and local 
governments, and the public regarding the potential conservation value 
of an area. This helps focus and promote conservation efforts by other 
parties by identifying areas of high conservation value for northern 
spotted owls. Designation of critical habitat would inform State 
agencies and local governments about areas that could be conserved 
under State laws or local ordinances, such as the Washington State 
Growth Management Act, which encourage the protection of ``critical 
areas'' including fish and wildlife habitat conservation areas. Any 
information about the northern spotted owl and its habitat that reaches 
a wider audience, including parties engaged in conservation activities, 
is valuable. However, the additional educational and informational 
benefits that might arise from critical habitat designation here have 
been largely accomplished through the public review and comment of the 
HCP, Environmental Impact Statement, and Implementation Agreement. 
Through these processes, this HCP included intensive public 
involvement.
    The designation of critical habitat may also indirectly cause State 
or county jurisdictions to initiate their own additional requirements 
in areas identified as critical habitat. These measures may include 
additional permitting requirements or a higher level of local review on 
proposed projects. However, in Washington, State forest practices 
regulations provide an exemption for review for lands managed under an 
HCP. Thus, even should the State respond to designation of critical 
habitat by instituting additional protections, the HCP will not be 
subject to those protections as the species is considered already 
addressed, and therefore no additional benefit would accrue through 
State regulations.
    Benefits of Exclusion--Compared to the minimal benefits of 
inclusion of this area in critical habitat, the benefits of excluding 
from designated critical habitat the approximately 3,244 ac (1,313 ha) 
of lands currently managed under the HCP are more substantial.
    HCP conservation measures that provide a benefit to the northern 
spotted owl and its habitat have been implemented continuously since 
1998 on all covered lands owned and managed under the Cedar River HCP. 
Excluding the lands managed under the Cedar River HCP from critical 
habitat designation will sustain and enhance the working relationship 
between the Service and the permit holder.
    Excluding lands within HCPs from critical habitat designation can 
also facilitate our ability to seek new partnerships with future HCP 
participants including States, counties, local jurisdictions, 
conservation organizations, and private landowners, which together can 
implement conservation actions that we would be unable to accomplish 
otherwise. If lands within HCP plan areas are designated as critical 
habitat, it would likely have a negative effect on our ability to 
establish new partnerships to develop HCPs, particularly large, 
regional HCPs that involve numerous participants and/or address 
landscape-level conservation of species and habitats. By excluding 
these lands, we preserve our current partnerships and encourage 
additional conservation actions in the future.
    Benefits of Exclusion Outweigh the Benefits of Inclusion--In 
summary, we determine that the benefits of excluding the Cedar River 
HCP from the designation of critical habitat for the northern spotted 
owl outweigh the benefits of including this area in critical habitat. 
The regulatory and informational benefits of inclusion will be minimal. 
Because one of the primary threats to the northern spotted owl is 
habitat loss and degradation, the consultation process under section 7 
of the Act for projects with a Federal nexus will, in evaluating 
effects to the northern spotted owl, evaluate the effects of the action 
on the conservation or functionality of the habitat for the species 
regardless of whether critical habitat is designated for these lands. 
The analytical requirements to support a jeopardy determination on 
excluded land are similar, but not identical, to the requirements in an 
analysis for an adverse modification determination on included land. 
However, the additional benefits of inclusion on the section 7 process 
are relatively unlikely because a Federal nexus on these relatively 
remote forest lands would rarely occur. If one were to occur, it would 
most likely be a linear project such as a powerline, pipeline, or 
transportation. In the last 12 years of the permit, none have occurred.
    In addition, the management strategies of the Cedar River HCP are 
designed to protect and enhance habitat for the northern spotted owl. 
The Cedar River HCP includes species-specific

[[Page 71969]]

avoidance and minimization measures, monitoring requirements to track 
success and ensure proper implementation, and forest management 
practices and habitat conservation objectives that benefit the northern 
spotted owl and its habitat which further minimizes the benefits that 
would be provided as a result of a critical habitat designation.
    On the other hand, the benefit of excluding these lands is that it 
will help us maintain an important and successful conservation 
partnership with a major city, and may encourage others to join in 
conservation partnerships as well. For these reasons, we have 
determined that the benefits of exclusion outweigh the benefits of 
inclusion in this case.
    Exclusion Will Not Result in Extinction of the Species--We have 
determined that exclusion of approximately 3,244 ac (1,313 ha) of lands 
covered under the Cedar River HCP will not result in extinction of the 
northern spotted owl because the Cedar River HCP provides for the needs 
of the northern spotted owl by protecting and preserving thousands of 
acres of existing suitable northern spotted owl habitat in the Cedar 
River watershed, committing to the enhancement and recruitment of 
additional habitat over the term of the Cedar River HCP, and 
implementing species-specific conservation measures designed to avoid 
and minimize impacts to northern spotted owls. In addition, monitoring, 
research, and adaptive management programs were developed to track HCP 
progress and provide critical feedback on management actions that allow 
for management changes in response. Further, for projects having a 
Federal nexus and affecting northern spotted owls in occupied areas, 
the jeopardy standard of section 7 of the Act, coupled with protection 
provided by the Cedar River HCP, would provide a level of assurance 
that this species will not go extinct as a result of excluding these 
lands from the critical habitat designation. The species is also 
protected from take under section 9 of the Act. For these reasons we 
find that exclusion of these lands within the Cedar River HCP will not 
result in extinction of the northern spotted owl. Based on the above 
discussion, the Secretary is exercising his discretion under section 
4(b)(2) of the Act to exclude from this final critical habitat 
designation portions of the proposed critical habitat units or subunits 
that are within the Cedar River Watershed HCP boundary totaling about 
3,244 ac (1,313 ha).
Green River Water Supply Operations and Watershed Protection Habitat 
Conservation Plan
    In this final designation, the Secretary has exercised his 
authority to exclude lands from critical habitat, under section 4(b)(2) 
of the Act, totaling approximately 3,162 ac (1,280 ha) that are covered 
under Tacoma Water's Green River Water Supply Operations and Watershed 
Protection HCP (Green River HCP) in the State of Washington. The permit 
associated with this HCP was noticed in the Federal Register on August 
21, 1998 (63 FR 44918), and issued on July 6, 2001. The term of the 
permit and HCP is 50 years. The Green River HCP addresses upstream and 
downstream fish passage issues, flows in the middle and lower Green 
River, and timber and watershed-management activities on 15,843 ac 
(6,411 ha) of Tacoma-owned land in the upper Green River Watershed. The 
Green River HCP covers 32 species of fish and wildlife, including the 
northern spotted owl and 10 other listed species, under an agreement 
designed to allow the continuation of water-supply operations on the 
Green River, forest management practice in the upper Green River 
watershed, and aquatic restoration and enhancement activities. The plan 
also provides for fish passage into and out of the upper Green River 
Watershed.
    The City of Tacoma manages approximately 15,843 ac (6,411 ha) of 
covered lands in the upper Green River watershed for water quality 
benefits and timber harvest. The Green River HCP divides Tacoma-owned 
lands into three distinct management zones, and contains a series of 
conservation measures that address upland forest management, riparian 
buffers, and avoid or minimize impacts to covered species. Each 
management zone has specific goals and objectives that focus on water 
quality, fish and wildlife, and timber management. The Natural Zone 
contains 5,850 ac (2,370 ha). In this zone, Tacoma is committed to 
conduct no timber harvest management except for danger tree removal. 
The long-term goal is to allow these timber stands to develop into 
late-seral (greater than 155 years old) and mature timber (106-155 
years old) conditions through natural succession. The Conservation Zone 
contains 5,180 ac (2,080 ha) of covered lands. In this zone, Tacoma 
will conduct no even-aged harvest in conifer stands and no harvest of 
any form in stands over 100 years old (except for danger tree removal). 
Tacoma may conduct uneven-aged harvest in stands less than 100 years 
old to improve stand condition. Once stands reach 100 years of age, no 
timber harvest will be conducted and stands will be allowed to develop 
through natural succession. The Commercial Zone contains 3,858 ac 
(1,561 ha) of covered lands. Stands in this zone will be managed 
sustainably for timber production on a 70-year rotation. A considerable 
area of late-seral and mature forest capable of supporting nesting, 
roosting, foraging, and dispersal of northern spotted owls is expected 
to develop over time in the Natural Zone, Conservation Zone, and to a 
lesser extent, riparian buffers. Over the term of the permit, the 
amount of late-seral forest is expect to increase from 41 ac (17 ha) to 
292 ac (118 ha), and the amount of mature forest is expected to 
increase from 268 ac (108 ha) to 4,027 ac (1,630 ha).
    At the time the permit was approved, there were 16 known northern 
spotted owl activity centers within 1.8 miles of covered lands. Fifteen 
were reproductive site centers and one was a single-resident site 
center. Only the single-resident site center was actually located on 
covered lands. Species-specific conservation measures are designed to 
protect habitat around known nest sites and minimize disturbance during 
the nesting season.
    Benefits of Inclusion--We find that there is minimal benefit from 
designating critical habitat for the northern spotted owl within the 
Green River HCP because, as explained above, these covered lands are 
already managed for the conservation of the species over the term of 
the HCP. As discussed above the inclusion of these covered lands as 
critical habitat could provide some additional Federal regulatory 
benefits for the species consistent with the conservation standard 
based on the Ninth Circuit Court's decision in Gifford Pinchot. A 
benefit of inclusion would be the requirement of a Federal agency to 
ensure that their actions on these non-Federal lands would not likely 
result in the destruction or adverse modification of critical habitat. 
However, this additional analysis to determine whether a Federal action 
is likely to result in the destruction or adverse modification of 
critical habitat is not likely to be significant not only because a 
Federal nexus is unlikely (these covered lands are not under Federal 
ownership), any Federal agency proposing a Federal action on these 
covered lands would likely consider the conservation value of these 
lands and take the necessary steps to avoid adverse effects to northern 
spotted owl habitat. If a Federal nexus did occur, it would most likely 
be in the context of a linear project such as a powerline,

[[Page 71970]]

pipeline, or transportation project. In the last 11 years of the 
permit, none have occurred.
    Another factor that minimizes any regulatory benefits that might 
result from critical habitat designation is that the Green River HCP 
already provides for the needs of the northern spotted owl by 
protecting and preserving acres of existing suitable northern spotted 
owl habitat in the Green River watershed, committing to the enhancement 
and recruitment of additional area of suitable habitat over the term of 
the Green River HCP, and implementing species-specific conservation 
measures designed to avoid and minimize impacts to northern spotted 
owls. Monitoring was developed to track HCP progress over the term of 
the permit and provide critical feedback on management actions, which 
allow for management changes in response to this feedback or to larger 
trends outside the HCP boundaries such as climate change. Therefore, 
designation of critical habitat would be redundant on these lands, and 
would not provide additional measurable protections.
    Another benefit of including lands in a critical habitat 
designation is that it serves to educate landowners, State and local 
governments, and the public regarding the potential conservation value 
of an area. This helps focus and promote conservation efforts by other 
parties by identifying areas of high conservation value for northern 
spotted owls. Designation of critical habitat would inform State 
agencies and local governments about areas that could be conserved 
under State laws or local ordinances, such as the Washington State 
Growth Management Act, which encourage the protection of ``critical 
areas'' including fish and wildlife habitat conservation areas. Any 
information about the northern spotted owl and its habitat that reaches 
a wider audience, including parties engaged in conservation activities, 
is valuable. However, the additional educational and informational 
benefits that might arise from critical habitat designation here have 
been largely accomplished through the public review and comment on the 
HCP, Environmental Impact Statement, and Implementation Agreement.
    The designation of critical habitat may also indirectly cause State 
or county jurisdictions to initiate their own additional requirements 
in areas identified as critical habitat. These measures may include 
additional permitting requirements or a higher level of local review on 
proposed projects. However, in Washington, State forest practices 
regulations provide an exemption for review for lands managed under an 
HCP. Thus, even should the State respond to designation of critical 
habitat by instituting additional protections, the HCP will not be 
subject to those protections as the species is considered already 
addressed, and therefore no additional benefit would accrue through 
State regulations.
    Benefits of Exclusion--The benefits of excluding from designated 
critical habitat the approximately 3,162 ac (1,280 ha) of lands 
currently managed under the HCP are substantial. HCP conservation 
measures that provide a benefit to the northern spotted owl and its 
habitat have been implemented continuously since 2001 on all covered 
lands owned and managed under the Green River HCP. Excluding the lands 
managed under the Green River HCP from critical habitat designation 
will sustain and enhance the working relationship between the Service 
and the permit holder.
    Excluding lands within HCPs from critical habitat designation may 
also support our continued ability to seek new partnerships with future 
HCP participants including States, counties, local jurisdictions, 
conservation organizations, and private landowners, which together can 
implement conservation actions that we would be unable to accomplish 
otherwise. If lands within HCP plan areas are designated as critical 
habitat, it would likely have a negative effect on our ability to 
establish new partnerships to develop HCPs, particularly HCPs address 
landscape-level conservation of species and habitats. By excluding 
these lands, we preserve our current partnerships and encourage 
additional conservation actions in the future.
    Benefits of Exclusion Outweigh the Benefits of Inclusion--In 
summary, we determine that the benefits of excluding the Green River 
HCP from the designation of critical habitat for the northern spotted 
owl outweigh the benefits of including this area in critical habitat. 
The regulatory and informational benefits of inclusion will be minimal. 
Because one of the primary threats to the northern spotted owl is 
habitat loss and degradation, the consultation process under section 7 
of the Act for projects with a Federal nexus will, in evaluating 
effects to the northern spotted owl, evaluate the effects of the action 
on the conservation or functionality of the habitat for the species 
regardless of whether critical habitat is designated for these lands. 
The analytical requirements to support a jeopardy determination on 
excluded land are similar, but not identical, to the requirements in an 
analysis for an adverse modification determination on included land. 
However, any benefits from the section 7 process are unlikely because 
Federal projects would be rare on these relatively remote forest lands. 
The regulatory benefits of inclusion are even more minimal in light of 
the fact that the Green River HCP includes species-specific avoidance 
and minimization measures, monitoring requirements to track success and 
ensure proper implementation, and forest management practices and 
habitat conservation objectives that benefit the northern spotted owl 
and its habitat, which exceeds any conservation value provided as a 
result of a critical habitat designation. On the other hand, the 
benefit of excluding these lands is that it will help us maintain an 
important and successful conservation partnership with a major city, 
and may encourage others to join in conservation partnerships as well. 
Therefore, we find that the benefits of exclusion of the lands covered 
by Green River HCP outweigh the benefits of inclusion.
    Exclusion Will Not Result in Extinction of the Species--We have 
determined that exclusion of approximately 3,162 ac (1,280 ha) of lands 
covered under the Green River HCP will not result in extinction of the 
northern spotted owl because the Green River HCP provides for the needs 
of the northern spotted owl by protecting and preserving acres of 
existing suitable northern spotted owl habitat in the Green River 
watershed, committing to the enhancement and recruitment of additional 
area of suitable habitat over the term of the Green River HCP, and 
implementing species-specific conservation measures designed to avoid 
and minimize impacts to northern spotted owls. Monitoring was developed 
to track HCP progress over the term of the permit and provide critical 
feedback on management actions, which allow for management changes in 
response to this feedback or to larger trends outside the HCP 
boundaries such as climate change. The conservation measures provided 
by this HCP have been implemented continuously since 1998 on all 
covered lands owned and managed under the Green River HCP. Further, for 
projects having a Federal nexus and affecting northern spotted owls in 
occupied areas, the jeopardy standard of section 7 of the Act, coupled 
with protection provided by the Green River HCP, would provide a level 
of assurance that this species will not go extinct as a result of 
excluding these lands from the critical habitat designation. The 
species is also protected by ESA section 9, which prohibits the take of 
listed

[[Page 71971]]

species. For these reasons, we find that exclusion of these lands 
within the Green River HCP will not result in extinction of the 
northern spotted owl. Based on the above discussion, the Secretary is 
exercising his discretion under section 4(b)(2) of the Act to exclude 
from this final critical habitat designation portions of the proposed 
critical habitat units or subunits that are within the Green River HCP 
boundary totaling about 3,162 ac (1,280 ha).
Plum Creek Timber Central Cascades Habitat Conservation Plan
    In this final designation, the Secretary has exercised his 
authority to exclude lands from critical habitat, under section 4(b)(2) 
of the Act, totaling about 33,144 ac (13,413 ha) that are covered under 
the Plum Creek Timber Central Cascades HCP (Plum Creek HCP) in the 
State of Washington. The permit associated with the Plum Creek HCP was 
first noticed in the Federal Register on November 17, 1995 (60 FR 
57722), issued on June 27, 1996, and later modified in December of 1999 
as noticed on February 10, 2000 (65 FR 6590). The permit has a term of 
50 years (with an option to extend to 100 years if certain conditions 
are met) and currently covers 84,600 ac (34,236 ha) of lands in the 
Interstate-90 corridor in King and Kittitas Counties, Washington. The 
HCP includes over 315 species of fish and wildlife, including the 
northern spotted owl and 7 other listed species. The plan addresses 
forest-management activities across an area of industrial timberlands 
in Washington's central Cascade Mountains, and provides for management 
of the northern spotted owl based on landscape conditions tailored to 
the guidelines provided by the NWFP by providing additional protection 
to northern spotted owl sites near late-successional reserves. Wildlife 
trees are retained in buffers of natural features (e.g., caves, 
wetlands, springs, cliffs, talus slopes) and streams, as well as 
scattered and clumped within harvest units. The HCP also requires Plum 
Creek to maintain and grow nesting, roosting, and foraging habitat as 
well as habitat that can be used for foraging and dispersal. They are 
also required to provide forests of various structural stages across 
all of their HCP ownerships. This commitment of owl habitat and forest 
stages, in combination with wildlife trees retained within harvest 
units and stream and landscape-feature buffers will provide a matrix of 
habitat conditions that complements the owl habitat provided in the 
Plum Creek HCP and nearby LSRs. Stands containing scattered leave trees 
following harvest will be expected to become more valuable for northern 
spotted owls at earlier ages than those harvested using previous 
methods.
    At the time the permit was approved, there were 107 known northern 
spotted owl activity centers within 1.82 miles of covered lands, which 
included reproductive site centers, single-resident site centers, and 
historic sites. A detailed description of each sites history is 
provided in the HCP and associated technical papers.
    Benefits of Inclusion--We find there are minimal benefits to 
including these lands in critical habitat. As discussed above, the 
designation of critical habitat invokes the provisions of section 7. 
However, in this case, we find the requirement that Federal agencies 
consult with us and ensure that their actions are not likely to destroy 
or adversely modify critical habitat will not result in significant 
benefits to the species because the possibility of a Federal nexus for 
a project on these lands is small unless it is a larger project 
covering adjacent Federal lands as well, in which case section 7 
consultation would already be triggered and the Federal agency would 
consider the effects of its actions on the species. In addition, 
although the standards of jeopardy and adverse modification are 
different, the margin of conservation that could be attained through 
section 7 would not be significant in light of the benefits already 
derived from the HCP.
    HCPs typically provide for greater conservation benefits to a 
covered species than section 7 consultations because HCPs ensure the 
long-term protection and management of a covered species and its 
habitat. In addition, funding for such management is ensured through 
the Implementation Agreement. Such assurances are typically not 
provided by section 7 consultations, which in contrast to HCPs, often 
do not commit the project proponent to long-term, special management 
practices or protections. Thus, a section 7 consultation typically does 
not afford the lands it covers similar extensive benefits as a HCP. The 
development and implementation of HCPs provide other important 
conservation benefits, including the development of biological 
information to guide the conservation efforts and assist in species 
conservation, and the creation of innovative solutions to conserve 
species while meeting the needs of the applicant. In this case, 
substantial information has been developed from the research, 
monitoring, and surveys conducted under the Plum Creek HCP.
    There is minimal incremental benefit from designating critical 
habitat for the northern spotted owl within the Plum Creek HCP because, 
as explained above, these covered lands are already managed for the 
conservation of the species over the term of the HCP and the 
conservation measures provided by the HCP will provide greater 
protection to northern spotted owl habitat than the designation of 
critical habitat, which provides regulatory protections only in the 
event of a Federal action. The Plum Creek HCP provides for the needs of 
the northern spotted owl by protecting and preserving landscape levels 
of suitable northern spotted owl nesting, roosting, and foraging 
habitat as well as foraging and dispersal habitat over the term of the 
HCP in strategic landscapes, and implementing species-specific 
conservation measures designed to avoid and minimize effects to 
northern spotted owls. The HCP also provides for the ability to make 
ongoing adjustments in a number of forms including active adaptive 
forest management. The ability to change is crucial to meet new 
recovery challenges. The Service negotiated this plan with Plum Creek, 
which contains mandatory permit conditions in the form of HCP 
commitments, and continues to be involved in its ongoing 
implementation. The Service conducts compliance monitoring on the 
covered lands and routinely meets with Plum Creek to discuss ongoing 
implementation. The HCP contains provisions that address ownership 
changes and the outcomes expected by the Service. Monitoring was 
developed to track HCP progress over the term of the permit and provide 
feedback on management actions. Therefore, designation of critical 
habitat would be redundant on these lands, and would not provide 
additional measureable protections.
    Another benefit of including lands in a critical habitat 
designation is that it serves to educate landowners, State and local 
governments, and the public regarding the potential conservation value 
of an area. This helps focus and promote conservation efforts by other 
parties by identifying areas of high conservation value for northern 
spotted owls. Designation of critical habitat would inform State 
agencies and local governments about areas that could be conserved 
under State laws or local ordinances, such as the Washington State 
Growth Management Act, which encourage the protection of ``critical 
areas'' including fish and wildlife habitat conservation areas. Any 
information about the northern spotted owl and its habitat that reaches 
a wider audience, including parties engaged in conservation activities, 
is valuable.

[[Page 71972]]

However, Plum Creek is knowledgeable about the northern spotted owl and 
the company has made substantial contributions in research and science 
for the species. The additional educational and informational benefits 
that might arise from critical habitat designation here have been 
largely accomplished through the public review and comment of the HCP, 
Environmental Impact Statement, and Implementation Agreement, as well 
as the supplemental Environmental Impact Statements associated with the 
modification of the HCP and the I-90 Land Exchange. Through these 
processes, this HCP included intensive public involvement. This HCP 
continues to receive a high degree of scrutiny and study by academics, 
as well as informational releases to the general public and has 
resulted in improved understanding by the public. This level of 
exposure in local newspapers and television stations exceeds the level 
of education that would come from a designation that would be read by 
few people in the public. Moreover, the rulemaking process associated 
with critical habitat designation includes several opportunities for 
public comment, and thus also provides for public education. Through 
these outreach opportunities, land owners, State agencies, and local 
governments have become more aware of the status of and threats to the 
northern spotted owl and the conservation actions needed for recovery.
    The designation of critical habitat may also indirectly cause State 
or county jurisdictions to initiate their own additional requirements 
in areas identified as critical habitat. These measures may include 
additional permitting requirements or a higher level of local review on 
proposed projects. However, in Washington, State forest practices 
regulations provide an exemption for review for lands managed under an 
HCP. Thus, even should the State respond to designation of critical 
habitat by instituting additional protections, the HCP will not be 
subject to those protections as the species is considered already 
addressed, and therefore no additional benefit would accrue through 
State regulations.
    Benefits of Exclusion--The benefits of excluding from designated 
critical habitat the approximately 33,144 ac (13,413 ha) of lands 
currently managed under the HCP are more substantial. The designation 
of critical habitat could have an unintended negative effect on our 
relationship with non-Federal landowners due to the perceived 
imposition of redundant government regulation. If lands within the Plum 
Creek HCP area are designated as critical habitat, it would likely have 
a negative effect on our continued ability to seek new partnerships 
with future participants including States, counties, local 
jurisdictions, conservation organizations, and private landowners, 
which together can implement conservation actions (such as SHAs, HCPs, 
and other conservation plans, particularly those that address 
landscape-level conservation of species and habitats) that we would be 
unable to accomplish otherwise. This HCP is currently serving as a 
model for ongoing and future efforts. Due to the high level of 
visibility in the Interstate-90 corridor and the overlap with 
recreational lands used by many residents of the Seattle metropolitan 
area, this HCP received an unusual amount of scrutiny. Because it was 
one of the first HCPs to address species using a habitat-based 
approach, it set a high standard for application of the best available 
science. Plum Creek has been a long-standing partner and advocate for 
HCPs across the nation. They are viewed as leaders in their industry 
and as an example in the HCP community. By excluding these lands, we 
preserve our current private and local conservation partnerships and 
encourage additional conservation actions in the future.
    In addition, exclusion may encourage Plum Creek to engage in 
further land exchanges or sales of their lands for conservation 
purposes. This HCP is located in a key landscape between the I-90 and 
other Federal lands and represents a unique opportunity in maintaining 
northern spotted owls at the western extreme of the Cascades, which may 
support dispersal between the Cascades. This HCP contributes 
meaningfully to the recovery of the northern spotted owl and serves as 
an example to other industrial companies. Since issuance of the Plum 
Creek HCP, Plum Creek's ownership has decreased from about 170,000 ac 
(68,797 ha) to about 81,000 ac (32,780 ha). This decrease is mostly due 
to land exchanges and sales by Plum Creek for conservation purposes. 
Conservation sales have been completed on a number of sensitive sites. 
Plum Creek has worked to find conservation buyers and has responded to 
requests from agencies and conservation groups. They have sold lands to 
a various parties using differing funding mechanisms, but sold lands 
have been transferred to public ownership, primarily the U.S. Forest 
Service. All of these lands have been placed in conservation status. If 
lands within the Plum Creek HCP plan areas are designated as critical 
habitat, it would likely have a negative effect on the willingness of 
various groups and funding sources to accomplish these conservation 
sales, and could also negatively affect Plum Creek's willingness to 
participate in these acquisition processes.
    Benefits of Exclusion Outweigh the Benefits of Inclusion--The 
benefits of including these lands in the designation are small. Because 
one of the primary threats to the northern spotted owl is habitat loss 
and degradation, the consultation process under section 7 of the Act 
for projects with a Federal nexus will, in evaluating effects to the 
northern spotted owl, evaluate the effects of the action on the 
conservation or functionality of the habitat for the species regardless 
of whether critical habitat is designated for these lands. The 
analytical requirements to support a jeopardy determination on excluded 
land are similar, but not identical, to the requirements in an analysis 
for an adverse modification determination on included land. However, 
the HCP contains provisions for protecting and maintaining northern 
spotted owl habitat that far exceed the conservation benefits afforded 
through section 7 consultation. It provides for comprehensive measures 
applied across a large landscape that will benefit spotted owls. Plum 
Creek personnel are knowledgeable in the ecology of the northern 
spotted owl and have contributed to the body of scientific information 
about the northern spotted owl. In this instance, the regulatory and 
educational reasons for inclusion have much less benefit than the 
continued benefit of the HCP, including the educational benefits 
derived from the HCP.
    On the other hand, the benefits of exclusion will continue the 
positive relationship we currently have with Plum Creek and encourage 
others to engage in conservation partnerships such as HCPs as well. For 
these reasons, we determine that the benefits of excluding the Plum 
Creek Cascades HCP from the designation of critical habitat for the 
northern spotted owl outweigh the benefits of including this area in 
critical habitat.
    Exclusion Will Not Result in Extinction of the Species--We have 
determined that exclusion of approximately 33,144 ac (13,413 ha) of 
lands covered under the Plum Creek HCP will not result in extinction of 
the northern spotted owl because the Plum Creek HCP provides for the 
needs of the northern spotted owl by protecting and preserving 
landscape levels of suitable northern spotted owl nesting, roosting,

[[Page 71973]]

and foraging habitat as well as foraging and dispersal habitat over the 
term of the HCP in strategic landscapes, and implementing species-
specific conservation measures designed to avoid and minimize effects 
to northern spotted owls. Monitoring was developed to track HCP 
progress over the term of the permit and provide feedback on management 
actions. The Plum Creek HCP provides for the ability to make ongoing 
adjustments in a number of forms, including active adaptive forest 
management. The ability to change is crucial to meet new recovery 
challenges. The HCP contains provisions that address ownership changes 
and the outcomes expected by the Service. Further, for projects having 
a Federal nexus and affecting northern spotted owls in occupied areas, 
the jeopardy standard of section 7 of the Act, coupled with protection 
provided by the Plum Creek HCP, would provide a level of assurance that 
this species will not go extinct as a result of excluding these lands 
from the critical habitat designation. We find that exclusion of these 
lands within the Plum Creek HCP will not result in extinction of the 
northern spotted owl. Based on the above discussion, the Secretary is 
exercising his discretion under section 4(b)(2) of the Act to exclude 
from this final critical habitat designation portions of the proposed 
critical habitat units or subunits that are within the Plum Creek HCP 
boundary totaling about 33,144 ac (13,413 ha).
Washington State Department of Natural Resources State Lands Habitat 
Conservation Plan
    Washington State lands totaling approximately 225,751 ac (91,358 
ha) that are covered and managed under the Washington State Department 
of Natural Resources State Lands Habitat Conservation Plan (WDNR HCP), 
are excluded from this critical habitat designation under section 
4(b)(2) of the Act. The WDNR HCP covers approximately 1.7 million ac 
(730,000 ha) of State forest lands within the range of the northern 
spotted owl in the State of Washington. The majority of the area 
covered by the HCP is west of the Cascade Crest and includes the 
Olympic Experimental State Forest. The HCP area on the east side of the 
Cascade Range includes lands within the range of the northern spotted 
owl. The permit associated with this HCP, issued January 30, 1997, was 
noticed in the Federal Register on April 5, 1996 (61 FR 15297), has a 
term of 70 to 100 years, and covers activities primarily associated 
with commercial forest management, but also includes limited nontimber 
activities such as some recreational activities. The HCP covers all 
species, including the northern spotted owl and other listed species.
    The HCP addressed multiple species through a combination of 
strategies. The HCP includes a series of Natural Area Preserves and 
Natural Resource Conservation Areas. The marbled murrelet is addressed 
through a combination of steps culminating in the development of a 
long-term plan to retain and protect important old-forest habitat, 
which will also benefit the northern spotted owl. Riparian conservation 
includes buffers on fish-bearing streams as well as substantial buffers 
on streams and wetlands without fish, and deferring harvest on unstable 
slopes. Wildlife trees are retained in buffers of natural features 
(e.g., caves, wetlands, springs, cliffs, talus slopes) and streams, as 
well as scattered and clumped within harvest units. The HCP also 
requires WDNR to maintain and grow forests of various structural stages 
across all of their HCP ownerships. Specifically for northern spotted 
owls, they have identified portions of the landscape upon which they 
will manage for nesting, roosting, and foraging (NRF) habitat for 
northern spotted owls. These areas are known as NRF Management Areas 
(NRFMAs) and were located to provide demographic support that would 
strategically complement the NWFP's Late-Successional Reserves as well 
as those Adaptive Management Areas that have late-successional 
objectives. The NRFMAs also were situated to help maintain species 
distribution. Generally, these NRFMAs will be managed so that 
approximately 50 percent of those lands will develop into NRF habitat 
for the northern spotted owl over time. Within this 50 percent, certain 
nest patches containing high-quality nesting habitat are to be retained 
and grown. Since the HCP was implemented, within the NRFMAs, WDNR has 
carried out 5,100 ac (2,064 ha) of pre-commercial thinning and 7,800 ac 
(3,156 ha) of timber harvest specifically configured to enhance 
northern spotted owl habitat. WDNR's habitat-enhancement activities 
will continue under the HCP.
    Some areas outside of the NRFMAs are managed to provide for 
dispersal and foraging conditions in 50 percent of the forests in those 
areas; these were strategically located in landscapes important for 
connectivity. The Olympic Experimental State Forest is managed to 
provide for northern spotted owl conservation across all of its lands. 
Even in areas not specifically managed for northern spotted owls, WDNR 
has committed to providing a range of forest stages across the 
landscape to address multiple species. This commitment of forest 
stages, in combination with wildlife trees retained within harvest 
units and stream and landscape-feature buffers, will provide a matrix 
of habitat conditions that will also provide some assistance in 
conserving northern spotted owls. Stands containing scattered leave 
trees following harvest will become more valuable for northern spotted 
owls at earlier ages than those stands harvested using previous 
methods. Northern Spotted owls across the WDNR HCP are expected to 
benefit from the combination of these strategies.
    At the time the permit was approved, there were approximately 292 
northern spotted owl site centers overlapping on WDNR covered lands, 
including 76 known site centers (excluding historic sites and non-
territorial singles). There were approximately 484,717 ac (196,158 ha) 
of suitable habitat on covered lands, which comprised over 10 percent 
of all suitable habitat in Washington State at that time.
    Benefits of Inclusion--We find there are minimal benefits to 
including these lands in critical habitat. As discussed above, the 
designation of critical habitat invokes the provisions of section 7. 
However, in this case, we find the requirement that Federal agencies 
consult with us and ensure that their actions are not likely to destroy 
or adversely modify critical habitat will not result in significant 
benefits to the species because the possibility of a Federal nexus for 
a project on these lands is small unless it is a larger project 
covering adjacent Federal lands as well, in which case section 7 
consultation would already be triggered and the Federal agency would 
consider the effects of its actions on the species. In addition, 
although the standards of jeopardy and adverse modification are 
different, in this case, the benefits of applying the latter standard 
would be minimal in light of the benefits already derived from the HCP.
    HCPs typically provide for greater conservation benefits to a 
covered species than section 7 consultations because HCPs ensure the 
long-term protection and management of a covered species and its 
habitat. Funding for such management is ensured through the 
Implementation Agreement. Such assurances are typically not provided by 
section 7 consultations, which in contrast to HCPs, often do not commit 
the project proponent to long-term, special management practices or 
protections. Thus, a section 7 consultation typically does not afford 
the lands the same benefits as a HCP.

[[Page 71974]]

The development and implementation of HCPs provide other important 
conservation benefits, including the development of biological 
information to guide the conservation efforts and assist in species 
conservation, and the creation of innovative solutions to conserve 
species while meeting the needs of the applicant. In this case, 
substantial information has been developed from the research, 
monitoring, and surveys conducted under the WDNR HCP.
    There is minimal incremental benefit from designating critical 
habitat for the northern spotted owl within the WDNR HCP because, as 
explained above, these covered lands are already managed for the 
conservation of the species over the term of the HCP and the 
conservation measures provided by the HCP will provide greater 
protection to northern spotted owl habitat than the designation of 
critical habitat, which provides regulatory protections only in the 
event of a Federal action. The WDNR HCP provides for the needs of the 
northern spotted owl by protecting and preserving landscape levels of 
suitable northern spotted owl nesting, roosting, and foraging habitat 
as well as foraging and dispersal habitat over the term of the HCP in 
strategic landscapes, and implementing species-specific conservation 
measures designed to avoid and minimize effects to northern spotted 
owls. The HCP also provides for the ability to make ongoing adjustments 
in a number of forms, including active adaptive forest management. The 
ability to change is crucial to meet new recovery challenges. The 
Service continues to be involved in the implementation of this HCP. The 
Service conducts compliance monitoring on the covered lands and 
routinely meets with WDNR to discuss ongoing implementation. The HCP 
contains provisions that address ownership changes and the outcomes 
expected by the Service. Monitoring was developed to track HCP progress 
over the term of the permit and provide feedback on management actions. 
Therefore, designation of critical habitat would be redundant on these 
lands, and would not provide additional measureable protections.
    Another benefit of including lands in a critical habitat 
designation is that it serves to educate landowners, State and local 
governments, and the public regarding the potential conservation value 
of an area. This helps focus and promote conservation efforts by other 
parties by identifying areas of high conservation value for northern 
spotted owls. Designation of critical habitat would inform State 
agencies and local governments about areas that could be conserved 
under State laws or local ordinances, such as the Washington State 
Growth Management Act, which encourage the protection of ``critical 
areas'' including fish and wildlife habitat conservation areas. Any 
information about the northern spotted owl and its habitat that reaches 
a wider audience, including parties engaged in conservation activities, 
is valuable. However, WDNR, as the State's natural resource agency, is 
knowledgeable about the species and has made substantial contributions 
to our knowledge of the species. In addition the additional educational 
and informational benefits that might arise from critical habitat 
designation here have been largely accomplished through the public 
review and comment of the HCP, Environmental Impact Statement, and 
Implementation Agreement, as well as the supplemental Environmental 
Impact Statements associated with the modification of the HCP. This HCP 
included intensive public involvement and continues to be an example 
used when discussing HCPs. The HCP is frequently a topic of open and 
public discussion during meetings of the Washington State Board of 
Natural Resources, whose meetings are open to the public and frequently 
televised. This level of exposure in local newspapers and television 
stations exceeds the level of education that would come from a 
designation that would be read by few people in the public. Moreover, 
the rulemaking process associated with critical habitat designation 
includes several opportunities for public comment, and thus also 
provides for public education.
    Benefits of Exclusion--A benefit of excluding lands within this HCP 
from critical habitat designation is that it would encourage the State 
and other parties to continue to work for owl conservation. Since 
issuance of this HCP, a number of land transactions and land exchanges 
with the HCP area have occurred. These transactions have included 
creation of additional Natural Resource Conservation Areas and Natural 
Area Preserves (both land designations with high degree of protection) 
and have also included large land exchanges and purchases that have 
changed the footprint of the HCP. These land-based adjustments have 
facilitated better management on many important parcels and across 
larger landscapes than would otherwise have been possible. If lands 
within HCP plan areas are designated as critical habitat, it would 
likely have a negative effect on the willingness of various groups and 
funding sources to accomplish these land-ownership adjustments because 
of a reluctance to acquire lands designated as critical habitat as well 
as a reduced willingness on the part of WDNR to accommodate the 
Services goals. This HCP is located in key landscapes across the State 
and contributes meaningfully to the recovery of the northern spotted 
owl.
    If lands within the WDNR HCP plan area are designated as critical 
habitat, it would also likely have a negative effect on our ability to 
establish new partnerships to develop HCPs, particularly large, 
regional HCPs that involve numerous participants and/or address 
landscape-level conservation of species and habitats. This HCP has 
served as a model for several completed and ongoing HCP efforts, 
including the Washington State Forest Practices HCP. By excluding these 
lands, we preserve our current private and local conservation 
partnerships and encourage additional conservation actions in the 
future because other parties see our exclusion as a sign that the 
Service will not impose duplicative regulatory burdens on landowners 
who have developed an HCP.
    HCPs typically provide for greater conservation benefits to a 
covered species than section 7 consultations because HCPs ensure the 
long-term protection and management of a covered species and its 
habitat. In addition, funding for such management is ensured through 
the Implementation Agreement. Such assurances are typically not 
provided by section 7 consultations, which in contrast to HCPs often do 
not commit the project proponent to long-term, special management 
practices or protections. Thus, a section 7 consultation typically does 
not afford the lands it covers similar extensive benefits as an HCP. 
The development and implementation of HCPs provide other important 
conservation benefits, including the development of biological 
information to guide the conservation efforts and assist in species 
conservation, and the creation of innovative solutions to conserve 
species while meeting the needs of the applicant. In this case, 
substantial information has been developed from the research, 
monitoring, and surveys conducted under the WDNR HCP. Therefore, 
exclusion is a benefit because it maintains and fosters development of 
biological information and innovative solutions.
    Benefits of Exclusion Outweigh the Benefits of Inclusion--The 
benefits of including these lands in the designation are small. Because 
one of the primary

[[Page 71975]]

threats to the northern spotted owl is habitat loss and degradation, 
the consultation process under section 7 of the Act for projects with a 
Federal nexus will, in evaluating effects to the northern spotted owl, 
evaluate the effects of the action on the conservation or functionality 
of the habitat for the species regardless of whether critical habitat 
is designated for these lands. The analytical requirements to support a 
jeopardy determination on excluded land are similar, but not identical, 
to the requirements in an analysis for an adverse modification 
determination on included land. However, the HCP contains provisions 
for protecting and maintaining northern spotted owl habitat that far 
exceed the conservation benefits afforded through section 7 
consultation. It provides for comprehensive measures applied across a 
large landscape that will benefit spotted owls. Washington State DNR 
personnel are extremely knowledgeable regarding the ecology of the 
northern spotted owl and have contributed to the body of scientific 
information about the northern spotted owl. In this instance, the 
regulatory and educational benefits of inclusion have much less benefit 
than the continued benefit of the HCP including the educational 
benefits derived from the HCP.
    The WDNR HCP provides for significant conservation and management 
within geographical areas that contain the physical or biological 
features essential to the conservation of the northern spotted owl and 
help achieve recovery of this species through the conservation measures 
of the HCP. Exclusion of these lands from critical habitat will help 
foster the partnership we have developed with WDNR, through the 
development and continuing implementation of the HCP. Furthermore, this 
partnership may aid in fostering future cooperative relationships with 
other parties in other locations for the benefit of listed species.
    For these reasons, we determine that the benefits of excluding the 
WDNR HCP from the designation of critical habitat for the northern 
spotted owl outweigh the benefits of including this area in critical 
habitat.
    Exclusion Will Not Result in Extinction of the Species--We have 
determined that exclusion of approximately 225,751 ac (91,358 ha) of 
lands covered under the WDNR HCP will not result in extinction of the 
northern spotted owl. The WDNR HCP protects and preserves landscape 
levels of suitable northern spotted owl nesting, roosting, and foraging 
habitat as well as foraging and dispersal habitat over the term of the 
HCP in strategic landscapes, and implements species-specific 
conservation measures designed to avoid and minimize effects to 
northern spotted owls. Monitoring was developed to track HCP progress 
over the term of the permit and provide critical feedback on management 
actions. Adaptive management provides for responses to this feedback. 
Further, for projects having a Federal nexus and affecting northern 
spotted owls in occupied areas, the jeopardy standard of section 7 of 
the Act, coupled with protection provided by the WDNR HCP, would 
provide a level of assurance that this species will not go extinct as a 
result of excluding these lands from the critical habitat designation. 
We find that exclusion of these lands within the WDNR HCP will not 
result in extinction of the northern spotted owl. Based on the above 
discussion, the Secretary is exercising his discretion under section 
4(b)(2) of the Act to exclude from this final critical habitat 
designation portions of the proposed critical habitat units or subunits 
that are within the WDNR HCP totaling about 225,751 ac (91,358 ha).
West Fork Timber Habitat Conservation Plan
    The Service has excluded approximately 5,105 ac (2,066 ha) of lands 
from final critical habitat designation, under section 4(b)(2) of the 
Act, that are covered under the West Fork Timber HCP (West Fork HCP) 
(formerly known as Murray Pacific Corporation) in the West Cascades 
Central CHU in Washington. The West Fork HCP was the first multispecies 
HCP on forested lands in the Nation. The permit associated with the 
West Fork HCP has a term of 100 years and was first issued on September 
24, 1993; amended on June 26, 1995; and amended again on October 16, 
2001 (66 FR 52638). The HCP includes 53,558 ac (21,674 ha) of 
commercial timber lands managed as a tree farm in Lewis County, 
Washington. The HCP is situated between an area of Federal land known 
as the Mineral Block and the larger block of Federal lands in the 
Cascades. The HCP was first developed to allow for forest-management 
activities and provide for the conservation of the northern spotted 
owl; the amended HCP provides for all species, including six listed 
species. The HCP is designed to develop and maintain northern spotted 
owl dispersal habitat across 43 percent of the tree farm, and must also 
meet quantitative measures of amount and distribution. As a result, 
total dispersal habitat will more than double in amount, and wide gaps 
between stands of dispersal habitat will be decreased.
    In addition, the West Fork HCP provides for leaving at least 10 
percent of the tree farm in reserves for the next 100 years. These 
reserves will primarily take the form of riparian buffers averaging at 
least 100 feet (30 m) on each side of all fish-bearing streams, as well 
as other buffers and set-a-side areas. Other provisions of the HCP are 
designed to ensure that all forest habitat types and age classes 
currently on the tree farm, as well as special habitat types such as 
talus slopes, caves, nest trees, and den sites, are protected or 
enhanced. Seasonal protection is provided within \1/4\ mile of an 
active northern spotted owl nest site.
    At the time the permit was approved, there were approximately 4,678 
ac (1,893 ha) of suitable habitat in small stands sporadically located, 
comprising about 8 percent of the ownership. The HCP included 3 
resident northern spotted owls and included about 20 percent of the 
ownership in dispersal habitat.
    Benefits of Inclusion--We find there are minimal benefits to 
including these lands in critical habitat. As discussed above, the 
designation of critical habitat invokes the provisions of section 7. 
However, in this case, we find the requirement that Federal agencies 
consult with us and ensure that their actions are not likely to destroy 
or adversely modify critical habitat will not result in significant 
benefits to the species because the possibility of a Federal nexus for 
a project on these lands is small unless it was a larger project 
covering adjacent Federal lands as well, in which case section 7 
consultation would already be triggered and the Federal agency would 
consider the effects of its actions on the species. In addition, 
although the standards for jeopardy and adverse modification are not 
the same, the benefits of the section 7 prohibition on adverse 
modification would be minimal in light of the benefits already derived 
from the HCP.
    HCPs typically provide for greater conservation benefits to a 
covered species than section 7 consultations because HCPs ensure the 
long-term protection and management of a covered species and its 
habitat. In addition, funding for such management is ensured through 
the Implementation Agreement. Such assurances are typically not 
provided by section 7 consultations, which, in contrast to HCPs, 
usually do not commit the project proponent to long-term, special 
management practices or protections. Thus, a section 7 consultation 
typically does not afford the lands it covers

[[Page 71976]]

benefits similar to those provided by an HCP. The development and 
implementation of HCPs provide other important conservation benefits, 
including the development of biological information to guide the 
conservation efforts and assist in species conservation, and the 
creation of innovative solutions to conserve species while meeting the 
needs of the applicant.
    There is minimal incremental benefit from designating critical 
habitat for the northern spotted owl within the West Fork HCP because, 
as explained above, these covered lands are already managed for the 
conservation of the species over the term of the HCP and the 
conservation measures provided by the HCP will provide greater 
protection to northern spotted owl habitat than the designation of 
critical habitat, which provides regulatory protections only in the 
event of a Federal action. The West Fork HCP provides for the needs of 
the northern spotted owl by protecting and preserving landscape levels 
of suitable northern spotted owl dispersal habitat over the term of the 
HCP in strategic landscapes, and implementing species-specific 
conservation measures designed to avoid and minimize effects to 
northern spotted owls. The HCP also provides for the ability to make 
ongoing adjustments in a number of forms, including active adaptive 
forest management. The ability to change is crucial to meet new 
recovery challenges. The Service continues to be involved in 
implementation of the HCP. It contains provisions that address 
ownership changes and the outcomes expected by the Service. Monitoring 
was developed to track HCP progress over the term of the permit and 
provide feedback on management actions. Therefore, designation of 
critical habitat would be redundant on these lands, and would not 
provide additional measureable protections.
    Another benefit of including lands in a critical habitat 
designation is that it serves to educate landowners, State and local 
governments, and the public regarding the potential conservation value 
of an area. This helps focus and promote conservation efforts by other 
parties by identifying areas of high conservation value for northern 
spotted owls. Designation of critical habitat would inform State 
agencies and local governments about areas that could be conserved 
under State laws or local ordinances, such as the Washington State 
Growth Management Act, which encourage the protection of ``critical 
areas'' including fish and wildlife habitat conservation areas. Any 
information about the northern spotted owl and its habitat that reaches 
a wider audience, including parties engaged in conservation activities, 
is valuable. However, this landowner is knowledgeable about the species 
through its implementation of the HCP. In addition the additional 
educational and informational benefits that might arise from critical 
habitat designation here have been largely accomplished through the 
public review and comment of the HCP, Environmental Impact Statement, 
and Implementation Agreement. Through these processes, this HCP 
included intensive public involvement. Moreover, the rulemaking process 
associated with critical habitat designation includes several 
opportunities for public comment, and thus also provides for public 
education. Through these outreach opportunities, land owners, State 
agencies, and local governments have become more aware of the status of 
and threats to the northern spotted owl and the conservation actions 
needed for recovery.
    The designation of critical habitat may also indirectly cause State 
or county jurisdictions to initiate their own additional requirements 
in areas identified as critical habitat. These measures may include 
additional permitting requirements or a higher level of local review on 
proposed projects. However, in Washington, State forest practices 
regulations provide an exemption for review for lands managed under an 
HCP. Thus, even should the State respond to designation of critical 
habitat by instituting additional protections, the HCP will not be 
subject to those protections as the species is considered already 
addressed, and therefore no additional benefit would accrue through 
State regulations.
    Benefits of Exclusion--Compared to the minimal benefits of 
inclusion of this area in critical habitat, the benefits of excluding 
it from designated critical habitat are more substantial.
    HCP conservation measures that provide a benefit to the northern 
spotted owl and its habitat have been implemented continuously since 
1993 on all covered lands owned and managed under the HCP. Excluding 
these lands from critical habitat designation will sustain and enhance 
the working relationship between the Service and the permit holder.
    A related benefit of excluding lands within HCPs from critical 
habitat designation is the unhindered, continued ability to seek new 
partnerships with future HCP participants including States, counties, 
local jurisdictions, conservation organizations, and private 
landowners, which together can implement conservation actions that we 
would be unable to accomplish otherwise. If lands within the West Fork 
HCP plan area are designated as critical habitat, it would likely have 
a negative effect on our ability to establish new partnerships to 
develop HCPs, particularly large, regional HCPs that involve numerous 
participants and/or address landscape-level conservation of species and 
habitats. If excluded, the willingness of the landowner to work with 
the Service to manage federally listed species will continue to 
reinforce those conservation efforts and our partnership, which 
contribute toward achieving recovery of the northern spotted owl. We 
consider this voluntary partnership in conservation important in 
maintaining our ability to implement recovery actions such as habitat 
protection and restoration, and beneficial management actions for 
species on non-Federal lands.
    In summary, the designation of critical habitat could have an 
unintended negative effect on our relationship with non-Federal 
landowners due to the perceived imposition of redundant government 
regulation. If lands within the West Fork HCP area are designated as 
critical habitat, it would likely have a negative effect on our 
continued ability to seek new partnerships with future participants can 
implement conservation actions (such as SHAs, and HCPs) that we would 
be unable to accomplish otherwise. By excluding these lands, we 
preserve our current private and local conservation partnerships and 
encourage additional conservation actions in the future.
    Benefits of Exclusion Outweigh the Benefits of Inclusion--The 
benefits of including these lands in the designation are comparatively 
small. Because one of the primary threats to the northern spotted owl 
is habitat loss and degradation, the consultation process under section 
7 of the Act for projects with a Federal nexus will, in evaluating 
effects to the northern spotted owl, evaluate the effects of the action 
on the conservation or functionality of the habitat for the species 
regardless of whether critical habitat is designated for these lands. 
The analytical requirements to support a jeopardy determination on 
excluded land are similar, but not identical, to the requirements in an 
analysis for an adverse modification determination on included land. 
However, the HCP contains provisions for protecting and maintaining 
northern spotted owl habitat that far exceed the conservation benefits 
afforded through section 7 consultation. It provides for

[[Page 71977]]

comprehensive measures applied across a large landscape that will 
benefit spotted owls. In this instance, the regulatory and educational 
benefits of inclusion have much less benefit than the continued benefit 
of the HCP including the educational benefits derived from the HCP.
    The West Fork HCP provides for significant conservation and 
management within geographical areas that contain the physical or 
biological features essential to the conservation of the northern 
spotted owl and help achieve recovery of this species through the 
conservation measures of the HCP. Exclusion of these lands from 
critical habitat will help foster the partnership we have developed 
with West Fork, through the development and continuing implementation 
of the HCP. Furthermore, this partnership may aid in fostering future 
cooperative relationships with other parties in other locations for the 
benefit of listed species.
    In summary, we determine that the benefits of excluding the West 
Fork HCP from the designation of critical habitat for the northern 
spotted owl outweigh the benefits of including this area in critical 
habitat.
    Exclusion Will Not Result in Extinction of the Species--We have 
determined that exclusion of approximately 5,105 ac (2,066 ha) of lands 
covered under the West Fork HCP will not result in extinction of the 
northern spotted owl because the conservation measures identified 
within the HCP seek to maintain or surpass current habitat suitability 
for northern spotted owls. The HCP is designed to develop and maintain 
northern spotted owl dispersal habitat; as a result, total dispersal 
habitat will more than double in amount and wide gaps between stands of 
dispersal habitat will be decreased. In addition, the West Fork HCP 
provides for reserves for the next 100 years, ensuring that all forest 
habitat types and age classes currently on the tree farm, as well as 
special habitat types such as talus slopes, caves, nest trees, and den 
sites, are protected or enhanced. Seasonal protection is provided for 
active northern spotted owl nest sites. Further, for projects having a 
Federal nexus and affecting northern spotted owls in occupied areas, 
the jeopardy standard of section 7 of the Act, coupled with protection 
provided by the West Fork HCP, would provide a level of assurance that 
this species will not go extinct as a result of excluding these lands 
from the critical habitat designation. We find that exclusion of these 
lands within the West Fork HCP will not result in extinction of the 
northern spotted owl. Based on the above discussion, the Secretary is 
exercising his discretion under section 4(b)(2) of the Act to exclude 
from this final critical habitat designation portions of the proposed 
critical habitat units or subunits that are within the West Fork HCP 
boundary totaling about 5,105 ac (2,066 ha).

Other Conservation Measures or Partnerships

State of California
Mendocino Redwood Company
    In this final designation, the Secretary has exercised his 
authority to exclude lands from critical habitat, under section 4(b)(2) 
of the Act, owned by The Mendocino Redwood Company (MRC, the company) 
and totaling approximately 232,584 total ac (94,123 ha) in Unit 3--
Redwood Coast, in Mendocino and Sonoma Counties, California. This land 
is distributed among three critical habitat subunits as described in 
the following. In subunit RDC-2, we proposed approximately 209,550 ac 
(84,802 ha) for critical habitat designation. In subunit RDC-3, we 
proposed approximately 22,733 ac (9,200 ha) for critical habitat 
designation. In subunit RDC-4, we proposed 301 ac (121 ha) for critical 
habitat designation. All company lands proposed for designation within 
these three subunits have been excluded from critical habitat 
designation under section 4(b)(2) of the Act.
    MRC has a long-standing voluntary partnership with the Service to 
protect the northern spotted owl on MRC lands. MRC initially approached 
the Service in 1998 to develop a combined habitat conservation plan and 
a State-level counterpart draft natural communities conservation plan 
(HCP/NCCP). Knowing that the completion of an HCP/NCCP would take an 
extended period of time, MRC and the Service worked together to develop 
a set of interim standards and measures to conserve and protect the 
northern spotted owl and its habitat, pending the completion of the 
HCP/NCCP. These written interim standards and measures are detailed and 
specific and have been incorporated into each of MRC's timber harvest 
plans since their development. These interim standards and measures are 
detailed in MRC's January 15, 2010, Northern Spotted Owl Resource Plan/
Management Plan (SORP) (MRC 2010, pp. 1-30). The SORP was intended to 
serve as a bridge document to reduce resource impacts to both the 
northern spotted owl and its habitat until the completion of the HCP/
NCCP. The SORP includes monitoring and survey requirements and northern 
spotted owl habitat protection measures that are implemented across the 
landscape. The SORP describes methodologies to locate owls, assess 
reproductive status, and provide a framework that includes habitat 
definitions and protections associated with northern spotted owl 
activity centers which provide measurable standards for habitat 
conservation. MRC and the Service meet frequently to discuss northern 
spotted owl study results provided by the company and this information 
is used by both the Service and MRC to develop measures that conserve 
the species through an iterative process that will assist in the 
development of the HCP/NCCP. In reviewing the SORP and monitoring 
results, we find that the SORP and protective measures therein provide 
substantial conservation benefits for the northern spotted owl and its 
habitat at a landscape scale.
    The standards and measures described in the SORP are included in 
the ``Planning Agreement'' (dated August 5, 2009) that MRC entered into 
with the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) for preparation 
of the NCCP element of the HCP/NCCP. Planning Agreements are mandatory 
under the California Natural Community Conservation Planning Act, and 
inasmuch as the northern spotted owl standards and measures are 
included in MRC's planning agreement, they are mandatory. MRC has 
revised them when requested by the Service, as part of a voluntary 
partnership with the Service.
    In addition, MRC has two State-level planning documents that are in 
effect now and which contain substantial long-terms benefits for 
northern spotted owl habitat. One is the company's 2008 Option A plan, 
entered into with CALFIRE, which sets sustainable long-term timber 
harvest levels and controls on standing forest inventory, and the other 
is the companion 2012 Management Plan, also entered into with CALFIRE, 
which outlines company-specific management practices used in 
conjunction with the Option A harvesting program. Together, these 
documents have enabled the company to maintain its forest certification 
through the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) which gives the company 
access to certain wholesale lumber markets that promote ``green'' 
certified wood products. The State-level planning documents have also 
enabled the company to obtain registration through the California 
Climate Action Registry which is the designated clearinghouse for 
carbon-credit sellers under California's developing cap-and-trade

[[Page 71978]]

program. The company's long-term management direction under Option A 
(2008) and the Management Plan (2012) is to greatly expand their stock 
of standing forest inventory, with a near-doubling of that inventory 
over the next nine decades. While we do not consider here the northern 
spotted owl conservation measures in the company's proposed HCP in 
support of 4(b)(2) exclusion, since that plan is not yet finalized, we 
do note that practically all of the long-term habitat and demographic 
objectives in the proposed HCP are dependent on the forest inventory 
trajectory that is established and in effect under Option A and the 
Management Plan, and are partly dependent on the distribution and array 
of silvicultural treatments that is specified under the Management 
Plan. Time intervals, measurable targets, and enforcement mechanisms 
for forest inventory development are already in place through the 
State-level forest planning processes, whether or not the proposed HCP 
is finalized. The company's long term commitment to expanding standing 
forest inventory is also demonstrated by their status as a seller in 
the State's emerging carbon credit market. In order to sell carbon 
credits, the seller has to possess surplus carbon; in forest management 
terms, the only way to have a continuous supply of surplus carbon is to 
have a body of inventory that is on a continuous-net-growth trajectory. 
The 2012 Management Plan also explicitly documents some of the 
company's internal management direction on the northern spotted owl 
with regard to the linkages between future forest conditions and owl 
habitat utilization, direction on the acquisition and analysis of owl 
breeding site surveys, and future development of northern spotted owl 
habitat models.
    Following are summaries of specific measures in the 2012 Management 
Plan that will have direct, indirect, near-term and long-term benefits 
for the northern spotted owl, and which are in effect currently: (1) 
The company, having inherited a severely depleted forest inventory from 
the previous owners, has a standing policy to rebuild inventories, 
which will result in a doubling of total standing volume by the ninth 
decade of the planning horizon; (2) total harvest levels through the 
100-year planning horizon are constrained to a graduating percentage of 
periodic growth volume, from a current 48 percent to 84 percent in the 
tenth decade of the plan; (3) a shift in the use of uneven-aged 
silviculture from a current 65 percent of harvest acres to 99 percent 
in the fifth decade of the plan; (4) protection policies for 
unharvested old-growth stands and previously harvested stands 
containing residual old-growth trees; (5) wildlife tree and snag 
retention requirements that meet or exceed Service recommendations and 
exceed current State Forest Practice rules; (6) a minimum forest floor 
large woody debris (LWD) standard on general forest land of 70 cubic 
feet per ac (4.9 cubic meter per ha) based on minimum-sized logs 16 in 
(41 cm) diameter and 10 ft (3.3 m) in length, increasing to 98 cubic 
feet per ac (6.9 cubic meter per ha) in riparian areas; and (7) a 
hardwood management policy that maintains a minimum hardwood basal area 
of 15 square feet per ac (3.4 square m per ha) in mixed conifer-
hardwood stands. Each policy outlined above will result in: (a) A long 
term increase in standing forest biomass per unit of land area; or (b) 
increased spatial continuity of vegetative types that are suitable 
northern spotted owl habitat; or (c) retention of specific features 
such as old-growth trees or stands, and retention of a minimum level of 
hardwoods, snags, and wildlife trees. All of these policies will either 
lead to maintenance or enhancement of northern spotted owl habitat 
suitability or lead to emergence of suitable habitat where it is 
currently not present, thereby benefiting the conservation of the 
northern spotted owl and its habitat.
    The company has completed a draft of their proposed HCP/NCCP, and 
the northern spotted owl is one of the covered species in this 
document. The company has submitted the HCP application to the Service. 
If the HCP/NCCP is approved and permits issued, the term of the 
incidental take permit and counterpart State permit would be 80 years. 
The combined draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and State draft 
Environmental Impact Report (EIR) is scheduled for issuance in fall of 
2012, and a final HCP/NCCP and final EIS/EIR is anticipated in spring 
or summer, 2013. However, as noted above, we have not taken the 
proposed HCP/NCCP into account in determining the level of protection 
currently provided to the northern spotted owl on MRC land, as we have 
not completed processing the permit application and a final decision 
has not been made whether it meets issuance criteria. We cite to the 
development of this HCP/NCCP only in terms of evidence of MRC's 
commitment to partnering with the Service for the conservation of the 
northern spotted owl.
    Benefits of Inclusion--We find there are minimal benefits to 
including MRC lands in critical habitat. As discussed above, the 
designation of critical habitat invokes the provisions of section 7. 
However, in this case, we find the requirement that Federal agencies 
consult with us and ensure that their actions are not likely to destroy 
or adversely modify critical habitat will not result in significant 
benefits to the species because the possibility of a Federal nexus for 
a project on these lands that might trigger such consultation is 
limited since there is little likelihood of an action that will involve 
Federal funding, authorization, or implementation. In addition, since 
the lands under in question are occupied by the northern spotted owl, 
if a Federal nexus were to occur, section 7 consultation would already 
be triggered and the Federal agency would consider the effects of its 
actions on the species through a jeopardy analysis. Because one of the 
primary threats to the northern spotted owl is habitat loss and 
degradation, the consultation process under section 7 of the Act for 
projects with a Federal nexus will, in evaluating effects to the 
northern spotted owl, evaluate the effects of the action on the 
conservation or function of the habitat for the species regardless of 
whether critical habitat is designated for these lands. Although the 
standards for jeopardy and adverse modification are not the same, the 
additional conservation that could be attained through the section 7 
prohibition on adverse modification analysis would not likely be 
significant in this case because of the conservation agreements already 
in place.
    Another potential benefit of including lands in a critical habitat 
designation is that the designation can serve to educate landowners, 
State and local government agencies, and the public regarding the 
potential conservation value of an area, and may help focus 
conservation efforts on areas of high conservation value for certain 
species. Any information about the northern spotted owl and its habitat 
that reaches a wider audience, including parties engaged in 
conservation activities, is valuable. However, in this case the 
educational value of critical habitat is limited. As evidenced by their 
extensive forest management planning, this forestland owner is 
knowledgeable about the species.
    The designation of critical habitat may also indirectly cause State 
or county jurisdictions to initiate their own additional requirements 
in areas identified as critical habitat. These measures may include 
additional permitting requirements or a higher level of local review on 
proposed projects. However, CALFIRE has indicated to us that it is 
unlikely to

[[Page 71979]]

impose any new requirements on project proponents if critical habitat 
is designated in areas already subject to California Forest Practice 
Rules. Therefore, we believe this potential benefit of critical will be 
limited.
    Benefits of Exclusion--The benefits of excluding from designated 
critical habitat the approximately 232,584 ac (94,123 ha) of lands 
currently owned by the MRC are substantial. We have created a close 
partnership with the company through the development of the SORP and 
the resulting draft HCP/NCCP. The SORP contains provisions that will 
improve inventory of redwood, Douglas-fir, and other conifers across 
MRC's ownership and includes measures that will return forest types to 
those that support the northern spotted owl. In addition, the SORP 
stipulates a series of actions intended to increase canopy cover and 
move management of forest stands to uneven-aged management to promote 
multilayered canopies and protect old growth stands and individual 
trees with old-growth structural features. The SORP also contain 
provisions that will result in stands being grown in Watercourse and 
Lake Protection Zones (WLPZ) that exceed current State Forest Practice 
requirements and that meet the Service's recommended standards for 
standing tree basal area and retention of large woody debris in 
watercourse protection zones. All of these measures are consistent with 
recommendations from the Service for the conservation of the northern 
spotted owl, and will afford benefits to the species and its habitat.
    Other MRC actions also demonstrate their commitment to the Federal-
State-private partnership. The company's Management Plan in connection 
to their FSC forest certification is already in effect. That Plan has 
numerous measures within it that the company has been implementing on 
the ground for several years without any inducement from the 
cooperating Federal and State agencies. Much of the Management Plan is 
concerned with harvest scheduling and how the company will remedy its 
current deficit in standing forest inventory. The major part of that 
remedy is found in the 10-decade harvesting schedule in the Management 
Plan, which tightly constrains harvest levels in the early decades of 
the Plan and relaxes the constraint in later decades. The company has 
implemented the designed harvest schedule since 2000, which is 
supported in the certification audit reports of 2005 and 2010. This 
means that MRC has, in fact, foregone a portion of their potential 
short-term harvest revenues for nearly 12 years to fulfill a Management 
Plan that is not under Federal purview. Company policies embodied in 
the Management Plan will result in (a) a long term increase in standing 
forest biomass per unit of land area; or (b) increased spatial 
continuity of vegetative types that are suitable northern spotted owl 
habitat; or (c) retention of specific features such as old-growth 
trees/stands, retention of a minimum level of hardwoods, snags, and 
wildlife trees. All of these policies will either lead to maintenance 
of northern spotted owl habitat suitability or lead to emergence of 
suitable habitat where it is currently not present.
    Excluding the approximately 232,584 ac (94,123 ha) owned and 
managed by MRC from critical habitat designation will provides 
significant benefit in terms of sustaining and enhancing the excellent 
partnership between the Service and the company, with positive 
consequences for conservation. The willingness of MRC to voluntarily 
undertake conservation efforts for the benefit of the northern spotted 
owl and work with the Service to develop new conservation plans for the 
species will continue to reinforce those conservation efforts and our 
partnership, which contribute toward achieving recovery of the northern 
spotted owl. We consider this voluntary partnership in conservation 
vital to our understanding of the northern spotted owl status of 
species on MRC lands and in the redwood region, and necessary for us to 
implement recovery actions such as habitat protection and restoration, 
and beneficial management actions for species.
    The designation of critical habitat could have an unintended 
negative effect on our relationship with non-Federal landowners due to 
the perceived imposition of government regulation. If lands within the 
area managed by MRC for the benefit of the northern spotted owl are 
designated as critical habitat, it could have a chilling effect on our 
continued ability to seek new partnerships with future participants 
including States, counties, local jurisdictions, conservation 
organizations, and private landowners, which together can implement 
various conservation actions (such as SHAs, HCPs, and other 
conservation plans, particularly large, regional Conservation Plans 
that involve numerous participants and/or address landscape-level 
conservation of species and habitats) that we would be unable to 
accomplish otherwise. In addition, MRC serves as a model of voluntary 
conservation by a private landowner, and may aid in fostering future 
voluntary conservation efforts by other parties in other locations for 
the benefit of listed species. We consider the positive effect of 
excluding proven conservation partners from critical habitat to be a 
significant benefit of exclusion.
    The Benefits of Exclusion Outweigh the Benefits of Inclusion--We 
have reviewed and evaluated the exclusion of approximately 232,584 ac 
(94,123 ha) of land owned and managed by MRC from the critical habitat 
designation. The benefits of including these lands in the designation 
are comparatively small, since the habitat on the covered lands is 
already being monitored and managed under the current Management Plan 
and the Timber Management Plan to improve the habitat elements that are 
equivalent to the physical or biological features that are outlined in 
this critical habitat rule. We therefore anticipate little, if any, 
additional protections through application of the section 7 prohibition 
on adverse modification due to the designation of critical habitat on 
these lands.
    The potential educational benefits of inclusion are also limited. 
The company has an active monitoring program on over 150 northern 
spotted owl activity sites and is making increasing contributions to 
our knowledge of the species through focused research. In addition, 
there is a growing local constituency for current land management 
direction as a result of the company's outreach efforts in the form of 
public informational presentations and tours of the property. In this 
instance, any potential educational benefits of inclusion would have 
much less practical effect than any of the scientific and informational 
activities that the company has initiated to date.
    In contrast, the benefits derived from excluding this ownership and 
enhancing our private lands partnership with MRC are significant. We 
have developed a solid working relationship with MRC, and expect this 
beneficial conservation partnership to continue. The benefits of this 
partnership are significant, because MRC has demonstrated that its 
actions will contribute substantially to the conservation of the 
northern spotted owl and its habitat and influence long-term management 
outcomes across the entire ownership. We noted the positive 
conservation benefits that accrue from exclusion from critical habitat, 
including relief from perceived potentially duplicative regulatory 
burden and the increased potential of pursuing additional conservation 
agreements with other private landowners. As discussed above, MRC

[[Page 71980]]

has developed a long-standing practice of managing its lands in a 
sustainable nature that benefits the northern spotted owl and its 
habitat. We also discussed the long-term value of the partnership with 
MRC, and evidence of the company's commitment to that partnership 
through voluntary implementation and coordination of conservation 
actions. We will not repeat that discussion here, but point to it as 
the strongest among all factors we considered in the weighing of the 
benefits of exclusion against the benefits of inclusion.
    We have determined that the additional regulatory benefits of 
designating critical habitat, afforded through the section 7(a)(2) 
consultation process, are minimal because of limited Federal nexus and 
because conservation measures specifically benefitting the northern 
spotted owl and its habitat are in place as a result of our partnership 
with the company and as demonstrated by the provisions of the SORP and 
other planning documents, as discussed above. The potential educational 
and informational benefits of critical habitat designation on lands 
containing the physical or biological features essential to the 
conservation of the northern spotted owl would be minimal, because MRC 
is making substantial contributions to our understanding of the ecology 
of the northern spotted owl and its habitats in the redwood region, and 
continues to disseminate useful information through public education 
events. Therefore, in consideration of the factors discussed above in 
the Benefits of Exclusion section, including the relevant impact to 
current and future partnerships, we have determined that the benefits 
of exclusion of lands owned by the MRC outweigh the benefits of 
designating these areas as critical habitat.
    Exclusion Will Not Result in Extinction of the Species--We have 
determined that the exclusion of 232,584 ac (94,123 ha) from the 
designation of critical habitat for the northern spotted owl on lands 
owned and managed by MRC will not result in extinction of the species. 
Conservation efforts that are currently in effect through the SORP (and 
not taking into account the draft HCP/NCCP) will adequately protect the 
geographical areas containing the physical or biological features 
essential to the conservation of the species. For projects having a 
Federal nexus and affecting northern spotted owls in occupied areas, as 
is the case here, the jeopardy standard of section 7 of the Act, 
coupled with current land management measures that are not under 
Federal purview, would provide assurances that this species will not go 
extinct as a result of excluding these lands from the critical habitat 
designation. Based on the above discussion, the Secretary is exercising 
his discretion under section 4(b)(2) of the Act to exclude from this 
final critical habitat designation portions of the proposed critical 
habitat units or subunits that are within the Mendocino Redwood Company 
ownership boundary totaling 232,854 ac (92,123 ha).
State of Washington
Scofield Corporation Deed Restriction (Formerly Habitat Conservation 
Plan)
    In this final designation, the Secretary has exercised his 
authority to exclude 40 ac (16 ha) of lands from critical habitat, 
under section 4(b)(2) of the Act, that are covered under the Scofield 
Corporation Deed Restriction in the East Cascades North CHU. A 
incidental take permit based on an HCP, was issued to Scofield 
Corporation in 1996 (noticed February 20, 1996 (61 FR 6381), issued 
April 3, 1996). The permit had a duration for only one year, but as 
provided in the permit terms, the lands under this HCP are now covered 
by a Deed Restriction for those lands in perpetuity. This HCP and deed 
restriction include 40 ac (16 ha) of forest lands in Chelan County, 
Washington. The HCP-covered forest-management activities and the 
associated incidental take permit included only the northern spotted 
owl. The HCP provided for mitigation and minimization measures by 
retaining a buffer of intact habitat, implementing selective timber 
harvest practices, and placing a perpetual deed restriction on the 
property permanently prohibiting further timber harvest or tree removal 
except with the express written consent of the Service. These measures 
were designed to ensure the retention of some northern spotted owl 
habitat and approximately 72 percent of the total number of trees after 
harvest.
    At the time the permit was approved, the HCP-covered lands included 
a single northern spotted owl site with most of its habitat on adjacent 
Federal lands. The amount of habitat was low, due to natural eastside 
Cascades characteristics and recent fire. Approximately 55 percent of 
the mature trees in the 40-acre project area were allowed to be 
removed, which in the short term further reduced the availability of 
potential nesting, roosting, or foraging sites for northern spotted 
owls. However, the adverse effects on this northern spotted owl pair 
due to loss of habitat was likely low, because the habitat was marginal 
Type C (young forest marginal) at best, and surveys in the project area 
suggested low use by northern spotted owls. In addition, the no-harvest 
buffer along the highway ensured that is less than 40 ac (16 ha) was 
affected by the action, which is a small portion of the suitable 
habitat that is available for use by northern spotted owls within the 
median home range of that site as well as the eastern Cascades.
    Under the HCP, about 55 percent of the mature trees and 28 percent 
of the total number of trees in the project area were allowed to be 
harvested. Selective harvest resulted in retention of different size 
and age classes of trees to contribute to stand structure and species 
diversity, important components to northern spotted owl habitat. 
Thinning the stand will allow younger age-class trees to grow, and 
continue to contribute to the multilayer structure of the stand. Since 
the project area is being allowed to grow and develop into perpetuity, 
suitable northern spotted owl habitat will be available in the future. 
This potential habitat will complement habitat that is likely to occur 
on adjacent national forest lands being managed as late-successional 
forest. In the long-term, the potential for the project area to become 
northern spotted owl habitat and remain in that condition is 
substantially greater than it would have been without the HCP. In 
addition, the Deed Restriction identified in the land contract provides 
for the permanent protection of this habitat.
    Benefits of Inclusion--We find that there is minimal benefit from 
designating critical habitat for the northern spotted owl within the 
Scofield Deed Restriction because, as explained above, these lands are 
already managed for the conservation of the species under the deed 
restrictions. Section 7 is unlikely to provide additional regulatory 
protection, not only because Federal actions on this small 40-acre 
parcel are unlikely, but also because any such Federal action would 
have to be consistent with the Deed Restriction. Thus the existence of 
this Deed Restriction reduces any incremental benefits that may be 
provided by section 7. The Deed Restriction provides for the needs of 
the northern spotted owl by providing northern spotted owl dispersal 
habitat and improving conditions. Therefore, designation of critical 
habitat would be redundant on these lands, and would not provide 
additional measureable protections. In addition, the conservation 
measures identified within the Deed Restriction seek to achieve 
conservation goals for northern spotted owls and their habitat, and 
thus can be of greater conservation benefit than the

[[Page 71981]]

designation of critical habitat, which does not require specific 
management actions.
    A potential benefit of including lands in a critical habitat 
designation is that the designation can serve to educate landowners and 
the public regarding the potential conservation value of an area, and 
may help focus conservation efforts on areas of high conservation value 
for certain species. However, the additional educational and 
informational benefits that might arise from critical habitat 
designation have been largely accomplished through the public review 
and comment of the HCP/Environmental Assessment, as well as the 
Implementation Agreement. In addition, through the Deed Restriction, 
the current landowner and any future owner are made fully aware of the 
needs of the northern spotted owl on this parcel.
    Benefits of Exclusion--A benefit of excluding lands within HCPs 
from critical habitat designation is the unhindered, continued ability 
to seek new partnerships with future HCP participants including States, 
counties, local jurisdictions, conservation organizations, and private 
landowners, which together can implement conservation actions that we 
would be unable to accomplish otherwise. In particular, if lands within 
the Scofield Corporation Deed Restriction area are designated as 
critical habitat, it would likely have a negative effect on our ability 
to establish new partnerships to develop HCPs with smaller landowners 
who occupy key landscapes. It could be perceived as adding redundant 
Federal regulation on top of the HCP's requirement to protect the land 
in perpetuity. By excluding these lands, we may encourage additional 
conservation actions in the future.
    Benefits of Exclusion Outweigh the Benefits of Inclusion--In 
summary, we determine that the benefits of excluding the Scofield 
Corporation lands subject to the Deed Restriction from the designation 
of critical habitat for the northern spotted owl outweigh the benefits 
of including this area in critical habitat. We find that including this 
area in the designation would result in minimal, if any, additional 
benefits to the northern spotted owl, as explained above. Excluding 
this parcel from critical habitat could result in real benefits by 
encouraging other small landowners to participate in northern spotted 
owl conservation efforts by demonstrating that we will not impose 
redundant regulatory burdens when they undertake meaningful 
conservation efforts. The management strategies of the Scofield Deed 
Restriction are designed to maintain and enhance habitat for the 
northern spotted owl. The Scofield Deed Restriction includes forest-
management practices and habitat conservation objectives that benefit 
the northern spotted owl and its habitat, which exceeds any 
conservation value provided as a result of a critical habitat 
designation.
    Exclusion Will Not Result in Extinction of the Species--We have 
determined that exclusion of approximately 40 ac (16 ha) of lands 
covered under the Scofield Deed Restriction will not result in 
extinction of the northern spotted owl because it provides northern 
spotted owl dispersal habitat and improves habitat conditions, and it 
the possibility for the project area to become northern spotted owl 
habitat and remain in that condition is substantially greater than 
without the HCP. Further, the protection provided by the Scofield Deed 
Restriction would provide a level of assurance that this species will 
not go extinct as a result of excluding these lands from the critical 
habitat designation. We find that exclusion of these lands within the 
Scofield Deed Restriction will not result in extinction of the northern 
spotted owl. Based on the above discussion, the Secretary is exercising 
his discretion under section 4(b)(2) of the Act to exclude from this 
final critical habitat designation portions of the proposed critical 
habitat units or subunits that are covered by the Scofield Corporation 
Deed Restriction totaling about 40 ac (16 ha).
Exclusion of Private Lands
State of California
    Our proposed designation included 123,348 ac (49,917 ha) of 
privately-owned lands without existing Federal conservation agreements 
in the State of California that we identified as critical habitat for 
the northern spotted owl.
    Forest management and forest practices on private lands in 
California, including harvesting for forest products or converting land 
to another use are regulated by the State under Division 4 of the 
Public Resources Code, and in accordance with the California Forest 
Practice Rules (California Code of Regulations, (CCR) Title 14, 
Sections 895-1115). Under this framework, the California Department of 
Forestry and Fire Protection (CALFIRE) is the designated authority on 
forest management and forest practices on private lands in California.
    All private land timber harvesting in California must be conducted 
in accordance with a site-specific timber harvest plan (THP) that is 
submitted by the owner and is subject to administrative approval by 
CALFIRE. The THP must be prepared by a State-registered professional 
forester, and must contain site-specific details on the quantity of 
timber involved, where and how it will be harvested, and the steps that 
will be taken to mitigate potential environmental damage. The THP and 
CALFIRE's review process are recognized as the functional equivalent to 
the environmental review processes required under the California 
Environmental Quality Act of 1970 (CEQA). The policy of the State with 
regard to the northern spotted owl can be characterized as one of take-
avoidance. The Director of CALFIRE is not authorized to approve any 
proposed THP that would result in take of a federally-listed species, 
including the northern spotted owl unless that taking is authorized 
under a Federal Incidental Take Permit (review process is outlined in 
14 CCR 919.9 and 919.10). This latter point creates an incentive for 
private landowners to enter into Federal safe harbor agreements or 
habitat conservation plans. CALFIRE also regulates the conversion 
permitting process in which private forest and woodland can be 
converted to agricultural uses (in contrast, conversions of forest and 
woodlands to residential, commercial, and industrial uses are evaluated 
and permitted under local land use planning authorities).
    Benefits of Inclusion--We find there are minimal benefits to 
including these lands in critical habitat. As discussed above, the 
principal benefit of including an area in critical habitat is the 
requirement that Federal agencies consult with the Service under 
section 7(a)(2) of the Act to ensure actions they fund, authorize, or 
carry out are not likely to result in the destruction or adverse 
modification of any designated critical habitat. Section 7(a)(2) also 
requires that Federal agencies must consult with us on actions that may 
affect a listed species and refrain from undertaking actions likely to 
jeopardize the continued existence of such species.
    Our Final Economic Analysis (IEC 2012b) concludes that critical 
habitat designation for the northern spotted owl is unlikely to 
directly affect timber harvests on private lands in California because 
of the low likelihood that such harvests would be simultaneously 
connected to a Federal permitting or funding action. Without a pending 
Federal action, there is no basis for initiating a consultation process 
under section 7 of the Act. In northern California, the Service has 
seen very few section 7 actions resulting from Federal permitting or 
funding activity on private

[[Page 71982]]

lands. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) through the U.S. 
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are the Federal agencies 
responsible for regulating section 404 of the Clean Water Act, which 
deals with discharge of dredged or fill material into waters of the 
United States. In the areas identified as critical habitat for the 
northern spotted owl the Corps has not taken jurisdiction over 
activities associated with stream alteration or fill and has deferred 
to the State of California for regulating these activities. As a result 
many proposed actions involving water quality issues and stream 
disturbance are not referred to the Service for section 7 consultation. 
The majority of the water quality permitting actions in California are 
now administered by the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) 
and by Regional Water Quality Control Boards. Water quality permit 
reviews by the Corps are very uncommon. When Federal consultation does 
occur, the affected areas are typically limited to streams or roadways 
adjacent to streams and thus in areas not considered habitat for the 
northern spotted owl. CALFIRE has indicated (in its correspondence of 
July 6, 2012) that it has no plans to enact additional requirements for 
protection of the northern spotted owl in response to a possible 
critical habitat designation of private lands in the State.
    We, therefore, conclude that the requirement that permitting and 
funding agencies consult with us and ensure that their actions are not 
likely to destroy or adversely modify critical habitat will not result 
in significant benefits to the species because the possibility of a 
Federal nexus for a project on these lands that might trigger such 
consultation is limited (there is little likelihood of an action that 
will involve Federal funding, authorization, or implementation). In 
addition, since the lands in question are occupied by the northern 
spotted owl, if a Federal nexus were to occur, section 7 consultation 
would already be triggered and the Federal agency would consider the 
effects of its actions on the species through a jeopardy analysis. 
Because the possibility of a Federal nexus on these private lands is 
limited, the additional regulatory benefits to the species and its 
habitat through inclusion in critical habitat, if any, are anticipated 
to be minimal. In addition, existing State regulations provide 
protections for the northern spotted owl and its habitat, and these 
protections are in continuous effect. The protections to the critical 
habitat of the northern spotted owl, by contrast, come into effect only 
in the event of a Federal action.
    Another benefit of including lands in a critical habitat 
designation is that it serves to educate landowners, State and local 
governments, and the public regarding the potential conservation value 
of an area. This helps focus and promote conservation efforts by other 
parties by identifying areas of high conservation value for northern 
spotted owls. Any information about the northern spotted owl and its 
habitat that reaches a wider audience, including parties engaged in 
conservation activities, is valuable. In the case of the northern 
spotted owl, any potential educational benefits that might be 
attributable to critical habitat designation are minimized by the 
existing State regulatory framework for the northern spotted owl in 
timber harvest planning. Private landowners who harvest timber in 
proximity to northern spotted owl activity sites are required to 
conduct surveys of owl activity and report those results in their 
proposed timber harvest plans that are submitted to CALFIRE for 
approval, so critical habitat designation will not result in any 
additional data collection. While the State's existing take-avoidance 
strategy for the northern spotted owl does not necessarily provide for 
long term conservation of suitable habitat, it does serve an important 
informational service with private landowners through the timber 
harvest planning process. Thus, CALFIRE's existing regulatory framework 
provides adequate and consistent education to the affected community 
regarding the northern spotted owl and its conservation needs.
    Similarly, the great majority of industrial and non-industrial 
forest landowners, along with the in-house and consulting biologists 
who conduct the owl survey work, already voluntarily submit their 
survey results to the CDFG for entry into the California Natural 
Diversity Database (CNDDB), which is the State's clearinghouse for 
occupancy, activity, and spatial data on special status species. It is 
highly unlikely that inclusion in the final critical habitat 
designation could cause any increases in landowner and biologist 
participation in the CNDDB reporting. Voluntary participation rates are 
currently very high, and we have no evidence to suggest that inclusion 
in critical habitat would increase those rates any further.
    In this case the educational value of critical habitat is further 
limited by the fact that the northern spotted owl is a high-profile 
species, and most forestland owners in the range of the northern 
spotted owl are knowledgeable about the species. The release of the 
Revised Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl in 2011 was preceded 
by outreach efforts and public comment opportunities, and provided 
information about the northern spotted owl and its conservation needs 
to a wide constituency. Furthermore, we conducted extensive outreach 
efforts on the proposed revision of critical habitat, including 
multiple public information meetings and opportunities for public 
comment. Through these outreach opportunities, land owners, State 
agencies, and local governments have become aware of the status of and 
threats to the northern spotted owl, and the conservation actions 
needed for recovery.
    Another potential benefit of the designation of critical habitat is 
that it may indirectly cause State or county jurisdictions to initiate 
their own additional protective requirements in areas identified as 
critical habitat. These measures may include additional permitting 
requirements or a higher level of local review on proposed projects. 
However, CALFIRE has indicated to use that it is unlikely to impose any 
new requirements on project proponents if critical habitat is 
designated in areas already subject to California Forest Practice 
Rules. Therefore, we believe this potential benefit of critical will be 
limited.
    Finally, there may be some ancillary benefits if the designation 
resulted in changed timber management practices on these private lands. 
These benefits could include but are not limited to: public safety 
benefits by increasing resiliency of timber stands, improved water 
quality, aesthetic benefits, and carbon storage. However, as discussed 
above, the possibility of a Federal nexus on these private lands is 
limited, so changes in timber management as a result of critical 
habitat, and any attendant ancillary benefits, are anticipated to be 
minimal.
    Benefits of Exclusion--The benefits of excluding from designated 
critical habitat the approximately 123,348 ac (49,917 ha) of private 
lands in California are relatively greater.
    Excluding the approximately 123,348 ac (49,917 ha) of private lands 
from critical habitat designation will sustain and enhance the 
conservation partnership between the Service and CALFIRE. The Service 
is currently working with CALFIRE to explore avenues for more 
comprehensive conservation planning for the northern spotted owl in 
northern California that goes beyond the existing take-avoidance 
strategy. Development of a landscape

[[Page 71983]]

scale analysis and plan (e.g., general conservation plan) would provide 
for greater protections to the northern spotted owl and could 
incorporate critical habitat conservation elements within that planning 
process. Current revisions and improvements to the CNDDB database would 
aid in the development of this plan, with the ability to evaluate 
status and trends across the region versus on a singular THP or Non-
industrial Timber Management Plan (NTMP) level. Critical habitat 
designation would be viewed as another layer of regulatory process to 
that already overseen by CALFIRE and could impede landowner support for 
the development of this larger programmatic conservation plan and 
undercut the efforts of CALFIRE to contribute to such a discussion. We 
received several public comments objecting to this perceived redundancy 
in regulation. Excluding those private lands from the designation would 
avoid a chilling effect on the partnership between the Service and the 
affected State regulatory agencies in California regarding 
administration of their existing conservation programs to protect and 
conserve northern spotted owls on private lands. We consider the 
maintenance of our partnership between the Service and the affected 
State regulatory agencies in California to be a significant benefit of 
exclusion.
    In addition, there are many other opportunities for private 
landowners to enter into conservation agreements without Federal 
involvement that will benefit northern spotted owls. Landowners can 
obtain ``green'' forest certification through the Forest Stewardship 
Council (FSC) or the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) that enables 
access to certain wholesale lumber markets. They can register their 
property with the California Climate Action Registry to gain access to 
the emerging carbon credit market in California, or they can sell 
conservation easement rights on their properties to a land trust. In 
all cases, the landowner gains immediate economic benefits in exchange 
for agreeing to a management program on their lands that meets the 
objectives of the certification or registration entity, or the land 
trust. All of these instruments, by design, involve the conservation 
and expansion of standing forest inventory and forest cover on the 
participating ownerships. Whether by design or not, that will lead to 
the long-term improvement of existing northern spotted owl habitat 
suitability and to the emergence of suitable habitat in areas where it 
is currently unsuitable. These market-based agreements have the long 
term potential for significantly more on-the-ground benefits for the 
northern spotted owl on private lands than would the limited regulatory 
and educational benefits that would result from critical habitat 
designation.
    The economic incentives for landowners to enter into these 
agreements are independent of a critical habitat designation. We are 
not certain how designation might affect perceptions and priorities 
among the grantors in agreements (i.e., the certification and 
registration entities and the land trusts). For example, land trusts 
operate on limited funds and we do not know how critical habitat 
designation might influence them in prioritizing properties for 
easement acquisition; that is, whether it might lead them to look more 
or less favorably on designated lands, or treat some geographic areas 
preferentially over others. Thus, exclusion from designation could 
avoid any uncertain, and possibly detrimental, effects on both buyers 
(land trusts, certification entities) and sellers (landowners) in 
market-based conservation programs (IEC 2012b, p. 5-21).
    Excluding these lands may reduce the perception that some private 
landowners have that they are being subjected to redundant and 
unnecessary regulation. As noted above, all private land timber 
harvesting in California must be conducted in accordance with a site-
specific THP that is submitted by the owner and is subject to 
administrative approval by CALFIRE. The Director of CALFIRE is not 
authorized to approve any proposed THP that would result in take of a 
federally-listed species, including the northern spotted owl, unless 
that taking is authorized under a Federal Incidental Take Permit. The 
additional overlay of Federal critical habitat on these private lands 
may result in lack of support for the development of a programmatic 
conservation agreement with CALFIRE and their valuable contribution of 
information to the CNDDB due to their perception of duplicative and 
burdensome regulation specific to the northern spotted owl.
    Benefits of Exclusion Outweigh the Benefits of Inclusion--We have 
reviewed and evaluated the exclusion of approximately 123,348 ac 
(49,917 ha) of privately-owned lands in the State of California from 
the critical habitat designation. The benefits of including these lands 
in the designation are comparatively small. We find there is little 
likelihood of a Federal nexus on these private lands that would trigger 
the regulatory protections of critical habitat under section 7 of the 
Act. We therefore anticipate little, if any, additional protections 
through a supplemental analysis of potential adverse modification due 
to the designation of critical habitat on these lands.
    The potential educational benefits of inclusion are also limited. 
Under existing State regulations, private landowners who harvest timber 
in proximity to northern spotted owl activity sites are required to 
conduct surveys of owl activity consistent with the Service-recommended 
protocol and report those results in their proposed timber harvest 
plans that are submitted to CALFIRE for approval, so landowners are 
already aware of the presence of the northern spotted owl and its 
habitat needs, and critical habitat designation will not result in any 
additional data collection. The State of California's existing take-
avoidance strategy for the northern spotted owl provides an important 
informational service with private landowners through the timber 
harvest planning process. Therefore, in this instance, any potential 
educational benefits of inclusion are minimal.
    In contrast, the benefits derived from excluding private lands and 
enhancing our partnership with California State regulatory agencies are 
relatively greater. The minimal benefits of inclusion are outweighed by 
the benefits of fostering conservation partnerships with CALFIRE that 
would relieve private landowners of what they might perceive as 
duplicative regulations. Exclusion could also encourage the partnership 
and collaboration in development of the landscape conservation planning 
between the Service and CALFIRE by focusing efforts towards that 
planning effort versus applying a regulatory process that would have 
limited private land involvement.
    We also considered the avoidance of potential issues associated 
with regulatory uncertainty due to critical habitat designation to be a 
significant benefit of exclusion. For example, there may be a 
significant benefit of exclusion from designation that would accrue due 
to the avoidance of any uncertain, and possibly detrimental, effects on 
both buyers (land trusts, certification entities) and sellers 
(landowners) in market-based conservation programs that stand to 
provide significant conservation benefits to the northern spotted owl.
    We have determined that maintaining our partnership with California 
State regulatory agencies provides a greater benefit than would the 
regulatory and educational benefits of critical habitat designation. 
Therefore, in consideration

[[Page 71984]]

of the factors discussed above, we have determined that the benefits of 
exclusion of private lands in California outweigh the benefits of 
designating these areas as critical habitat.
    Exclusion Will Not Result in Extinction of the Species--We have 
determined that exclusion of 123,348 ac (49,917 ha) of private lands in 
northern California that are not currently under a Federal agreement 
from critical habitat for the northern spotted owl will not result in 
the extinction of the species. Habitat protection provisions in the 
current California forest practice regulation on private forestlands 
provide some level of protection for the species and its habitats. We 
reiterate here that under the California State Code (14 CCR 919.9 and 
919.10), the Director of CALFIRE is not authorized to approve any 
proposed THP that would result in take of a federally-listed species 
unless that taking is authorized under a Federal Incidental Take 
Permit. For projects having a Federal nexus and affecting northern 
spotted owls in occupied areas, as is the case here, the jeopardy 
standard of section 7 of the Act, coupled with current land management 
measures that are not under Federal purview, would provide assurances 
that this species will not go extinct as a result of excluding these 
lands from the critical habitat designation. Further, the exclusion of 
these lands from the final critical habitat designation does not 
preclude advances in our scientific knowledge of the species and using 
that knowledge to effectively advocate future improvements in State 
forest practice policies and procedures. Based on the preceding 
analysis, the Secretary is exercising his discretion under section 
4(b)(2) of the Act to exclude private lands totaling 123,348 ac (49,917 
ha) from the final critical habitat designation.
State of Washington
    In Washington we proposed 133,895 ac (54,186 ha) of private lands 
within Spotted Owl Special Emphasis Areas (SOSEAs) as critical habitat; 
all of these lands were identified as under consideration for 
exclusion. However, as described in Changes from the Proposed Rule, 
many of the small, private parcels were removed from the final 
designation upon a determination that they did not meet the definition 
of critical habitat, leaving. The remaining areas of private lands in 
Washington contained in this designation covered by HCPs or SHAs and 
are private industrial forest lands; these private lands are not 
currently covered by HCPs or SHAs but are covered under the WDNR Forest 
Practices Rules (FPR) and largely located in SOSEAs. We have excluded 
areas covered by HCPs and SHAs because, for the reasons discussed 
above, the benefits of excluding them outweigh the benefits of 
including them in critical habitat. We sought to make our designation 
of private lands in Washington as consistent as possible with 
Washington State regulations governing forest practices on private 
lands. Most of the remaining private lands are located only within 
SOSEAs, areas designated by the State to provide for demographic and/or 
dispersal support as necessary to complement the northern spotted owl 
protection strategies on Federal land within or adjacent to the SOSEAs. 
We find that for these lands, too, the benefits of excluding them in 
critical habitat outweigh the benefits of including them.
    In Washington, any private timber harvest must obtain a permit 
from, and comply with, the Washington Forest Practices Act (RCW 76.09) 
as well as the Washington Forest Practices Rules (WAC 222). In the 
absence of a federally-approved HCP covering northern spotted owls or a 
State-approved special wildlife management plan, suitable northern 
spotted owl habitat in State-designated SOSEAs on non-federal lands is 
protected by the special Washington Forest Practices Rules in State-
designated SOSEAs. Within SOSEAs, the Forest Practices rules provide 
protection for suitable northern spotted owl habitat. The Washington 
Forest Practices Rules maintain the viability of each northern spotted 
owl site center by protecting: (a) All suitable spotted owl habitat 
within 0.7 mile of each spotted owl site center; and (b) a total of 
2,605 acres of suitable spotted owl habitat within the median home 
range circle with a radius of 1.8 miles. Under the rules, proposed 
forest practices likely to adversely affect spotted owl habitat in 
either category (a) or (b) above are likely to have significant adverse 
impacts to the northern spotted owl, and such activities would require 
a Class IV special forest practices permit and an environmental impact 
statement per the State Environmental Policy Act. The overarching 
policy goal of the Washington Forest Practices Rules is to complement 
the conservation strategy on Federal lands, and as such the SOSEAs are 
adjacent to Federal lands. SOSEAs are designed to provide a larger 
landscape for demographic and dispersal support for northern spotted 
owls. The long-term goal is to support a viable population of northern 
spotted owls in Washington.
    In Washington, the Forest Practices Board (the State regulatory 
rule-making body) has a long-standing relationship with the Service and 
collaborates extensively on northern spotted owl conservation. The 
Service provided extensive technical assistance in the development of 
the Board's existing northern spotted owl rules. The Board was 
recognized in Recovery Action 18 in the Revised Recovery Plan for the 
Northern Spotted Owl (USFWS 2011, p. III-57) for its ongoing owl 
conservation efforts and encouraged to continue to use its existing 
processes ``to identify areas on non-federal lands in Washington that 
can make strategic contributions to spotted owl conservation over time. 
The Service encourages timely completion of the Board's efforts and 
will be available to assist as necessary.'' The Board convened the 
Northern Spotted Owl Implementation Team (NSOIT). The NSOIT has been 
tasked to develop incentives for landowners to conserve northern 
spotted owl habitat, identify the temporal and spatial allocation of 
conservation efforts on non-federal lands, and make recommendations to 
the Board, should any rules need to be updated. The NSOIT is also 
conducting a pilot project testing different thinning prescriptions in 
northern spotted owl habitat. These efforts have evolved over years of 
collaboration and are designed to change the dynamic away from fear and 
resistance to partnership and participation. On November 13, 2012, the 
Board took another step for northern spotted owl conservation and 
expanded the scope of the NSOIT to investigate and recommend, in 
coordination with the Service, voluntary programmatic tools for private 
landowners to support northern spotted owl conservation and provide 
regulatory certainty for landowners (WDNR in litt.). This step further 
demonstrates Washington's willingness to use its authority and 
processes to support northern spotted owl conservation. The Service has 
and continues to provide funding to support the work of the NSOIT.
    Benefits of Inclusion--The areas of private land retained in our 
final designation at issue here support both essential demographic and 
dispersal needs of spotted owls, and highlight the important 
conservation roles of private lands in Washington. Designation of these 
private lands may raise public awareness of conservation actions needed 
for spotted owl recovery, although the educational benefit of the 
designation is somewhat limited currently since these areas have 
already been identified as SOSEAs, since 1997.
    We find there are minimal benefits to including these lands in 
critical habitat. The designation of critical habitat

[[Page 71985]]

invokes the provisions of section 7. Our Final Economic Analysis (IEC 
2012b, p. ES-17) concludes that critical habitat designation for the 
northern spotted owl is unlikely to directly affect timber harvests on 
private lands in Washington because of the low likelihood that such 
harvests would be simultaneously connected to a Federal permitting or 
funding action. Without a pending Federal action, there is no basis for 
initiating a consultation process under section 7 of the Act. As 
discussed previously, the designation of critical habitat invokes the 
provisions of section 7. However, in this case, we find the requirement 
that Federal agencies consult with us and ensure that their actions are 
not likely to destroy or adversely modify critical habitat will not 
result in significant benefits to the species. The possibility of a 
Federal nexus for a project on these lands is small unless it was a 
larger project covering adjacent Federal lands as well, in which case 
section 7 consultation would already be triggered and the Federal 
agency would consider the effects of its actions on the species. In 
addition, most of the habitat on these private lands would be assumed 
to be occupied, further minimizing to some extent the margin of 
conservation that could be attained through section 7. Any incremental 
benefits would be further minimized because of the protections already 
in place In addition, it would be small in comparison to the benefits 
already derived under the WDNR FPR.
    There is minimal incremental benefit from designating critical 
habitat for the northern spotted owl within private lands covered by 
the WDNR Forest Practices Rules (FPR) because these lands are already 
managed for the conservation of the species through the WDNR FPR. The 
conservation measures provided by that process will provide greater 
protection to northern spotted owl habitat than the designation of 
critical habitat, which provides regulatory protections only in the 
event of a Federal action. In addition, the final rule designation 
would provide for protection of fewer acres than the existing FPR. The 
WDNR FPR provides for the needs of the northern spotted owl by 
protecting and preserving landscape levels of suitable northern spotted 
owl nesting, roosting, and foraging habitat as well as foraging and 
dispersal habitat in strategic landscapes, and implementing species-
specific conservation measures designed to avoid and minimize effects 
to northern spotted owls. The WDNR FPR also contains provisions that 
address ownership changes and provides for the ability to make ongoing 
adjustments in a number of forms, including active adaptive forest 
management. The ability to change is crucial to meet new recovery 
challenges. The Service continues to be work with WDNR to provide 
technical assistance in the implementation of these rules. The WDNR FPR 
contains provisions that address ownership changes and the outcomes 
expected by the Service. Therefore, designation of critical habitat 
would be redundant on these lands, and would not provide additional 
measureable protections.
    Including lands in a critical habitat designation does serve to 
educate landowners, State and local governments, and the public 
regarding the potential conservation value of an area. This helps focus 
and promote conservation efforts by other parties by identifying areas 
of high conservation value for northern spotted owls. Designation of 
critical habitat would inform State agencies and local governments 
about areas that could be conserved under State laws or local 
ordinances, such as the Washington State Growth Management Act, which 
encourage the protection of ``critical areas'' including fish and 
wildlife habitat conservation areas. Any information about the northern 
spotted owl and its habitat that reaches a wider audience, including 
parties engaged in conservation activities, is valuable. However, WDNR, 
as the State's natural resource agency, is knowledgeable about the 
species and has made substantial contributions to our knowledge of the 
species. The additional educational and informational benefits that 
might arise from critical habitat designation here have been largely 
accomplished through the public review and comment during reviews of 
the FPR and associated with the modification of the FPR, and through 
implementation of the FPR by landowners. The existing public process 
for FPR development provides for extensive opportunities for engagement 
in the development and refinement of the rules. The FPR includes 
intensive public involvement and is frequently a topic of open and 
public discussion during meetings of the Washington State Forest 
Practices Board, whose meetings are open to the public and frequently 
televised. This level of exposure in local newspapers and television 
stations exceeds the level of education that would come from a 
designation that would be read by few people in the public. Moreover, 
the rulemaking process associated with critical habitat designation 
includes several opportunities for public comment, and thus also 
provides for public education.
    Finally, there may be some ancillary benefits if the designation 
resulted in changed timber management practices on these private lands. 
These benefits could include but are not limited to: public safety 
benefits by increasing resiliency of timber stands, improved water 
quality, aesthetic benefits, and carbon storage. However, as discussed 
above, the possibility of a Federal nexus on these private lands is 
limited, so changes in timber management as a result of critical 
habitat, and any attendant ancillary benefits, are anticipated to be 
minimal.
    Benefits of Exclusion--With regard to the benefits of exclusion 
from designation, although the final economic analysis (FEA) noted that 
one possible outcome of the critical habitat designation would be that 
the State could revise its regulations, and in a worst case scenario 
such revision could result in some private acres no longer being 
harvestable, we note that the likelihood of such revision actually 
occurring is characterized as speculative (IEC 2012b, p. 5-20). The FEA 
notes two possible outcomes of critical habitat designation, one being 
no change in Forest Practices Rules, the other is that State would 
revise their regulations and designate all suitable habitat overlapping 
with Federal critical habitat as ``critical habitat state.'' However, 
Washington DNR representatives only offered examples of potential 
responses to Federal designation of critical habitat in Washington, and 
did not comment upon the likelihood that any of these scenarios would 
occur (IEC 2012b, p. 5-11). The FEA also makes note of the potential 
indirect effects of critical habitat on private lands, in terms of 
private landowners possibly reacting by changing their timber harvest 
practices in response to perceived regulatory uncertainty as a result 
of critical habitat (IEC 2012b, p. 5-19).
    In particular, a benefit of excluding lands covered under the WDNR 
FPR from critical habitat designation is that it would encourage the 
State and other parties to continue to work for owl conservation. If 
lands within the WDNR FPR area are designated as critical habitat, it 
would also likely have a negative effect on our ability to continue to 
partner with the WDNR on this conservation. In particular, the WDNR 
comment letter (WDNR 2012) states that if inclusion of private land is 
warranted, then WDNR requests that the Service ``create and bolster 
incentive based conservation opportunities for private landowners''. 
This recognizes the potential negative effects to their

[[Page 71986]]

existing collaborative approach. By excluding these lands, we preserve 
our current private and local conservation partnerships and encourage 
additional conservation actions in the future because other parties see 
our exclusion as a sign that the Service will not impose duplicative 
regulatory burdens on landowners who are already have a regulatory 
responsibility under the WDNR FPR. As described in Changes from the 
Proposed Rule, many of the small, private parcels were removed from the 
final designation upon a determination that they did not meet the 
definition of critical habitat. The remaining areas of private lands 
(40,732 ac; 16,483 ha) in Washington contained in this designation are 
private industrial forest lands; these private lands are not currently 
covered by HCPs or SHAs but are covered under the WDNR Forest Practices 
Rules (FPR). Of these, 37,000 ac (14,974 ha) occur within the spotted 
owl circles currently regulated by the existing FPR. It is unlikely 
that the benefit of overlaying an additional regulatory burden within 
the SOSEAs to protect an additional 4,000 ac (1,619 ha) would be a 
significant benefit within the range of the owl. Excluding these 
private lands from the designation would avoid a chilling effect on the 
partnership between the Service and the affected State regulatory 
agencies regarding administration of their existing conservation 
programs to protect and conserve northern spotted owls on private 
lands. We consider the maintenance of our partnership between the 
Service and the affected State regulatory agencies to be a significant 
benefit of exclusion.
    Benefits of Exclusion Outweigh the Benefits of Inclusion--The 
benefits of including these lands in the designation are small. The 
WDNR FPR contains provisions for protecting and maintaining northern 
spotted owl habitat that provides for comprehensive measures applied 
across a large landscape that will benefit spotted owls. WDNR personnel 
are extremely knowledgeable regarding the ecology of the northern 
spotted owl and have contributed to the body of scientific information 
about the northern spotted owl. The landowners subject to these State 
regulations are also informed by them. In this instance, the regulatory 
and educational benefits of inclusion have much less benefit than the 
continued benefit of the WDNR FPR including the educational benefits 
derived from the FPR.
    The WDNR FPR provides for significant conservation and management 
within geographical areas that contain the physical or biological 
features essential to the conservation of the northern spotted owl and 
help achieve recovery of this species. Exclusion of private lands 
already covered under the WDNR FPR will help foster the partnership we 
have developed with WDNR. Furthermore, this partnership may aid in 
fostering future cooperative relationships with other parties in other 
locations for the benefit of listed species.
    In summary, we determine that the benefits of excluding private 
lands already covered under the WDNR FPR from the designation of 
critical habitat for the northern spotted owl outweigh the benefits of 
including this area in critical habitat. We find that including these 
lands would result in minimal, if any, additional benefits to the 
northern spotted owl, as explained above. The WDNR FPR includes 
species-specific avoidance and minimization measures, rule enforcement 
procedures, and forest-management practices and habitat conservation 
objectives that benefit the northern spotted owl and its habitat, which 
exceeds substantially minimizes the incremental any conservation value 
provided as a result of a critical habitat designation. Given the 
active and ongoing efforts of the State of Washington to address 
northern spotted owl conservation, we have determined that maintaining 
our partnership with WDNR, in conjunction with the conservation 
measures under the WDNR FPR, provides a greater benefit to the northern 
spotted owl than would the regulatory and educational benefits of 
critical habitat designation. We also have determined that the 
potential incremental educational and ancillary benefits of critical 
habitat designation on lands containing the physical or biological 
features essential to the conservation of the northern spotted owl 
would be minimal, because WDNR has already made significant 
contributions to our understanding of the ecology of the northern 
spotted owl, and continues to do so through implementation of Recovery 
Action 18 and through participation in range wide demographic studies.
    Exclusion Will Not Result in Extinction of the Species--We have 
determined that exclusion of approximately 40,732 ac (16,483 ha) of 
private lands covered under the WDNR FPR will not result in extinction 
of the northern spotted owl. The WDNR FPR protects and preserves 
landscape levels of suitable northern spotted owl nesting, roosting, 
and foraging habitat as well as foraging and dispersal habitat in 
strategic landscapes, and implements species-specific conservation 
measures designed to avoid and minimize effects to northern spotted 
owls. The Board has adopted a Wildlife Work Plan that requires rule 
review and revision should new information warrant that. We find that 
exclusion of private lands currently covered under the WDNR FPR will 
not result in extinction of the northern spotted owl. Therefore, the 
Secretary is exercising his discretion under section 4(b)(2) of the Act 
to exclude these private lands from this final critical habitat 
designation that are currently covered under the WDNR FPR totaling 
about 40,732 ac (16,483 ha).
Congressionally Reserved Natural Areas and State Park Lands
    Our decision to exclude congressionally reserved natural areas and 
State park lands from this rule is based on the unique circumstances 
associated with this critical habitat designation. Before making a 
final decision of whether to exclude congressionally and State reserved 
natural areas, we weighed the relative benefits and costs a designation 
of these lands would confer and compared them to the costs and benefits 
of no designation. Our final decision is that these areas are essential 
to the conservation of the northern spotted owl, but a designation of 
these areas in this particular case would confer no current or 
potential regulatory benefit and a very minor education benefit. The 
primary habitat threat to the northern spotted owl is from commercial 
timber harvest. Since commercial timber harvest is not allowed on these 
lands, there would be little benefit to additional section 7 
consultation on effects to critical habitat. We also agree with the 
National Park Service that a designation would impose some, albeit 
relatively small, additional administrative costs to land managers who 
would need to consult with the Service if their actions or programs 
might affect northern spotted owl critical habitat. Likewise, we find 
that State Park lands could experience some additional minor 
administrative costs as a consequence of this designation, especially 
those State Parks jointly managed with Redwood National Park and those 
that may use Federal funding for research and monitoring or program and 
capital improvements. However, we find that even these minimal costs 
would outweigh the minor informational benefits of including these 
areas in the critical habitat designation.
    Benefits of Inclusion--The proposed critical habitat rule published 
on March 8, 2012 (77 FR 14062), as part of ``Possible Outcome 3'' in 
Table 1 (p. 14068), proposed to exclude 2,631,736

[[Page 71987]]

ac (1,065,026 has) of congressionally reserved lands and 164,776 ac 
(66,682 ha) of State Park lands from final critical habitat. These 
Federal reserved lands include all National Parks and Monuments, 
Wilderness Areas, Wild and Scenic Rivers, National Scenic Areas, and 
other congressionally designated areas identified in the proposed rule. 
State Parks lands included Iron Horse State Park in Washington, and all 
or portions of 30 State Parks in California, including Jedediah Smith, 
Del Norte Coast, Prairie Creek, Grizzly Creek, Humboldt Redwoods, 
DeWitt Redwoods, Richardson Grove, Reynolds Wayside, Smithe Redwoods, 
Standish-Hickey, Wm. Standley, Russian Gulch, Mendocino Headlands, 
Mendocino Woodlands, Van Damme, Montgomery Woods, Navarro Redwoods, 
Hendy Woods, Mailliard, Salt Point, Austin Creek, Armstrong State 
Reserve, Tomales Bay, Samuel P. Taylor, Mount Tamalpais, Robert Louis 
Stevenson, Bothe--Napa Valley, Sugarloaf Ridge, Jack London, and 
Annadel State Park.
    A primary purpose of these congressional and State reserved natural 
areas is to conserve natural ecosystems, including those of the 
northern spotted owl and its habitat, and educate the public regarding 
the conservation of these areas. Unlike other Federal and State lands 
that have multiple use mandates that include commercial harvest of 
timber in the range of the spotted owl, such as National Forests, State 
Forests, and forests managed by the BLM, these reserved natural areas 
are unlikely to have uses that are incompatible with the purposes of 
critical habitat because the primary threat to spotted owl critical 
habitat--commercial timber harvest--is prohibited on these lands. These 
natural areas are managed under explicit Federal and State laws and 
policies consistent with the conservation of the northern spotted owl, 
and there is generally little or no timber management beyond the 
removal of hazard trees or fuels management to protect structures, 
roads, human safety, and important natural attributes. For example, the 
Wilderness Act provides conservation for the northern spotted owl 
because it prohibits commercial activities unrelated to wilderness 
recreation. Thus, not only is commercial timber harvest directly barred 
on these Federal lands, but the Wilderness Act also precludes the 
construction of roads and most uses of mechanical equipment. 16 U.S.C. 
1133. The fundamental purpose of the National Park System, established 
by the Organic Act and reaffirmed by the General Authorities Act, as 
amended, begins with a mandate to conserve park resources and values. 
This mandate is independent of the separate prohibition on impairment 
and applies with respect to all park resources and values, even when 
there is no risk that any park resources or values may be impaired. See 
16 U.S.C. sections 1-4.
    Similarly, all of the State Parks lands proposed for exclusion 
occur in California except for 104 ac (42 ha) in Washington. California 
State Parks are managed by the California Department of Parks and 
Recreation. This Agency's mission is to ``administer, protect, provide 
for recreational opportunity, and develop the State Park System * * *'' 
We are unaware of any commercial timber harvests in California or 
Washington State Parks.
    Therefore, any habitat-disturbing activities that might occur as 
the land managers carry out their conservation programs (e.g., trail 
maintenance, education and outreach, operations and maintenance, etc.) 
are likely to be relatively minor and are unlikely to be regulated by a 
critical habitat designation. On the Federal reserved lands, the 
section 7 prohibition on the destruction or adverse modification of 
critical habitat would be redundant and unlikely to add any protection 
to these important habitat areas. Likewise, many of these State Parks 
have close working relationships with Federal agencies and may 
experience, through those Federal partners, a section 7 nexus or other 
administrative costs if the States utilize Federal funds or require a 
Federal permit for their activities. For example, several State Parks 
in California (i.e., Del Norte Redwoods, Prairie Creek Redwoods, and 
Jedediah Smith Redwoods) are jointly managed with Redwood National Park 
through an agreement signed in 1994. In the San Francisco Bay Area, the 
National Park Service manages an inventory and monitoring program that 
includes actions by State Parks and other Federal partners such as the 
U.S. Geological Survey. Further, land managers monitor spotted owl 
territories within these reserved areas as part of long term population 
monitoring efforts, and barred owl populations are also monitored as 
part of spotted owl recovery efforts. For example, spotted owl 
territories in Crater Lake National Park have been monitored since 
1992, and there are multiple spotted owl monitoring and conservation 
efforts occurring in many these parks throughout the species' range. A 
critical habitat designation on these State Parks may introduce some 
additional administrative costs but confer no increase in regulatory 
protection. Therefore, we believe there would be no regulatory benefits 
to inclusion of these lands in critical habitat.
    We also believe that a critical habitat designation for these 
specific natural areas would confer minimal additional educational 
benefit toward spotted owl conservation. These areas are generally well 
known for their value to the conservation of listed species due to the 
education and communication programs of the natural area management 
agencies during the time since the listing of the spotted owl. 
Educational materials are distributed and other communication programs 
occur regarding the conservation of late successional forests and the 
species that inhabit them such as the spotted owl (see, e.g., Olympic 
National Park Web site featuring spotted owl information at http://www.nps.gov/olym/naturescience/animals.htm, or http://www.nps.gov/muwo/naturescience/life-of-spotted-owls.htm for NPS lands in central 
California). We also note that the management agencies overseeing these 
congressionally and State reserved natural areas have a positive 
history of over 20 years of conserving northern spotted owls and 
supporting research and conservation of the owl on their protected 
lands. While in other cases we have found benefits where critical 
habitat would highlight the importance of the habitat to owl 
conservation for future planning and management purposes, in the case 
of these lands, management is already consistent with habitat 
protection. Therefore, it is unlikely that designation of critical 
habitat of these areas would provide any significant informational 
benefits to the land managers or the public.
    Benefits of Exclusion--We attempted to quantify the potential 
increase in administrative costs for the Service associated with a 
proposed designation of critical habitat in congressionally reserved 
land allocations. There is generally little or no timber management 
beyond removal of hazard trees or fuels reduction to protect structures 
and road maintenance, in addition to fire-management activities. 
Management guidelines for congressionally reserved lands are generally 
protective, so we do not anticipate requesting any changes of proposed 
management as a result of a critical habitat designation, and we would 
not anticipate reaching an adverse modification determination. In 
reserve areas where we do consult, the designation of critical habitat 
would likely add an adverse-modification analysis to an existing 
consultation.

[[Page 71988]]

Total incremental effects would likely be about 4-6 hours of staff time 
per action for both the action agency and the Service, although this 
estimate could vary widely depending on the size and scope of the 
action.
    The final economic analysis (FEA) (IEC 2012b) quantified this 
potential for an increase in administrative costs, and they described 
the potential indirect impacts due to time delays for project 
processing and regulatory uncertainty. The analysis states, ``While 
critical habitat is not expected to generate changes to forest 
management practices or to testing or training missions on NPS or DOD 
lands, these areas may be subject to new or increasingly complex 
section 7 consultations as a result of critical habitat designation. 
Activities that may involve section 7 consultations include the 
construction or maintenance of visitor facilities on NPS lands and 
access roads to projects or military training including the use of 
vehicles, explosives, and soldiers. DOD and NPS will likely experience 
an additional administrative burden to provide biological assessments 
for projects in consultations with the Service as a result of critical 
habitat designation'' (IEC 2012b, p. 4-4). The FEA forecast an 
additional 16 informal consultations with NPS on planned or ongoing 
recreation and habitat management projects (IEC 2012b, p. 4-27). 
(Although the text refers to the NPS lands, the same rationale 
generally applies to other federally reserved lands in the proposed 
exclusion.) The FEA did not quantify the potential for direct 
incremental economic impacts on State Park lands, but it does identify 
the potential for indirect impacts due to time delays and regulatory 
uncertainty. Again, it is expected that these impacts would be 
relatively minor, but they nevertheless are not offset by a 
proportional increase in conservation benefits that would accrue as a 
consequence of this critical habitat designation on these lands.
    Benefits of Exclusion Outweigh the Benefits of Inclusion--In sum, 
we find there are no regulatory benefits and such minimal educational 
benefits to including these lands in the designation that they are 
outweighed by the minor increase in administrative costs. We reach this 
conclusion for several reasons: (1) A critical habitat designation of 
these reserved areas in the range of the spotted owl would provide no 
additional regulatory benefits beyond what is already on these lands 
due to their permanent status as fully protected lands and, 
importantly, the fact that commercial timber harvest is not permitted 
on these lands under Federal and State law and policy; (2) the 
designation of these reserve areas would confer little additional 
educational benefits associated with the conservation of the spotted 
owl, as these educational messages are already being communicated in 
many of these areas under existing programs; and (3) as identified by 
the economic analysis and the NPS, there is the potential for a small 
but measureable increase in administrative costs, time delays, and 
regulatory uncertainty for the Service and Federal and State land 
managers if these lands were designated, without any offsetting 
positive conservation benefits to justify the increased administrative 
costs.
    After weighing these relative costs and benefits, the Secretary has 
chosen to exercise his discretion under Section 4(b)(2) of the Act to 
exclude these lands from final critical habitat. As part of this review 
we have determined the Federal agencies are managing these reserved 
natural areas under statutes that already impose a clear conservation 
mandate consistent with the specific needs of the northern spotted owl, 
and a critical habitat designation would confer no additional 
conservation benefits to the spotted owl that offset the potential 
increase in administrative costs. In making this decision, we also note 
the historic role of congressionally and State reserved natural areas 
as part of northern spotted owl critical habitat. In 1992, the Service 
concluded that certain congressionally reserved parks and wilderness 
areas were essential to spotted owl conservation, but we declined to 
include these lands in the final designation of critical habitat 
because their current classification and management was deemed adequate 
to meet spotted owl conservation goals (January 15, 1992; 57 FR 1796, 
p. 1806). Likewise, in 2008, the Service revised northern spotted owl 
critical habitat and again concluded that congressionally reserved 
natural areas would not be included in final critical habitat for the 
same reasons as those identified in the 1992 decision (August 13, 2008; 
73 FR 47325, p. 47334). Although not a factor in this section 4(b)(2) 
weighing, this determination will maintain the consistent management 
approach for spotted owls that has occurred on these lands over the 
last 20 years and should minimize the potential for confusion among 
land managers and the public.
    This analysis is based in large part on the particular conservation 
requirements of the northern spotted owl and is specific to this 
designation. Thus, our determination that the benefits of exclusion 
outweigh the benefits of inclusion in this case does not necessarily 
have a bearing on future critical habitat designations.
    Exclusion Will Not Result in Extinction of the Species--We conclude 
that this exclusion of congressionally and State reserved natural areas 
would not result in the extinction of the species. As described above, 
all of these areas are managed under State and Federal law to provide 
for the conservation of species and their natural habitat, including 
the northern spotted owl. A critical habitat designation would not 
enhance or incrementally improve this dedicated management or increase 
the protections of these lands, nor would its absence somehow fail to 
provide protections that otherwise would not be present. Therefore, 
this exclusion of lands from final critical habitat would not result in 
any appreciable risk of extinction to the species because these lands 
will continue to be managed to provide for the conservation of the 
spotted owl.
Cumulative Analysis--Exclusion Will Not Result in Extinction of the 
Species
    We have determined that exclusion of approximately 4,056,759 ac 
(1,641,777 ha) of lands from this final designation of critical habitat 
will not result in extinction of the northern spotted owl. We have 
excluded these areas based, in part, on the significant conservation 
benefits afforded to the northern spotted owl and its habitat on these 
lands through the positive conservation measures provided through SHAs, 
HCPs, or other agreements with private landowner partners with a proven 
track record of conservation actions. Each of these agreements, as 
discussed here, provides significant conservation benefits to the 
species in terms of maintaining, enhancing, or recruiting additional 
suitable habitat for the northern spotted owl, and implementing 
species-specific conservation measures designed to avoid and minimize 
impacts to northern spotted owls. Further, for projects having a 
Federal nexus and affecting northern spotted owls in the excluded 
areas, all of which are occupied by the species, the jeopardy standard 
of section 7 of the Act provides a level of assurance that this species 
will not go extinct as a result of excluding these lands from the 
critical habitat designation. The species is also protected by section 
9 of the Act, which prohibits the take of listed species. 
Congressionally and State reserved natural areas excluded are managed 
under State and Federal law and policy to provide for the conservation 
of species and their natural habitat, including the northern spotted 
owl. These lands will continue to be

[[Page 71989]]

managed under a clear conservation mandate, and exclusion of these 
lands from critical habitat will not deprive the species or its habitat 
of any protections that are not already present. Although we did not 
assume that all private lands without specific conservation agreements 
would continue to fully provide for the conservation of the owl, we 
determined that the exclusion of these lands would not lead to the 
extinction of the species, due to existing State protections and the 
fact that the areas excluded constitute such a small percentage of the 
overall designation. For these reasons, we conclude that the exclusion 
of these areas under section 4(b)(2) of the Act will not cumulatively 
result in the extinction of the species.

Consideration of Indian Lands

    In accordance with the Secretarial Order 3206, ``American Indian 
Tribal Rights, Federal-Tribal Trust Responsibilities, and the 
Endangered Species Act'' (June 5, 1997); the President's memorandum of 
April 29, 1994, ``Government-to-Government Relations with Native 
American Tribal Governments'' (59 FR 22951); Executive Order 13175, 
``Consultation and Coordination with Indian Tribal Governments'' 
(November 6, 2000, and as reaffirmed November 5, 2009); and the 
relevant provision of the Departmental Manual of the Department of the 
Interior (512 DM 2), we believe that fish, wildlife, and other natural 
resources on Indian lands may be better managed under Indian 
authorities, policies, and programs than through Federal regulation 
where Indian management addresses the conservation needs of listed 
species. In addition, such designation may be viewed as unwarranted and 
an unwanted intrusion into Indian self-governance, thus compromising 
the government-to-government relationship essential to achieving our 
mutual goals of managing for healthy ecosystems upon which the 
viability of threatened and endangered species populations depend.
    In developing the proposed revised critical habitat designation for 
the northern spotted owl, we considered inclusion of some Indian lands. 
As described in the above section Criteria Used to Identify Critical 
Habitat, and detailed in our supporting documentation (Dunk et al. 
2012b, entire), we evaluated numerous potential habitat scenarios to 
determine those areas that are essential to the conservation of the 
northern spotted owl. In all cases, we assessed the effectiveness of 
the habitat scenario under consideration in terms of its ability to 
meet the recovery goals for the species. Furthermore, the habitat 
scenarios under consideration included a comparison of different 
prioritization schemes for landownership; we prioritized areas under 
consideration for critical habitat such that we looked first to Federal 
lands, followed by State, private, and Indian lands. Indian lands are 
those defined in Secretarial Order 3206 ``American Indian Tribal 
Rights, Federal-Tribal Trust Responsibilities, and the Endangered 
Species Act'' (June 5, 1997), as: (1) lands held in trust by the United 
States for the benefit of any Indian tribe or individual; and (2) lands 
held by any Indian Tribe or individual subject to restrictions by the 
United States against alienation. In evaluating Indian lands under 
consideration as potential critical habitat for the northern spotted 
owl, we further considered the directive of Secretarial Order 3206 that 
stipulates ``Critical habitat shall not be designated in such areas 
unless it is determined essential to conserve a listed species. In 
designating critical habitat, the Services shall evaluate and document 
the extent to which the conservation needs of the listed species can be 
achieved by limiting the designation to other lands.''
    Although some Indian lands identified in our habitat modeling 
demonstrated the potential to contribute to the conservation of the 
northern spotted owl, our analysis did not suggest that these areas 
were essential to conserve the northern spotted owl. This determination 
was based on our relative evaluation of the various habitat scenarios 
under consideration; if the population performance results from our 
habitat modeling indicated that we could meet the recovery goals for 
the species without relying on Indian lands, we did not consider the 
physical or biological features on those lands, or the lands 
themselves, to be essential to the conservation of the species, 
therefore they did not meet our criteria for inclusion in critical 
habitat. Our evaluation of the areas under consideration for 
designation as critical habitat indicated that we could achieve the 
conservation of the northern spotted owl by limiting the designation of 
revised critical habitat to other lands. Therefore, no Indian lands are 
included in the revised designation of critical habitat.

XII. Summary of Comments and Responses

    We requested written comments from the public on the proposed 
revised designation of critical habitat for the northern spotted owl 
during an initial 90-day public comment period, which opened with the 
publication of the proposed revised rule on March 8, 2012 (77 FR 
14062), and closed on June 6, 2012. On June 1, 2012, we published the 
notice of availability of the draft economic analysis and draft 
environmental assessment associated with the proposed revised 
designation of critical habitat (77 FR 32483), and extended the comment 
period for the proposed rule an additional 30 days, through July 6, 
2012, thereby providing a total comment period of 120 days. In 
addition, we held two public information meetings in Redding, 
California on June 4, 2012; two in Tacoma, Washington, on June 12, 
2012; one in Portland, Oregon on June 20, 2012; and two in Roseburg, 
Oregon, on June 27, 2012. We also held a public hearing in Portland, 
Oregon, on June 20, 2012. In addition, we contacted appropriate 
Federal, State, County, and local agencies; scientific organizations; 
and other interested parties and invited them to comment on the 
proposed rule, draft economic analysis, and draft environmental 
assessment during these comment periods. In addition, in response to 
requests from several Counties, and to ensure that all affected 
Counties and State fish and wildlife agencies in Washington, Oregon, 
and California were able to thoroughly review and comment as provided 
by section 4(b)(5)(A)(ii) of the Act, the Service provided an 
additional opportunity for those entities to comment until August 20, 
2012.
    During the comment period(s), we received over 33,000 comments 
(many of which were form letters), directly addressing the proposed 
revised critical habitat designation. During the June 20, 2012, public 
hearing, eight individuals or organizations provided comments on the 
proposed revised designation. All substantive information provided by 
commenters has either been incorporated directly into this final 
designation or addressed below. Comments received were grouped into 
general categories specifically relating to the proposed revised 
critical habitat designation, and are addressed in the following 
summary, and incorporated into the final rule as appropriate. We 
received a number of highly technical comments regarding the modeling 
process used to develop critical habitat. These technical questions are 
addressed in the final Modeling Supplement (Dunk et al. 2012b) rather 
than in the following section. We also received several comments 
regarding perceived effects attributed to the original listing of the 
northern spotted owl (June 26, 1990; 55 FR 26114), but are not 
addressing those comments because

[[Page 71990]]

they do not apply to this rulemaking, which is limited to the revised 
designation of critical habitat for the northern spotted owl.

Comments From Peer Reviewers

    In accordance with our peer review policy published on July 1, 1994 
(59 FR 34270), we solicited expert opinions from 40 knowledgeable 
individuals with scientific expertise that included familiarity with 
the species, the geographic region in which the species occurs, and 
conservation biology principles. We received responses from 15 of the 
peer reviewers.
    We reviewed all comments received from the peer reviewers for 
substantive issues and new information regarding critical habitat for 
the northern spotted owl. The peer reviewers generally supported the 
modeling process used to inform the identification of critical habitat 
and the resulting size and distribution of the proposed revised 
designation. Reviewers were divided on the risks posed by climate 
change and forest health, and whether active management should be 
applied within critical habitat.
    We asked reviewers to address a number of specific questions with 
regard to the proposed rule. The questions posed to the peer reviewers 
and a summary of their responses are provided below; peer reviewer 
comments, clarifications, and suggestions have been incorporated into 
the final rule as appropriate. Our responses to issues raised by the 
peer reviewers are presented in the subsequent summaries of comments 
and responses.
    Question 1a: Given the assumptions about barred owl effects, does 
this critical habitat network provide a sufficient amount and 
distribution of habitat for the northern spotted owl?
    Peer Review Response: Of the seven reviewers who provided a 
response to this question, four indicated that it was impossible to 
determine whether the critical habitat network was adequate with barred 
owls present across the area. Two reviewers believed the network was 
adequate, and one believed it was too small given barred owl impacts.
    Question 1b: Have the physical or biological features that are 
essential to the conservation of the owl been properly described? Do 
the areas identified as proposed critical habitat adequately capture 
these features? Are there areas we identified that should not be 
included in the designation?
    Peer Review Response: Of the five reviewers who addressed this 
question, all believed the physical or biological features were 
properly described. A number of these reviewers did have suggestions 
for revising descriptions of these features in specific forest types 
and we have incorporated these suggestions into the final rule.
    Question 2: Does the critical habitat network adequately encompass 
the geographic range of the northern spotted owl and represent the 
range of habitat types used by the species?
    Peer Review Response: Only three reviewers specifically addressed 
this question. All agreed that the network encompassed the geographic 
range and habitat types used by owls. One reviewer expressed concern 
that additional lands in the southwest Washington lowlands should be 
included to improve landscape connectivity, and a second reviewer 
indicated that maintaining areas of marginal habitat where northern 
spotted owls could persist in the face of encroachment by barred owls 
may be particularly important. See our response to 0 for a detailed 
discussion regarding inclusion of lands in southwest Washington and 
inclusion of marginal habitat.
    Question 3: We have identified areas on Federal lands in the 
``Matrix'' classification (i.e., areas designated for timber harvest 
under the NWFP) as proposed critical habitat, as well as some State and 
private lands where Federal lands are lacking. Do you agree or disagree 
with this approach? Why or why not?
    Peer Review Response: Eight reviewers addressed this question, and 
all agreed that inclusion of matrix lands in critical habitat was 
supported. One reviewer noted that the barred owl issue needs to be 
addressed (see response to 0 for detailed discussion of this issue), 
and another reviewer was surprised that all habitat-capable lands in 
the western portion of the species' range were not included in critical 
habitat (see 0 for a more detailed discussion of this issue).
    Question 4a: Does the proposed rule appropriately cite the 
scientific literature on ecological forestry to recommend restoration 
of ecological processes and the conservation of late-successional 
forests while also providing sufficient habitat conservation for 
northern spotted owls?
    Peer Review Response: Ten reviewers addressed this issue. Most 
supported the idea that land managers consider the application of 
ecological forestry principles. Five believed the rule cited 
appropriate literature, and several other expressed general support, 
but recommended consideration of additional published research. Three 
reviewers disagreed with some of the science that was cited, or the 
interpretation of that science, and noted that the discussion did not 
adequately address studies that have documented negative effects of 
timber management on northern spotted owls and their prey. Several 
reviewers recommended that active management should be conducted in an 
adaptive management framework. We addressed these issues in revisions 
to the section An Ecosystem-based Approach to the Conservation of the 
Northern Spotted Owl and Managing Its Critical Habitat.
    Question 4b: Do the proposed guidelines for vegetation management, 
including forest fuels treatments and restoration of fire regimes, 
represent an appropriate application of ecological science?
    Peer Review Response: Responses to this question were varied. Eight 
reviewers expressed overall support for the concept, although several 
recommended providing more specific management information. Four 
reviewers indicated that parts of the document were unclear on whether 
ecological science was applied appropriately, and highlighted the lack 
of understanding about how such management actions may affect owls and 
their prey. Two reviewers specifically indicated that they did not 
think that approach is appropriate. Several recommended conducting 
active management activities in an adaptive management framework, until 
the science becomes clearer regarding how northern spotted owls are 
affected by projects intended to restore forest health or apply 
ecological forestry principles. We addressed active adaptive forest 
management in the section An Ecosystem-based Approach to the 
Conservation of the Northern Spotted Owl and Managing Its Critical 
Habitat.
    Question 4c: Do you believe the proposed rule appropriately 
balances the potential risks of taking action with the potential risks 
of a passive (i.e., ``no action'') management approach, especially in 
the face of ongoing climate change and the need to manage for the 
entire forest ecosystem, not just northern spotted owls?
    Peer Review Response: Peer reviewers were split in their opinions 
on this question, and responded with varying degrees of specificity. 
Eight reviewers generally supported the suggestion that land managers 
consider an active management approach in managing forest landscapes, 
although not all stated whether the discussion of this concept in the 
proposed rule balanced the respective tradeoffs. Five reviewers 
believed that the risks were not appropriately balanced, that the

[[Page 71991]]

discussion was too vague in weighing the tradeoffs, or that there is 
too little specific scientific understanding of the explicit tradeoffs 
to conduct an informed discussion. Several of these reviewers indicated 
that there was too much emphasis on active management in the preamble 
to the proposed rule given the lack of understanding about how 
ecological forestry and restoration management might affect owls. In 
contrast, one reviewer noted that the consequences of not applying 
management in some areas (e.g., fire-prone areas) were not sufficiently 
addressed. We have addressed the need to conduct additional research in 
an adaptive management framework in the section An Ecosystem-based 
Approach to the Conservation of the Northern Spotted Owl and Managing 
Its Critical Habitat.
    Question 5a: Is there relevant information available we did not 
incorporate into the critical habitat modeling process (thoroughness), 
and have we interpreted the existing scientific information in a 
reasonable way (scientific consistency)?
    Peer Review Response: The 15 reviewers generally agreed that we did 
include the appropriate information and interpreted it in a reasonable 
way. Recommendations to incorporate more realistic barred owl encounter 
rates, use individual home ranges rather than pair ranges in the 
modeling process, and analyze the effects of proposed exclusions were 
suggested. We address these issues in our responses to Comment (11), 
Comment (38), and Comment (139). One reviewer questioned the accuracy 
of GNN data for identifying northern spotted owl habitat. We address 
the question regarding the accuracy of GNN data in our response to 
Comment (19). In addition, some reviewers asked for more detail 
regarding the modeling process. Many of the responses to comments 
provided here present such detail, and we have incorporated additional 
discussion in our separate Modeling Supplement (Dunk et al. 2012b).
    Question 5b: The modeling process attempted to incorporate both 
scientific uncertainty and demographic (stochastic) variation. Were 
methods used to incorporate uncertainty and variability appropriate?
    Peer Review Response: Six reviewers addressed this question 
specifically. Most had suggestions for improving our methods including 
addressing temporal variation in demographic rates, providing 
confidence intervals on estimates, and conducting sensitivity analyses. 
We address specific comments in more detail in the Modeling Comments 
section below, as well as in our separate Modeling Supplement (Dunk et 
al. 2012b).
    Question 5c: Does the proposed critical habitat rule correctly 
express the key assumptions and uncertainties underlying the scientific 
and technical information it used, particularly in regard to northern 
spotted owl habitat, demographic trends, and influence of barred owls 
on northern spotted owls?
    Peer Review Response: In general, the reviewers agreed that the 
rule did address key assumptions and uncertainties; however, most 
identified specific areas these could be improved. We address these 
comments in more detail in the Modeling Section below, as well as in 
our separate Modeling Supplement (Dunk et al. 2012b).
    Question 5d: Was the combination of analytical methods (MaxEnt, 
Zonation, HexSim) with professional judgment (please see Criteria Used 
to Identify Critical Habitat, pp. 14096-14101 in the proposed rule 
(March 8, 2012; 77 FR 14062) for details) appropriate for identifying 
critical habitat? Are there additional analyses you would recommend?
    Peer Review Response: Of the 15 peer reviewers, 1 thought that 
HexSim was not an appropriate model given its complexity, and 2 
expressed concern about the utility of the MaxEnt model for identifying 
habitat. The majority of peer reviewers thought that the combination of 
analytical methods we used was appropriate. We address the question 
regarding the use of HexSim and MaxEnt in our responses to Comments 
(20, 21, 22, 26, and 43) as well as in our separate Modeling Supplement 
(Dunk et al. 2012b).
    A number of peer reviewers had additional comments about the 
concept of active management. Since the preambles to the proposed and 
final rules discuss this concept, we have addressed their comments 
below. However, we emphasize that this rule does not take any action or 
adopt any policy, plan or program in relation to active forest 
management. The discussion is provided only for consideration by 
Federal, State, and local land managers, as well as the public, as they 
make decisions on the management of forest land under their 
jurisdictions and through their normal processes.
    Additional peer reviewer comments are addressed in the following 
summary and incorporated into the final rule as appropriate.

Comments on Lands Included in Critical Habitat and Exclusions

    Comment (1): Several reviewers commented that proposed critical 
habitat failed to include habitat that linked the Olympic peninsula to 
other regions, and also did not include low-elevation habitat along the 
margins of the Willamette Valley, Puget Trough, Umpqua Valley, and 
Rogue River Valley. Some reviewers indicated that they thought this was 
a fault of the modeling methods used.
    Our Response: There are multiple reasons why the areas described in 
the above comments were not included in the revised critical habitat. 
First, the habitat model using MaxEnt was at the 500-ac (200-ha) scale, 
and was thus unlikely to identify small, isolated habitat fragments. 
This is not a failure of the modeling, but rather a consequence of 
these areas (identified in the comments) having very little northern 
spotted owl habitat; such small, fragmented areas do not meet our 
criteria for critical habitat, and are therefore not included in final 
the critical habitat designation. Second, to incorporate additional 
information such as connectivity and unique forest situations, the 
Service also utilized expert knowledge and current owl location data 
(among other factors) to determine what is essential for conservation 
of the species. In Phase 3 of the critical habitat development process, 
as described in Dunk et al. 2012b, we evaluated areas where 
connectivity appeared to be deficient, and added in habitat to 
strengthen connectivity. However, most of the areas identified in these 
comments (particularly in western Washington) consist largely of 
cutover industrial timberlands, are not occupied by northern spotted 
owls, do not contain the primary constituent elements for critical 
habitat, and are not otherwise essential to the conservation of the 
species because they do not provide high-quality habitat or areas where 
restoration of habitat is need to provide essential connectivity or 
demographic support. These areas were not included in the 1992 or 2008 
critical habitat designations for the same reasons. Without additional 
information about the location and habitat conditions of specific 
parcels in the areas mentioned in this comment, we are unable to 
further evaluate the benefits of including them in the revised 
designation.
    Comment (2): One reviewer questioned the fact that portions of 
several late-successional reserves (LSRs) including a portion of the 
Okanogan-

[[Page 71992]]

Wenatchee National Forest in the eastern Washington Cascades and lands 
in the Western Klamath region that were affected by the Biscuit Fire 
were not included in the critical habitat proposal.
    Our Response: Both of the areas described in this comment generally 
exhibit low relative habitat suitability (RHS) values. The portion of 
the Okanogan-Wenatchee LSR that was not included contains much high-
elevation forest and dry forest seldom occupied by the northern spotted 
owl. The Biscuit Fire area described by the reviewer is composed of low 
RHS due to a combination of fire effects and ultramafic soils.
    Comment (3): One peer reviewer and several public commenters were 
concerned about congressionally reserved areas not being included in 
proposed critical habitat.
    Our Response: All congressionally reserved lands that met the 
criteria for critical habitat were included in the proposed revised 
designation. We sought public comment on whether they should be 
excluded from the final critical habitat designation. Based on further 
analysis and public comment, they are excluded in the final revised 
critical habitat designation. Our final decision is that these areas 
are essential to the conservation of the northern spotted owl, but as 
these areas are managed under a conservation mandate that provides for 
the needs of the northern spotted owl, we could find no benefits to the 
designation that outweighed the minor administrative costs associated 
with including these areas. Therefore the benefits of exclusion 
outweighed those of inclusion, and since such exclusion will not result 
in the extinction of the species, these congressionally reserved areas 
have been excluded from the final designation.
    Comment (4): Several reviewers highlighted the importance of 
keeping State lands, congressionally reserved lands, and some private 
lands without HCPs or other agreements in critical habitat.
    Our Response: We agree that these lands are important for the 
conservation of northern spotted owls. However, Federal parks and 
wilderness areas (and any other congressionally reserved lands) 
including State parks, as well as private lands, have been excluded in 
the final revised designation of critical habitat for the northern 
spotted owl. Some State lands are included in the final critical 
habitat designation, unless such lands had an HCP, SHA, or other 
conservation measures in place that led to their exclusion under 
section 4(b)(2) (see Exclusions).
    Comment (5): Several reviewers indicated that the largest reserve 
designs may be the best for northern spotted owl conservation.
    Our Response: Designation of critical habitat is constrained by the 
statutory language in section 3(5) of the Act, which states that 
critical habitat must either have been occupied by the species at the 
time it was listed and contain the physical or biological features 
essential to the conservation of the species, or, if unoccupied at the 
time of listing, be essential to the conservation of the species. 
Furthermore, section 3(5)(c) of the Act specifies that except in rare 
circumstances, critical habitat should not include the entire 
geographical area which can be occupied by the species. We concur that 
in areas where high-quality habitat is lacking, designating all areas 
capable of developing in to suitable habitat in the future might 
provide more robust networks. However, the addition of large areas of 
currently unsuitable habitat as suggested in this comment would likely 
not meet the intent and mandate of the statute. If occupied at the time 
of listing, such lands would not provide the requisite essential 
features. If unoccupied at the time of listing, such lands would only 
be included in critical habitat if we found them to be essential to the 
conservation of the species. Our evaluation of various potential 
habitat networks as we developed this critical habitat designation 
demonstrated that these lands are not likely to contribute 
substantially more owls to the rangewide population than the area 
designated as final critical habitat, thus we did not consider them to 
be essential to the conservation of the species.
    Comment (6): One reviewer stressed the need to retain Recovery 
Action 10 and 32 lands in critical habitat.
    Our Response: Recovery Action 10 and Recovery Action 32 do not 
constitute specific areas of mapped lands that could be included in 
critical habitat designation. Rather, they are broad landscape-level 
conservation recommendations contained in the Revised Recovery Plan for 
the Northern Spotted Owl (USFWS 2011) for identification and 
conservation of important habitats that apply to all land ownership 
categories and Federal land management allocations, including 
designated critical habitat. While consistency with these and other 
recovery actions is not required, Federal land management agencies 
generally try to conduct activities in a manner consistent with the 
guidance provided in the Revised Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted 
Owl (USFWS 2011).

Comments on Competition From the Barred Owl

    Comment (7): One reviewer indicated that recovery efforts need to 
focus on barred owl management in addition to critical habitat.
    Our Response: Barred owls and loss or degradation of habitat are 
primary factors impacting northern spotted owls. As we noted in the 
proposed critical habitat rule, habitat protection is necessary, but 
not sufficient alone, to recover the northern spotted owl. This revised 
designation of critical habitat is only one of many conservation 
actions that will contribute to the recovery of the northern spotted 
owl. The Service is currently working on a final environmental impact 
statement under NEPA for experimental barred owl removal to address the 
threat posed to northern spotted owls by the barred owl. Nonhabitat-
based threats, such as barred owls, are specifically addressed in the 
Revised Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl (USFWS 2011), and do 
not fall within the scope of this critical habitat rule. The Revised 
Recovery Plan, not this critical habitat rule, should be considered the 
comprehensive recovery document for the northern spotted owl.

Comments Regarding the Northwest Forest Plan (NWFP)

    Comment (8): Several reviewers indicated that the relationship 
between proposed critical habitat and the Northwest Forest Plan was 
unclear.
    Our Response: We have attempted to clarify the language regarding 
the relationship between critical habitat and the Northwest Forest Plan 
(NWFP). The NWFP provides land management guidance for most of the 
Federal lands identified as critical habitat, and we anticipate that 
the Standards and Guidelines for the NWFP will continue to direct 
management actions on these lands, unless amended sometime in the 
future. We emphasize that critical habitat does not replace or 
supersede the Standards and Guidelines of the NWFP. Active management 
is discussed in the preamble of this rule only to encourage land 
managers to consider the range of management flexibility already 
contained in the NWFP. We acknowledge the importance of the NWFP as a 
management strategy for conserving northern spotted owls and late-
successional forest habitat, and our suggestions for special management 
considerations needed to address the threats to the physical or 
biological features essential to the conservation of the northern 
spotted owl (see Special Management Considerations or

[[Page 71993]]

Protections, above) are consistent with the directives of the NWFP.
    Comment (9): One reviewer noted that LSR areas and locations on the 
East Cascades were designed under the assumption of static landscapes, 
not the dynamic landscapes we now recognize.
    Our Response: We have recognized that the Standards and Guidelines 
for management under the NWFP differ across eastern and western 
forests, and that eastern forests are very dynamic. This condition was 
recognized in the NWFP, and the Standards and Guidelines of the NWFP 
allow for active management in such areas (USDA and USDI 2004, pp. C-
12--C-13).

Comments on the Modeling Process

    Here we provide a summary of general comments received on the 
modeling process that we used, in part, to identify revised critical 
habitat for the northern spotted owl. The habitat modeling framework we 
utilized was originally developed for the Revised Recovery Plan for the 
Northern Spotted Owl (USFWS 2011), and Appendix C of the Revised 
Recovery Plan provides a detailed description of the modeling framework 
and the extensive testing and cross-validation that was done at each 
stage of development. In addition, we note that the modeling framework 
that we applied here to assist in the identification of critical 
habitat for the northern spotted owl was independently the subject of 
prior peer review and public comment for the recovery plan. 
Particularly detailed or technical comments on the habitat modeling 
that we received in relation to this critical habitat rule are 
addressed separately in our Modeling Supplement, Dunk et al. 2012b, in 
an effort to reduce the length and improve the readability of this 
rule.
    Comment (10): One reviewer suggested that the modeling of habitat 
networks and scenarios should consider a wider range of options or 
composites with greater emphasis on sustainability of owl populations, 
not efficiency. The present document is biased in favor of efficiency, 
not conservation of old forest habitat.
    Our Response: We evaluated each of the potential critical habitat 
networks with respect to the guiding principles we developed, which 
were based on the statutory definition of critical habitat and informed 
by the recovery criteria for the northern spotted owl as established in 
the 2011 Revised Recovery Plan. The recovery criteria for the northern 
spotted owl are aimed at achieving sustainable northern spotted owl 
populations across the range of the species. In terms of identifying 
critical habitat, we use the term ``efficient'' to convey that we 
sought to include the highest-quality habitat with the greatest 
potential contribution to recovery and minimize as much as possible the 
amount of relatively lower quality habitat in determining what is 
essential to conservation of the species. In areas of insufficient 
high-quality habitat, lower quality habitat may still provide the PCEs 
and may be essential in terms of providing sufficient habitat overall 
to sustain the population. We also sought to rely on public lands to 
the extent possible.
    Efficiency never trumped owl performance in our selection process; 
the population performance of the northern spotted owl in response to 
the scenarios evaluated was our first concern. However, given two or 
more nearly equal population performance outcomes, we did look for 
efficient solutions; that is, given the choice between two nearly 
equivalent habitat networks in terms of northern spotted owl population 
performance, we chose the network that achieved roughly the same level 
of performance provided by a relatively greater proportion of public 
lands or smaller overall designation. Old forest habitat and areas of 
high RHS are nearly identically represented in the largest networks we 
evaluated (Z70, Composites 1, 3, 4, and 7).
    Comment (11): One reviewer suggested the use of individual, rather 
than pair home range size estimates in the HexSim model.
    Our Response: Because our spotted owl population model is a 
females-only model, it was most appropriate to use individual home 
range sizes. Thus our model will not simulate the resource constraints 
that could result from male owl's consumption of limited food 
resources. We strove to construct the simplest model structure that 
captured the essential ecological processes; doing so made our northern 
spotted owl model more straightforward to develop and easier to 
understand. We evaluated how well the HexSim model was calibrated to 
actual populations, by comparing simulated spotted owl populations from 
our model with actual densities of northern spotted owls as measured 
within demographic study areas (Appendix C, p. C-73). We found that 
simulated populations were quite similar to actual populations, 
suggesting that the females-only model produced reasonably accurate 
estimates. Finally, because we used the HexSim model to compare the 
relative differences in population size resulting from different 
reserve design assumptions, any biases that may have been introduced 
into the process from the use of a females-only model would essentially 
be zeroed out, since that bias would be the same across all 
populations; in such a case, the net relative difference would still be 
accurately reflected between populations.
    Comment (12): One reviewer noted that we did not include baseline 
scenarios that provide clear insight concerning the contributions that 
State, private, and Indian lands might make in the long run. They note 
that excluding consideration of some large areas by virtue of land 
ownership may have attendant effects on demographic results by 
inadvertently imposing ``pinch points'' along the north-south axis of 
the critical habitat area. The main concern was that northern spotted 
owl recovery may be quite limited by the initial assumptions made about 
excluding State, private, and Indian lands based on their current 
conditions; remaining alternatives considered may all be poorer as a 
result.
    Our Response: We did not make initial assumptions about the 
population contributions potentially made by State, private, and Indian 
lands, or about the feasibility of including those lands in proposed 
critical habitat. Our initial comparisons of Zonation-derived reserve 
designs included both ``ALL lands'' and ``PUBLIC lands'' scenarios 
(Appendix C, p. C-49-52); these habitat networks did not restrict our 
evaluation to particular land ownerships, but allowed us to evaluate 
all lands regardless of ownership. Thus, we evaluated the contribution 
of all land ownerships before narrowing down the habitat network 
designs based on policy and cost-benefit analyses (meaning the weighing 
of relative population performance versus total area in the 
designation), as fully described in our Modeling Supplement (Dunk et 
al. 2012b). As discussed in this rule and in that supplement, we sought 
to maximize the reliance on public lands to the extent possible, but 
only if it did not compromise the population metrics essential to 
conservation of the northern spotted owl. In addition, as described in 
the section Consideration of Indian Lands, we conducted this analysis 
in accordance with the Secretarial Order 3206 directive to consider 
``the extent to which the conservation needs of the listed species can 
be achieved by limited the designation to other [non-Indian] lands.'' 
As we did not identify any Indian lands that were essential to the 
conservation of the northern spotted owl, we did not include any such 
lands in the designation.
    Comment (13): One reviewer asked whether foraging habitat was 
considered

[[Page 71994]]

separately from nesting/roosting habitat in the Step 1 modeling, or if 
suitable habitat was modeled as nesting/roosting/foraging?
    Our Response: Foraging habitat was separate from nesting/roosting 
habitat, as explained in Appendix C to the Revised Recovery Plan for 
the Northern Spotted Owl (USFWS 2011, p. C-24).
    Comment (14): One reviewer noted a potential failure to acknowledge 
the importance of winter migration behavior to spatial and habitat 
requirements of territorial northern spotted owls.
    Our Response: We attempted to incorporate some degree of winter 
habitat requirements by using annual home ranges in HexSim. To our 
knowledge, the data we could use in HexSim to incorporate broader 
movements does not exist throughout the northern spotted owl's range. 
To the extent that northern spotted owls move away from their 
territories during the nonbreeding period, and if habitat use differs 
appreciably in the breeding season and nonbreeding season, it is 
possible that our approach did not include all areas that may be 
important to northern spotted owls. However, we are unaware of a 
consistent methodology that we could use to overcome this potential 
shortcoming.
    Comment (15): One reviewer requested that we consider the effects 
of fire in the modeling process used to define critical habitat, and 
how critical habitat should be protected from the effects of fire.
    Our Response: Our process incorporated several different possible 
vegetation growth and loss scenarios, and modeled a variety of 
potential northern spotted owl responses to differing management 
strategies. These scenarios were based on observed rates of habitat 
change measured between 1996 and 2006. As such, they incorporate 
habitat loss to fire and other causes, and project it into the future 
as a rate of change. We considered explicitly modeling fire 
probabilities and fire effects into the scenarios, but the complexity 
and high degree of uncertainty made this unfeasible. Incorporating fire 
impacts would have had a similar proportional effect to the relative 
outputs of each modeled scenario, thereby not elucidating real 
differences between the effectiveness of the modeled scenarios. The 
question of protecting critical habitat from the effects of fire is 
beyond the scope of this rulemaking.
    Comment (16): One reviewer suggested that estimating the rate of 
population change ([lambda], or lambda) at 10-year intervals makes 
interpretation more difficult, especially with respect to the results 
from demographic studies, where [lambda] is estimated as an annual 
interval.
    Our Response: Our use and estimate of the finite rate of population 
change was not intended to be compared to estimates from demographic 
study areas or the meta-analysis (e.g., Forsman et al. 2011). We used 
lambda as one basis for comparison between the various alternative 
potential critical habitat networks considered to determine what is 
essential to the conservation of the northern spotted owl, using 
different assumptions related to the barred owl and the amount of 
suitable habitat. Thus, our use of lambda at 10-year intervals was 
appropriate for our intended use of relative population performance 
between habitat scenarios under consideration.
    Comment (17): One reviewer indicated that one aspect that seemed to 
be lacking in the designation of critical habitat was whether the model 
correctly predicted areas currently occupied by northern spotted owls 
based on relative habitat suitability. The reviewer suggested that one 
way to accomplish this would be to examine the spatial distribution of 
critical habitat in relation to the existing demographic study areas 
and other areas with a history of surveys for northern spotted owls.
    Our Response: To evaluate how well the modeling process identified 
areas likely to be occupied by northern spotted owls, we tested the 
predictive ability of the model by comparing our RHS model outputs with 
the distribution of known northern spotted owl locations (independent 
data sets) from the years 1996 and 2006, and in both cases found a high 
predictive accuracy. The results of this comparison are presented on 
pages C-38 to C-41 in Appendix C of the Revised Recovery Plan for the 
Northern Spotted Owl (USFWS 2011).
    Comment (18): One reviewer indicated that the models are likely to 
be ``overfit'' (an overfit model that is overly sensitive to small 
fluctuations in data inputs, and will consequently have poor predictive 
results), even though cross-validation results by modeling region 
showed that all models were relatively robust to prediction (Table C19, 
Revised Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl (USFWS 2011)). The 
reviewer indicated that this point needs to be more clearly disclosed. 
Several commenters expressed concern about the number of covariates in 
the RHS models, and the potential for overfitting.
    Our Response: We carefully evaluated the modeling procedures we 
used to identify spotted owl habitat and test the resulting models 
using both cross-validation and independent data sets. Based on the 
results of our evaluations, we disagree that our models are overfit. We 
have clarified the procedures used and results of model testing in the 
final Modeling Supplement (Dunk et al. 2012b). MaxEnt is designed to 
reduce the effects of the potential model over- fitting through its use 
of regularization. The main consequence of overfitting that we wished 
to guard against was that of having models so tightly fit to the 
training data that they were not generalizable (i.e., that they did not 
work well at classifying test data or data that did not contribute to 
the model's development). Our extensive cross-validation (randomly 
removing 25 percent of the data, each of 10 times within each modeling 
region) and evaluation of each model's full and cross-validated 
performance revealed that the models were not overfit (see Table C-16). 
Furthermore, where we had adequate independent data, the models 
performed almost identically on them as on the training data (see Table 
C-17). We share the reviewers concerns with overfitting models, and we 
directly evaluated whether the consequences of overfitting were 
realized and found that they were not. Thus, the conclusions on page C-
41 of the Revised Recovery Plan (USFWS 2011) under ``Model evaluation 
summary'' remain valid.
    Comment (19): Some reviewers and commenters suggested that the GNN 
database used to develop the relative habitat suitability (RHS) map is 
inappropriate for use in designating critical habitat because it does 
not depict what actual vegetative components exist on the ground but is 
a computer simulation of what might exist. The reviewer stated that 
since the base vegetation layer does not accurately represent stand 
conditions on the ground, it is impossible to show what stands contain 
PCEs and which do not. Several reviewers suggested that a formal 
accuracy assessment of the GNN data is needed and suggested that model 
predictions of habitat conditions should be verified. One reviewer 
indicated that inaccuracies in the GNN database probably led to errors 
with MaxEnt predictions of owl distributions. The reviewer suggested 
that there is little science to support the assumptions that GNN data 
for vegetative variables believed to be important to northern spotted 
owls were equally accurate across modeling regions, and there is little 
certainty that relevant processes were sufficiently captured so as to 
reliably predict owl population performance. The reviewer further

[[Page 71995]]

claims the Service did not assess the accuracy of the GNN data. 
Finally, the reviewer states that Dr. Larry Irwin, National Council for 
Air and Stream Improvement (NCASI) conducted an analysis of how well 
the GNN-LT data correlated with actual measurements on the ground, and 
concluded that there is a very low correlation between GNN-LT 
predictions and reality. Further, the reviewer states that GNN-LT was 
developed for mid- to large-scale spatial analysis, not the designation 
of critical habitat.
    Our Response: We concur that the RHS models and subsequent modeling 
steps are dependent on the reliability of the GNN vegetation layer. A 
description of our use of GNN and accuracy assessments for the GNN 
variables used in our RHS models are presented in detail on pages C-16 
to C-19 of the Revised Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl 
(USFWS 2011). Based on our data needs, these accuracy assessments, and 
independent verification of the performance of GNN estimates, we have 
determined that GNN represents the best scientific information 
available for habitat modeling throughout the range of the northern 
spotted owl.
    As described in detail in Appendix C, we selected the GNN 
vegetation database for a number of reasons; most importantly it is the 
layer developed for use in the Northwest Forest Plan monitoring 
program. In addition, it is the only vegetation layer available that 
covers all land ownerships across the entire range of the northern 
spotted owl. Past efforts to model, map, and quantify habitat selection 
by northern spotted owls at regional scales have often suffered from 
lack of important vegetation variables, inadequate spatial coverage, or 
coarse resolution of available vegetation databases (Davis and Lint 
2005). To develop rangewide models of relative habitat suitability for 
northern spotted owls, we required maps of forest composition and 
structure of sufficient accuracy to allow discrimination of attributes 
used for nesting, roosting, and foraging by northern spotted owls (the 
essential physical or biological features). GNN, developed for the 
NWFP's effectiveness monitoring program, provides detailed maps of 
forest composition and structural attributes for all lands within the 
NWFP area (coextensive with the range of the northern spotted owl). 
Although the GNN approach is a method for predictive vegetation 
mapping, it is based on input of empirical forest attribute data from 
inventory plots (Forest Inventory and Analysis, current vegetation 
analysis, etc.) and modeled relationships between plots and predictor 
variables from Landsat thematic mapper imagery, climatic variables, 
topographic variables, and soil parent materials.
    The GNN maps come with a large suite of diagnostics detailing map 
quality and accuracy; these are contained in model region-specific 
accuracy assessment reports available at the LEMMA Web site (http://www.fsl.orstu.edu/lemma/). Accuracy assessments apply to the GNN 
model(s), rather than the satellite imagery. We provide Pearson 
correlation coefficients of GNN structural variables used in Table C-1 
of the Revised Recovery Plan (USFWS 2011, pp. C-18 to C-19), and local 
accuracy assessments (kappa coefficients) for individual species' 
variables in Table C-2. For developing models of northern spotted owl 
habitat, we generally selected GNN structural variables with plot 
correlation coefficients greater than 0.5 for an individual modeling 
region (42 percent had correlation coefficients greater than 0.7). On a 
few occasions when expert opinion or research results suggested a 
particular variable might be important, we used variables with plot 
correlations from 0.31 to 0.5. For species composition variables, we 
attempted to use only variables with kappas greater than 0.3. However, 
because we combined species' variables into groups that expert opinion 
and research suggested may represent influent community types, we 
occasionally accepted variables with kappas greater than 0.2 and less 
than 0.3 for individual variables within a group.
    The GNN vegetation database was specifically developed for mid-to 
large-scale spatial analysis, suggesting that accuracies at the 30-m 
pixel scale may be less influential to results obtained at larger 
scales. Because we were interested in the utility of GNN at our 
analysis area (500 ac (200 ha)) spatial scale, we additionally 
conducted less formal assessments where we compared the distribution of 
GNN variable values at a large sample of actual locations (known 
northern spotted owl nest sites and foraging sites) to published 
estimates of those variables at the same scale. In addition, we 
received comparisons of GNN maps to a number of local plot-based 
vegetation maps prepared by various field personnel. Based on these 
informal evaluations, we determined that GNN represents a dramatic 
improvement over past vegetation databases used for modeling and 
evaluating northern spotted owl habitat, and used GNN maps as the 
vegetation data for our habitat modeling.
    Our primary objective in Step 1 of the modeling process was to 
develop MaxEnt models that perform well at predicting northern spotted 
owl habitat by developing models that had good discrimination ability, 
were well calibrated, were robust, and had good generality. Our 
detailed evaluations of model performance, cross-validation, and 
comparison with independent data sets (described in pages C-30 to C-41 
in Appendix C of the Revised Recovery Plan) demonstrate that at the 
scale MaxEnt models were developed and evaluated, we met these 
objectives. Acknowledging that all vegetation databases will exhibit 
some degree of error, if the GNN layer was inadequate for predicting 
northern spotted owl habitat, we would not expect the reliable 
predictive models that we obtained. Thus, as described above, given our 
data needs, we believe the GNN database represents the best available 
information for the purposes of identifying critical habitat for the 
northern spotted owl. We are unaware of any alternative existing 
scientific information, and no viable suggestions were offered by 
reviewers or commenters.
    Comment (20): One reviewer indicated that inaccuracies in the GNN 
database and inherent problems with MaxEnt probably led to errors with 
MaxEnt predictions of owl distributions. The reviewer suggested that 
there is little science to support the assumptions that GNN data for 
vegetative variables believed to be important to northern spotted owls 
were equally accurate across modeling regions, and there is little 
certainty that relevant processes were sufficiently captured so as to 
reliably predict owl population performance.
    Our Response: As noted earlier, no vegetation database will be free 
of error; the important question is whether the database used is 
accurate enough to support the intended analysis objectives. We 
acknowledge that there may be some errors in the GNN database, yet the 
MaxEnt models we developed performed very well at predicting habitat 
suitability for northern spotted owls (one would not expect reliable 
predictive models if the underlying databases were highly inaccurate--
one would expect poorly performing models). Our evaluation of the 
MaxEnt models developed indicate that the models for all modeling 
regions were well calibrated and showed quite similar patterns in terms 
of strength of selection (Figure C-5, USFWS 2011). Cross-validation 
results showed that all models were robust (i.e., equally accurate when 
applied to different

[[Page 71996]]

subsets of the spotted owl sample; USFWS 2011, Table C-19), and 
comparison of model results with independent test data showed the 
models had good ability to predict known northern spotted owl locations 
(USFWS 2011, Table C-20). Overall, these evaluations suggest our models 
of relative habitat suitability were robust and have good generality 
(are good at predicting northern spotted owl habitat in areas other 
than areas that provided the data for development of the model). As 
detailed in our response to 0 based on our data needs, accuracy 
assessments, and independent verification, amongst other information, 
we believe the GNN database represents the best available scientific 
data for our purposes.
    We are uncertain about what ``inherent problems with MaxEnt'' the 
reviewer may be referring to; MaxEnt has been thoroughly evaluated in 
the scientific literature and found to perform very well for predicting 
species distributions and habitat suitability. Peer-reviewed papers by 
Elith et al. (2006), Wisz et al. (2008), Graham et al. (2008), Phillips 
et al. (2009), and Willems and Hill (2009) all compared MaxEnt to other 
modeling tools on identical data sets (sometimes hundreds of species), 
sample sizes, and geographic areas. MaxEnt always performed very well 
and was consistently a top-performing model. Based on the accurate 
performance of the model and the thorough, independent scientific 
evaluations of MaxEnt on a number of taxa, geographic regions, and 
sample sizes, we believe we have utilized the best available scientific 
information to model habitat suitability for the northern spotted owl. 
We note that 13 out of the 15 peer reviewers agreed that the use of 
MaxEnt was appropriate for our purposes.
    Comment (21): One reviewer stated that although the Service claimed 
in the proposed rule that the modeling process defined areas that 
contain the physical and biological features essential for conservation 
of the species, that in reality MaxEnt provides no scientific support 
for the PCEs described in the proposed rule, and the proposed rule 
cites no other scientific basis for them. The reviewer indicates that 
MaxEnt simply ranks pixels in an area based on the ``best'' habitat 
definition supplied to it, and that the habitat definitions chosen by 
MaxEnt do not represent what the spotted owl needs and do not delineate 
the physical or biological features essential for the conservation of 
the species.
    Our Response: The comment mischaracterizes the relationship between 
our habitat modeling and the identification of PCEs for the northern 
spotted owl. We did not use the habitat modeling to define the PCEs for 
the species. As stated in the proposed rule (March 8, 2012; 77 FR 
14062, p. 14082), and reiterated in this rule, the physical or 
biological features essential to the conservation of the species (and 
associated primary constituent elements (PCEs)) of critical habitat for 
the northern spotted owl, are identified based on ``* * * studies of 
the habitat, ecology, and life history of the species as described in 
the final listing rule published in the Federal Register on June 26, 
1990 (55 FR 26114), the Revised Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted 
Owl released on June 30, 2011, the Background section of this proposal, 
and the following information.'' The following section of the proposed 
rule, titled Physical or Biological Features, provided an expansive 
discussion of the scientific basis for the identification of the 
essential physical or biological features of critical habitat for the 
northern spotted owl, accompanied by numerous supporting citations from 
the scientific literature, which informed our description of the PCEs. 
The modeling was not used to describe the PCEs of critical habitat; 
rather, it was used to identify the areas most likely to contain the 
PCEs and the areas most likely to have been occupied by northern 
spotted owls based on habitat suitability at the time of listing, as 
well as identify the specific areas essential to the conservation of 
the species. This is an important distinction. The habitat models were 
constructed from a rigorous assessment of current knowledge of the 
physical and biological features that influence northern spotted owl 
habitat suitability, and are supported by a solid scientific basis. We 
recognize that there may have been some poorly worded statements in the 
proposed rule that led to some confusion regarding the intersection of 
the PCEs and the modeling framework. We have clarified the language in 
this final rule to make it clear that we did not use models to define 
the PCEs for the northern spotted owl, but that we used the PCEs to 
develop maps of relative habitat suitability across the range of the 
northern spotted owl as one step in the identification of critical 
habitat for the species.
    Comment (22): One reviewer recommended that the Service: (a) 
evaluate the rate at which MaxEnt may misclassify locations that do not 
contain spotted owls; and (b) provide evidence that MaxEnt accurately 
incorporates the factors that reflect the best environmental conditions 
for optimal population performance among northern spotted owls.
    Our Response: Our models were developed to identify areas likely 
occupied at the time of listing based on relative habitat suitability 
(RHS), not to identify areas that do not contain owls. Furthermore, the 
presence of owls on territories can vary across space and time. There 
any many possible reasons that an organism (northern spotted owl in 
this case) may not occupy apparently suitable habitat for a period of 
time (e.g., death, competition, population is not at equilibrium with 
its environment). We did not use the RHS values to predict the number 
of years a site would be occupied or the reproductive rates at 
territories. The RHS layers we developed have been subjected to 
rigorous cross-validation and testing with independent data, as 
explained in Appendix C of the Revised Recovery Plan (USFWS 2011). Our 
assessment of the estimated on-the-ground conditions at high, 
intermediate, and low RHS values corresponds very closely to the 
published literature on northern spotted owl habitat use and selection, 
thus addressing (b). See also our responses to Comments (19), (20), and 
(21), among others.
    Comment (23): One reviewer stated that comparisons with other 
evaluations of northern spotted owl habitat demonstrate the flaws in 
the modeling. In comparison with NWFP land use allocations, the 
modeling process includes 2.7 million ac (1.1 million ha) of lands 
that, up until now, had not been viewed as being needed for the 
recovery of the spotted owl. Overlaying the proposed critical habitat 
designation with USDA Pacific Northwest Research Station's 2011 data on 
old growth forests shows that only 36 percent of proposed critical 
habitat comprises late-successional old growth forest. Overlaying the 
proposed designation with USDA Pacific Northwest Research Station's 
2011 report allocating spotted owl habitat into unsuitable, marginal, 
suitable and highly suitable shows that 50 percent of proposed critical 
habitat is either unsuitable or marginal habitat, and only 24 percent 
of the acres are classified as highly suitable.
    Our Response: The designation of critical habitat is guided by the 
statutory language of the Act, and is highly species-specific in terms 
of its direction to identify specific areas that provide the physical 
or biological features essential to the conservation of the listed 
species in question--in this case, the northern spotted owl. Late-
successional reserves under the NWFP, on the other hand, were 
established for

[[Page 71997]]

the conservation of multiple species of varying taxa (birds, mammals, 
amphibians, fishes, etc.) and, in some areas, encompass forest types 
not used by northern spotted owls. For these reasons, the comparison of 
critical habitat with NWFP land use allocations is inappropriate, 
because they are intended to serve different purposes. The 2.7 million 
ac (1.1 million ha) of lands the reviewer refers to are presumably the 
congressionally reserved natural areas (wilderness areas and national 
parks) that are now excluded in this designation. These lands have 
consistently been viewed as essential to the recovery of the northern 
spotted owl since the species was listed. However, they were not 
included in previous designations due to our interpretation of the 
definition of critical habitat under section 3(5)(A) of the Act at that 
time and because their current classification and management was deemed 
adequate to meet northern spotted owl conservation goals. A primary 
purpose of these congressionally reserved natural areas is to conserve 
natural systems, including threatened and endangered species and their 
habitats, including the northern spotted owl. These areas are managed 
consistent with the conservation of the northern spotted owl, and we 
could find no benefit of inclusion that would outweigh the potential 
administrative costs associated with the designation of critical 
habitat on these lands.
    Based on our modeling process, we found that northern spotted owl 
population performance under a habitat network represented by the 1994 
NWFP was relatively poor compared with several other reserve designs 
(Dunk et al. 2012b). This result is not surprising considering the 
influence of barred owls and continued habitat loss to wildfire. 
Similarly, the results of this commenter's comparison of proposed 
critical habitat to maps of old growth forest and the nesting habitat 
model from the 2011 NWFP monitoring report would be anticipated, 
because the NWFP models represent only a portion of the habitat 
elements and spatial extent used by northern spotted owls. In 
particular, the classification of habitat into unsuitable, marginal, 
suitable, and highly suitable pertains only to forest structure used 
for nesting at the pixel scale, whereas our models are based on 
landscape-level habitat selection and incorporate the broader array of 
habitats used by northern spotted owls (including non-old growth). We 
believe the commenter is attempting to make ``apples and oranges'' type 
comparisons of habitat, and for the reasons described above, we 
disagree with the statement that such comparison demonstrate flaws in 
our modeling.
    Comment (24): One reviewer stated that the Zonation model was not 
designed to develop a conservation network and that this model does not 
make a judgment as to what is essential for the conservation of the 
species. As characterized by the reviewer, Zonation does not use the 
presence or absence of PCEs as input so it does not show where the PCEs 
are essential. According to the reviewer, what it does is take the 
relative habitat suitability index of the MaxEnt model (which itself 
does not depict the presence or absence of PCEs), further smooth them 
by assigning new values at the home range size of 3,424 ac, (1,386 ha) 
and determines how little land is required to capture some percent of 
habitat values based on the parameters provided by the Service. It does 
this by removing the areas with the lowest habitat values first until 
the specified percentage of the habitat values are left. The reviewer 
contends that the Service used Zonation outputs that captured 70 
percent of the habitat values as the basis for the proposed revision of 
critical habitat, and that this in no way supports the premise that 
these areas are essential for the conservation of the species. The 
reviewer claims that Zonation only shows a computer's calculation of 
the minimum amount of land needed to encompass 70 percent of the 
habitat value, which is a purely artificial data point created from 
smoothed indices of a relative habitat suitability index based on 
biased spotted owl locations overlaid on a hypothetical landscape using 
conglomerated data. The reviewer states there is no way to determine if 
the areas captured by these solutions actually contain the PCEs, and 
the Service has no idea how accurate the model is in predicting use by 
spotted owls.
    Our Response: We disagree with the reviewer's statement in that it 
mischaracterizes the intended purpose of Zonation, the way the model 
works, and how the Service used it. The Zonation model was designed 
specifically for the purpose of developing conservation networks 
(Moilanen and Kojala 2008). However, we did not simply employ the 
Zonation model to provide a critical habitat network. As described in 
our response to Comment (21), and as detailed at length in our Modeling 
Supplement (Dunk et al. 2012b), we used the PCEs for the northern 
spotted owl to develop maps of relative habitat suitability for the 
species across its range; this step then informed the development of 
the spotted owl habitat conservation planning model (Zonation), thus 
the presence of PCEs is the foundation of the entire habitat modeling 
framework, and is fundamental to our identification of critical habitat 
for the northern spotted owl. We used Zonation to provide a series of 
alternative networks that were then compared in terms of relative 
simulated spotted owl population performance (using HexSim). After 
comparing a wide range of Zonation-derived scenarios, the top-
performing alternatives for each modeling region were assembled into 
composite maps for further evaluation in HexSim. Development of 
composite maps also involved modification of reserve designs based on 
expert opinion and policy. In many modeling regions, the proposed 
critical habitat deviates substantially from the strictly Zonation-
derived reserve designs, because use of the modeling was only one step 
in the process of identifying critical habitat. Finally, the Service 
verified that the resulting proposed critical habitat met the statutory 
criteria of critical habitat by evaluating the proportion of proposed 
critical habitat that was occupied by known northern spotted owl home 
ranges at the time of listing and that provides the essential physical 
or biological features, and by evaluating any areas that may have been 
unoccupied at the time of listing to determine whether they are 
essential to the conservation of the species. In addition, to address 
any uncertainty regarding occupancy, we evaluated all of the critical 
habitat under the higher standard of section 3(5)(a)(ii) of the Act. 
Please see Criteria Used to Identify Critical Habitat for further 
information.
    Comment (25): One reviewer stated that the process used by the 
Service to define what constitutes nesting, roosting, and foraging 
habitats in the proposed rule produced results in staggering 
differences compared to historical definitions. According to this 
reviewer, not only are they totally different from what has been viewed 
as valid definitions for almost 20 years, but they are also totally 
unrecognizable on the ground. The reviewer claims the proposed rule 
utilizes habitat definitions derived from analysis of the hypothetical 
GNN-LT vegetation layer coupled with abiotic factors, which only make 
sense in computer modeling. The reviewer states that MaxEnt does not 
use these definitions to identify NRF (nesting/roosting/foraging) 
habitat but rather assigns an RHS value based on how many of the 
factors are present. Finally, the reviewer says that the Service claims 
to be using these factors

[[Page 71998]]

to determine if stands contain the PCEs when, in fact, they do not.
    Our Response: We are unsure of the basis for this comment, since 
the definitions of nesting, roosting (NR) and foraging (F) habitats 
used in this critical habitat rule are very similar to definitions used 
in past assessments, including previous designations of critical 
habitat for the northern spotted owl, and the definitions we use are 
based primarily on the information found in the published scientific 
literature. In fact, all NR and F models tested were derived from 
literature reviews and expert opinion, including input from timber 
industry scientists and managers. The relative habitat suitability 
models incorporate these NR and F definitions (submodels), as well as 
broader environmental features such as elevation and slope position, 
that are also well-described in the northern spotted owl literature. 
The remainder of the comment mischaracterizes our habitat suitability 
modeling; a thorough explanation of that modeling is found in Appendix 
C of the Revised Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl (USFWS 
2011). In addition, please see our response to Comment (19) for details 
on how the PCEs were defined and incorporated into the process of 
mapping RHS.
    Comment (26): One reviewer stated that the Service modified input 
variables given to HexSim to produce ``composites,'' and the Service 
cannot show that these contain the PCEs and that they are essential, 
and there is no statistical difference between the different 
composites. By only displaying mean values, the reviewer claims the 
Service creates a false appearance that the difference between these 
alternatives is real. The Service does not show that the differences 
result in any real difference in achieving recovery objectives, they 
merely state it as a matter of fact. This is a misuse of modeling data, 
the reviewer states, and not best available science.
    Our Response: This comment misunderstands the process used to 
develop composite maps, and the subsequent comparison of HexSim 
results. Composite maps are maps where different reserve designs were 
selected for each modeling region based on their ability to achieve 
recovery goals. These region-specific designs were combined across the 
range of the owl to create a ``composite map.'' We evaluated composite 
maps in an iterative manner to identify the design that best met 
recovery goals and our guiding principles. Composites were not created 
by modifying HexSim input variables; rather, they represent a range of 
reserve design alternatives that were subsequently tested in HexSim. 
Appendix C and Dunk et al. (2012b) provide ample evidence that all of 
the composites contain the physical and biological features used by the 
owl; comparison of HexSim results is the process by which the Service 
evaluates what amount and distribution of these features is essential 
to the conservation of the northern spotted owl. As stated in our 
proposed rule, this final rule, and in Dunk et al. 2012b, we assessed 
various composites by comparing the relative (emphasis added) 
performance of various habitat scenarios. That is, we used metrics such 
as relative differences in extinction risk and population size (which 
include upper and lower confidence intervals) to evaluate the ability 
of different composites to achieve recovery objectives for the northern 
spotted owl. In fact, we expressly stated ``simulations from these 
models are not meant to be estimates of what will occur in the future, 
but rather provide information on trends predicted to occur under 
different network designs'' (March 8, 2012; 77 FR 14062, p. 14097). 
There were statistically significant differences in population 
performance, both at the modeling region and range-wide scales among 
our composites (see Appendix C, USFWS 2011 and the Modeling Supplement 
(Dunk et al. 2012b) for additional details). We therefore disagree with 
the commenter's claims about misuse of modeling data and best available 
science.
    Comment (27): One reviewer stated that the boundaries of the 
proposed revision of critical habitat are impossible to identify on the 
ground. They can only be defined by use of global positioning satellite 
receivers that have had the boundaries created by the Zonation computer 
model inputted to them.
    Our Response: Critical habitat is defined by the features as 
discussed in this final critical habitat designation and shown on 
accompanying maps. Specific coordinates and descriptions that define 
the boundaries of critical habitat are available online at http://www.fws.gov/oregonfwo, at http://www.regulations.gov at Docket No. 
[FWS-R1-ES-2011-0112], and from the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Office 
(see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT); maps are available online at 
http://criticalhabitat.fws.gov/crithab/.
    Comment (28): One reviewer states that the Service did not use 
pixel by pixel data, but conglomerated the pixel data into indices that 
represent the 500-ac (200-ha) circle around each pixel, which increased 
the error associated with the predictions. The reviewer claims this 
wipes out all the actual stands that might actually be used by spotted 
owls and instead assigns each pixel a conglomerate value for each 
habitat variable based on averages. Therefore, the reviewer asserts 
there are many areas that do not contain the PCEs.
    Our Response: This comment mischaracterizes the method used to 
evaluate habitat quality, and the basic definition of habitat for 
northern spotted owls. As described in Appendix C of the Revised 
Recovery Plan (USFWS 2011), habitat suitability consists of several 
factors including, but not limited to, the actual forest ``stands'' 
used by owls. Our relative habitat suitability models are based on the 
amount, edge, and core of actual stands classified as nesting/roosting 
habitat and amount of foraging habitat; i.e., the PCEs identified in 
this rule. We therefore do not ``wipe out'' the actual stands as 
suggested by the reviewer, but rather measure their relative importance 
given additional landscape features such as elevation and slope 
position. This allowed us to better identify the landscape features 
where owls could establish a viable territory. Simply mapping out ``the 
actual stands that might be used'' would have provided a highly 
fragmented habitat network consisting of many ``stands'' not likely to 
be used by spotted owls. The comment also ignores the fact that we 
extensively tested the RHS model and found it accurately predicts 
spotted owl habitat, and we evaluated the proposed critical habitat 
network and found that the areas proposed were predominantly occupied 
by known spotted owl sites at the time of listing. See also our 
responses to Comment (19) through Comment (24).
    Comment (29): One reviewer stated that Phase 1 results suggested 
that the Redwood Coast modeling region was among the most stable, but 
questioned how this could be when there are very few remaining northern 
spotted owls in Redwood National Park, where barred owls are now the 
predominate species. The reviewer states this was also not reflected in 
the Phase 2 modeling results (Table 6) (Dunk et al. 2012a).
    Our Response: We obtained recent (2006) verified northern spotted 
owl location data from many sources in the Redwood Coast modeling 
region. These data strongly suggest that the high densities of barred 
owls observed within Redwood National Park are not occurring in the 
remainder of the modeling region, where large numbers of northern 
spotted owl territories persist. We therefore used demographic data 
from the Green Diamond

[[Page 71999]]

monitoring study to parameterize (put variables into) HexSim for the 
region.
    Comment (30): One reviewer suggested that we include an appendix 
that shows each of the decision points in the development of the 
proposed critical habitat network in systematic detail, and suggested 
this would be an adequate remedy and make the entire modeling process 
open and transparent, and repeatable by persons external to this 
process.
    Our Response: We attempted to make explicit the key assumptions and 
decision points used in the modeling process, and the guiding 
principles we followed for application of professional judgment in 
refining reserve networks were included in the proposed rule. Much of 
what the reviewer asks for is presented in Appendix C of the Revised 
Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl (USFWS 2011). In addition, 
we have tried to make assumptions and decision points more explicit in 
our final Modeling Supplement (Dunk et al. 2012b) that is available to 
the public at http://www.regulations.gov.
    Comment (31): One reviewer suggested that a major flaw in the 
modeling is that the habitat is held constant for 350 years and any 
area with an RHS value less than 35 is assumed to be non-habitat. The 
reviewer states that by holding the habitat constant and not allowing 
it to grow, the Service greatly overestimates the amount of land needed 
to reach relative population levels. The reviewer claims this also 
results in a double standard for areas currently classified by MaxEnt 
as having low RHS values--in the modeling process they are excluded and 
not allowed to grow into habitat, yet they are included as critical 
habitat because the Service claims they will be necessary for 
population growth.
    Our Response: The reviewer misunderstands the method we used to 
simulate habitat change through time. Habitat was not held constant 
during the HexSim simulations; we measured the rates of change in 
habitat quality (RHS) between the 1996 and 2006 GNN layers and 
projected those rates into the future. This allowed for losses in 
habitat quality caused by timber harvest, wildfires, and other causes 
as well as gains due to forest growth to occur through time in a 
plausible fashion. Because the remainder of this comment is based on 
this faulty premise, the other points in this comment are, in turn, 
unfounded.
    Comment (32): One reviewer noted that throughout the modeling 
process, means of the response variables (e.g., Table 8 of Dunk et al. 
2012a) should be accompanied by either standard errors or 95 percent 
confidence intervals. Otherwise, the reviewer states, it is difficult 
to determine how precise these estimates were, especially when 
comparing different scenarios.
    Our Response: We agree, and this was an oversight that we have 
corrected in the final version of our Modeling Supplement (Dunk et al. 
2012b).
    Comment (33): One reviewer thought more could have been done to 
evaluate uncertainty in the original habitat suitability models by 
running replicate samples in MaxEnt and then capturing the range of 
variation in resulting habitat designations.
    Our Response: Table C-19 in Appendix C of the Revised Recovery Plan 
for the Northern Spotted Owl (USFWS 2011) presents results from the 
cross-validation results, in terms of performance differences between 
models based on replicate samples. Those results showed that there was 
very little difference between the performance of the models when 
replicate samples were evaluated, giving us confidence in the 
generality of our model (that is, the model worked reliably well across 
a range of situations tested).
    Comment (34): One reviewer requested additional sensitivity 
analysis to quantify the influence of different parameter settings 
within HexSim on modeled population performance, which would have been 
particularly useful for evaluating the implications of scientific 
uncertainty.
    Our Response: We agree and in the final Modeling Supplement (Dunk 
et al. 2012b) we have incorporated the results of sensitivity analyses 
conducted on nine HexSim parameters.
    Comment (35): One reviewer noted that the original supplement on 
habitat modeling that accompanied our proposed rule (Dunk et al. 2012a) 
did not report measures of variance in the population estimates or 
pseudo-extinction thresholds used to compare habitat network scenarios. 
The reviewer noted that reporting standard errors or ranges of those 
population estimates would help in the comparison of the efficacy of 
different network designs.
    Our Response: Our failure to report measures of variation in 
population estimates was an oversight that we have corrected in the 
Modeling Supplement (Dunk et al. 2012b). The estimated extinction risk 
thresholds that we reported were the total number of simulations in 
which that threshold was exceeded (i.e., the population fell below the 
extinction threshold). It would not be appropriate to provide measures 
of variation around these. The measure itself is interpreted as the 
``probability of exceeding pseudo-extinction threshold X.''
    Comment (36): One reviewer noted that model results showed that the 
barred owl encounter rate can have a disproportionately large influence 
on persistence outcomes of the HexSim model. The reviewer states that 
the Service evaluated four barred owl scenarios (Dunk et al. 2012a), 
but none of these considered the more critical survival parameter and 
the major reductions in adult survival that barred owls generate in the 
model. Thus, the reviewer states that one is unable to assess the 
relative contributions of barred owl encounter rates versus barred owl 
survival reductions to persistence of simulated northern spotted owl 
populations.
    Our Response: In the northern spotted owl HexSim model we used, 
barred owls only affected northern spotted owl survival, not occupancy 
or reproduction. Thus, the impact of barred owls in HexSim results is 
only from their reduction of northern spotted owl survival. Based on 
advice we obtained from species experts, we limited barred owl impacts 
on northern spotted owls to survival alone. We did not simulate barred 
owl impacts on reproduction, territory establishment, site fidelity, or 
movement behavior. We also did not simulate barred owl predation on 
northern spotted owl nestlings. This recommendation (to simulate barred 
owl impacts only on northern spotted owl survival) was a reflection of 
limitations on rangewide data availability regarding these factors.
    Comment (37): One reviewer suggested that we allow the barred owl 
effect in the HexSim model to vary with resource acquisition class. For 
example, the barred owl effect on survival might be more severe when an 
owl is in the ``low'' resource class but incrementally reduced in the 
medium and high resource classes (i.e., as resources become less 
limiting so do the negative effects of competition with barred owls).
    Our Response: Resource acquisition classes are a component of the 
HexSim model. In the model, resources available to an owl are a 
function of the mean RHS value of habitat within its home range and 
fall into three categories: High, medium, or low (USFWS 2011, p. C-60). 
This is a good suggestion, and could potentially help refine the HexSim 
model for the northern spotted owl. It would not, however, improve the 
model's ability to identify those specific areas that contain the 
physical or biological features essential to the conservation of the 
northern spotted owl, or that are essential to the conservation of the 
species (section

[[Page 72000]]

3(5)(a) of the Act). The relative performance of various composite 
potential critical habitat networks would be unlikely to change if we 
were to change the analysis as the reviewer suggests, because the 
proposed change would affect all potential critical habitat networks in 
the same way. The relative performance of the habitat networks under 
consideration, which is what we were able to assess (as opposed to 
absolute outcomes), would therefore remain the same, and our ultimate 
determination of the critical habitat network that provides what is 
essential to the conservation of the northern spotted owl in the most 
efficient design would be unchanged.
    Comment (38): One reviewer suggested that modeling of habitat 
networks should incorporate more realistic encounter rates between 
northern spotted owls and barred owls, so that estimates of 
sustainability of northern spotted owl populations are not overly 
optimistic.
    Our Response: As we have noted in both the proposed rule and this 
rule, the designation of critical habitat is only one of many 
conservation actions that may contribute to the recovery of the 
northern spotted owl. The designation of critical habitat is intended 
to help address habitat-based threats to a listed species; it is not 
expected to independently lead to recovery absent other actions to 
ameliorate additional, non-habitat based threats. We are also bound, 
however, by the statutory definition of critical habitat, which 
requires that we identify those areas that provide the physical or 
biological features essential to the conservation of the species, or 
are otherwise essential (if not occupied at the time of listing). The 
task of identifying where on the landscape these essential areas lay 
was complicated by the barred owl, a non-habitat based threat. In some 
cases, the negative influence of the barred owl on the simulated 
performance of our modeled northern spotted owl populations completely 
masked the potential contribution of varying areas of relative habitat 
suitability, thus rendering it impossible to determine which specific 
areas provide the essential physical or biological features. Our HexSim 
modeling suggested that if barred owl encounter rates within each 
modeling region were to be maintained at their currently estimated 
rates (from Forsman et al. 2011), there was little variation in 
northern spotted owl population performance among any of the potential 
critical habitat networks (even doubling the size of the habitat 
network produced no discernible difference). The only avenue that 
allowed us to discriminate between potential networks and isolate and 
evaluate the contribution of specific areas of habitat that are 
essential to the conservation of the northern spotted owl, as directed 
by the statute, was to adjust the encounter rates with barred owls to 
some reasonable level, as might potentially be achieved through 
management actions. This harkens back to our statement earlier that we 
do not assume critical habitat will provide for the recovery of the 
species in a vacuum; rather, we must assume that other recovery actions 
will occur in coincidence with the protections provided by critical 
habitat. We assumed changes in barred owl encounter probabilities in 
our comparisons of potential critical habitat networks that, in our 
judgment, represented changes that could realistically be achieved with 
management aimed at reducing encounter rates (and without prescribing 
the nature of that management). In most cases, only relatively modest 
changes to the currently estimated encounter probabilities between 
barred owls and northern spotted owls were required to allow us to 
discern the underlying differences between varying habitat network 
designs, and to enable the identification of the specific areas 
essential to the conservation of the species. In fact, for Phase 2 and 
3 modeling (MaxEnt and HexSim; see Dunk et al. 2012b for details), we 
decreased barred owl encounter probabilities in only 3 of 11 modeling 
regions, and increased encounter probabilities in 8 of 11 modeling 
regions. The mean absolute value of change (from currently estimated 
encounter probabilities to what we assumed in Phases 2 and 3) among 
modeling regions was 0.081 (range = 0.005 (in the KLE) to 0.335 (in the 
OCR)). Our population performance results do not suggest that the 
habitat scenarios considered were overly optimistic in regard to 
sustainability of northern spotted owl populations (Dunk et al. 2012b).
    Comment (39): One reviewer suggested incorporating the relative 
probability of controlling barred owls as part of the designation of 
various critical habitat units. The reviewer noted that to be able to 
assess habitat factors in the modeling process, the barred owl effect 
had to be set below known values in selected areas, suggesting that 
these designated critical habitat units will not contribute to northern 
spotted owl conservation in the absence of barred owl control. The 
reviewer further stated that the apparent sensitivity of the HexSim 
model to the barred owl covariate indicates that barred owl management 
will be the overriding factor in the success of critical habitat being 
able to achieve the northern spotted owl recovery goals. The reviewer 
suggested that if the Service wants to capture uncertainty in this 
modeling exercise, the probability of controlling barred owl numbers 
should be factored into the modeling process based on logistical, 
ownership, and social factors.
    Our Response: We agree with the reviewer's suggestions in theory. 
However, we are unaware of currently available scientific information 
that would enable us to reliably estimate the influence of 
``logistical, ownership, and social factors'' on the probability of 
effective barred owl control across the range of the northern spotted 
owl (over 50 million ac (20 million ha)). Lacking any such specific 
data, such exercise would be arbitrary and speculative, and would 
likely introduce greater uncertainty into the modeling. We appreciate 
that the reviewer recognizes the sensitivity of the model to barred owl 
encounter rates, and the reason why we had to make slight adjustments 
to those rates in some areas to identify critical habitat for the 
northern spotted owl (see our response to Comment (38), above).
    Comment (40): One reviewer indicated that basing the demographic 
trends on the last meta-analysis (Forsman et al. 2011) is overly 
optimistic since these results are already badly outdated. The reviewer 
states that the last meta-analysis was conducted after the 2008 field 
season, with survival rates estimated through 2007 and realized rate of 
population change through 2006. The reviewer states that, according to 
personal communications with researchers in other demographic study 
areas, many of the study areas shown as stable in the 2008 meta-
analysis are now in precipitous decline due to rapid increases in 
barred owl populations. The reviewers suggests that, although it would 
only be qualitative, the Service could contact the leads from the 
various northern spotted owl demographic study areas to see if there 
have been substantial changes in barred owl versus northern spotted owl 
numbers.
    Our Response: This is a good point, and we heard similar comments 
from several field researchers and principal investigators of the 
northern spotted owl demographic studies. In Step 3 of the modeling 
process, we obtained the most recent annual reports from the 
demographic study areas and evaluated

[[Page 72001]]

the more recent estimates of barred owl densities, and included a 
scenario representing high barred owl densities such as those described 
in this comment. Because we used more recent estimates of barred owl 
encounter rates, spotted owl population trends simulated in HexSim 
showed a more rapid decline than that estimated in the recent meta-
analysis; this was especially evident in the Tyee demographic study 
area. We therefore believe that our modeling process incorporated the 
idea expressed in this comment.
    Comment (41): One reviewer indicated that bounding experiments with 
HexSim are needed to suggest the sort of spatial, temporal, and 
population controls that may be needed for the barred owls to create a 
high likelihood of success for critical habitat. The reviewer suggests 
the Service has thus far determined the barred owl encounter rates that 
were needed to achieve reasonably stable northern spotted owl 
population dynamics.
    Our Response: This is a good suggestion, but not necessary to 
identify lands meeting the definition of critical habitat. Because we 
evaluated northern spotted owl population performance across a gradient 
of barred owl encounter probabilities ranging from 0.0 to 0.7, our 
modeling already revealed that northern spotted owls are likely to do 
very poorly at high barred owl encounter probabilities. This provided a 
general understanding of the influence of various barred owl encounter 
rates and demonstrated the range of values (bounds) where population 
performance that met recovery criteria was possible. This is why we set 
0.375 as a ceiling to barred owl encounter probabilities. The 
reviewer's suggestion is more relevant to the specifics of potential 
barred owl control efforts, such as have been recommended by the 
Revised Recovery Plan on an experimental basis (USFWS 2011). The 
Service is currently considering such efforts and has published an 
environmental impact statement on experimental barred owl removal 
options. That is a separate recovery effort, however, is not connected 
to this rulemaking.
    Comment (42): Several reviewers expressed concern that the way that 
barred owl encounters were represented in the model as homogeneous 
probabilistic reductions in northern spotted owl survival may fail to 
capture important spatial patterns of interaction between the species 
within subregions, and it may overestimate (one reviewer) or 
underestimate (second reviewer) the negative impacts of barred owls on 
northern spotted owl population persistence. The reviewers suggested 
the uncertainty surrounding the specific impacts of barred owls, and 
the analysis in Appendix C of the Revised Recovery Plan for the 
Northern Spotted Owl further justify the need for an intensive barred 
owl removal experiment to understand the overall impact that barred 
owls are having on northern spotted owls.
    Our Response: This point is well taken by the Service. As the 
reviewer mentioned, ``empirical information required for a realistic 
representation of barred owl interaction effects across the range of 
the northern spotted owl is not available at this time.'' The Service 
did evaluate several different barred owl encounter probabilities, 
which largely differed among the 11 modeling regions, but were 
identical within modeling regions. The modeling framework we used is 
capable of including a spatially explicit barred owl effect, if such 
specific data should become available. Given the uncertainties about 
variation in barred owl impacts within modeling regions, it is possible 
that our modeling overestimated or underestimated negative barred owl 
impacts. However, because we used HexSim to compare relative population 
performance among alternative potential critical habitat networks, and 
used the best available estimates of barred owl effects, we believe the 
representation of barred owl impacts we used allowed us to accurately 
evaluate which networks, on a comparative basis, best met the 
objectives in our guiding principles for identifying lands meeting the 
definition of critical habitat for the northern spotted owl.
    Comment (43): One reviewer believed that the HexSim model was not 
an appropriate choice for this modeling process because the reviewer 
indicated it was overly complex, too individually based, and included 
variables where there was no, little, or very incomplete data, such as 
territory searching behavior, and floater dynamics, etc. In addition, 
the reviewer expressed skepticism that the modeling approach used would 
be repeatable, because of its complexity.
    Our Response: We disagree. We have articulated our rationale for 
using the HexSim model in Appendix C to the Revised Recovery Plan for 
the Northern Spotted Owl (USFWS 2011, pp. C-53-C-56) and again in our 
Modeling Supplement (Dunk et al. 2012b). We acknowledge that there are 
many possible approaches to identifying and evaluating alternative 
potential critical habitat networks. However, we contend that our 
approach represents the best available science and is appropriate for 
identifying areas meeting the definition of critical habitat because it 
enabled us to evaluate numerous possible networks of habitat and 
compare simulated population responses of northern spotted owls to 
environmental conditions in a spatially-explicit manner that enabled us 
to determine those areas that meet the definition of critical habitat 
for the species. Our approach is detailed in the section Criteria Used 
to Identify Critical Habitat, but in brief, the use of HexSim enabled 
us to evaluate which of the habitat scenarios under consideration had 
the greatest potential to meet the recovery objectives for the northern 
spotted owl, based on relative population performance.
    To identify the areas that meet the definition of critical habitat 
for the northern spotted owl, we elected to use a spatially explicit, 
individual-based modeling approach. We did so because we required an 
approach that enabled comparison of a wide range of spatially explicit 
conditions such as variation in habitat conservation networks. 
Individual-based models allow for the representation of ecological 
systems in a manner consistent with the way ecologists view such 
systems as operating. That is, emergent properties such as population 
increases or declines are the result of a series of effects and 
interactions operating at the scale of individuals. Individuals select 
habitat based on what is available to them, disperse as a function of 
their individual circumstance (age), compete for resources, etc.
    Grimm and Railsback (2005) noted that individual-based models need 
to be simple enough to be practical, but have enough resolution to 
capture essential structures and processes. We are fortunate to have a 
tremendous quantity and quality of data available for the northern 
spotted owl; the species is therefore ideally suited for a spatially-
explicit, individual-based model, such as HexSim. While not developed 
specifically for the northern spotted owl, HexSim (Schumaker 2011) was 
designed to simulate a population's response to changing on-the-ground 
conditions by considering how those conditions influence an organism's 
survival, reproduction, and ability to move around a landscape. We 
developed a HexSim spotted owl scenario based on the most up-to date 
demographic data available on spotted owls (Forsman et al. 2011), 
published information on spotted owl dispersal and home range sizes, as 
well as a variety of other parameters. Evaluation and calibration of 
the HexSim output included comparison with owl numbers in demographic 
study areas and

[[Page 72002]]

dispersal histograms. Based on our assessment of the model, we are 
confident it performs as intended, in terms of allowing us to reliably 
assess the relative performance of alternative habitat conservation 
networks. We further note that the majority of peer reviewers supported 
the modeling framework we applied in the identification of critical 
habitat for the northern spotted owl.

Comments on Active Forest Management

    Comment (44): Five peer reviewers and numerous public commenters 
indicated that active forest management should be conducted in areas 
that are not currently high value for northern spotted owls and in an 
adaptive management framework given the uncertainties regarding how 
such management practices will impact northern spotted owls and their 
prey.
    Our Response: The Service expects to support and design, in concert 
with the BLM, USFS, and researchers, scientific studies on the effects 
of ecological forestry projects in northern spotted owl critical 
habitat, to gain a better understanding of the short-term and long-term 
impacts of these silvicultural treatments on northern spotted owls, 
their prey and forest vegetative structure. We are currently designing 
and funding just such a study through Oregon State University for the 
pilot project in the Middle Applegate Watershed. We expect these types 
of research studies to inform the design of future ecological forestry 
projects within the range of the northern spotted owl.
    A key difference between using active adaptive forest management to 
evaluate risks associated with ecological forestry and the Service's 
ongoing efforts to address risks associated with expanding barred owl 
populations is that, for barred owls, a single experiment has the 
potential to address many of the most important uncertainties pertinent 
to future management, allowing the Service to define a schedule for 
progress. Addressing uncertainties about ecological forestry will 
likely require multiple research efforts, each tailored to specifics of 
different geographic areas and different ecological interactions. 
Collaboration among programs, similar to the collaboration supporting 
long-term demographic studies of northern spotted owls, will likely be 
needed to conduct adaptive management studies of habitat treatments. 
Integrative initiatives, such as the USFS's Collaborative Forest 
Landscape Restoration Program, may also play an important role. 
Adaptive management of ecological forestry techniques will take time, 
and will require continuation of the ongoing dialogue between 
researchers and forest management practitioners regarding how to 
simultaneously meet the goals of forest restoration and northern 
spotted owl conservation. Coordination among research projects also 
will be essential to generating reliable information about diverse 
interactions as efficiently as possible.
    Comment (45): One reviewer and a public comment suggested that the 
emphasis of management within northern spotted owl critical habitat 
should be on ecological restoration rather than ecological forestry.
    Our Response: In general, in northern spotted owl critical habitat, 
we would like to see land managers consider activities to restore and 
maintain northern spotted owl habitat and the natural ecological 
processes (e.g., fire regime, natural vegetational succession patterns, 
etc.) of the owl's forest ecosystems. However, we also recognize that 
ecological restoration, in and of itself, is often not the management 
goal of all lands included in critical habitat. This critical habitat 
rule does not dictate what land managers do on Federal State, or 
private lands. However, in areas where land managers are considering 
competing land management goals (e.g., northern spotted owl habitat 
conservation vs. commercial timber harvest), we encourage them to 
consider an ecological forestry approach to better meet the needs of 
the northern spotted owl, the goals of the land managers, and long-term 
forest health. As described in the Revised Recovery Plan for the 
Northern Spotted Owl (USFWS 2011), the field of ``ecological forestry'' 
is emerging as a dominant paradigm of forest management; related to 
this emergence are concepts such as ``natural disturbance emulation'' 
and ``retention forestry'' (see, e.g., Gustafsson et al. 2012, entire; 
Franklin et al. 2007, entire; Kuuluvainen and Grenfell 2012, entire; 
North and Keeton 2008; Long 2009, entire; Lindenmayer et al. 2012; 
entire). The Service believes that application of these ecological 
forestry goals and principles, including those generally described in 
Johnson and Franklin (2009, entire; 2012, entire), may result, in some 
situations, in fewer adverse impacts to northern spotted owl critical 
habitat when compared to application of traditional silviculture as 
currently applied or permitted on private, State, and Federal matrix 
lands.
    Comment (46): Several reviewers commented that studies have 
demonstrated negative effects of forest thinning on northern spotted 
owls and their prey, and expressed concern that negative effects of 
these practices may be further exacerbated by barred owls. These 
reviewers were uneasy with such types of activities occurring near owl 
territories, and recommended that if conducted, these actions be done 
at small scales and be subject to rigorous scientific scrutiny.
    Our Response: We are not recommending that commercial thinning or 
other treatments be conducted near active owl territories or in good 
quality owl habitat. We also encourage an active adaptive forest 
management approach to improve the understanding about effects of 
ecological forestry approaches on northern spotted owl, barred owls, 
and other species of concern.
    Comment (47): Three reviewers recommended that we give full 
consideration to recent publications of Hessburg et al. (2007) and 
Baker (2012) for guidance on how to restore and manage dry forests in 
the eastern Cascades.
    Our Response: Both this final critical habitat rule and the Revised 
Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl (USFWS 2011) cite Hessburg 
et al. (2007, p. 21), and we continue to recommend land managers 
consider their findings and recommendations regarding dry forest 
management within the range of the northern spotted owl. Since 
publication of the proposed critical habitat rule, we have reviewed 
Baker (2012, entire) as well as many other recently published studies 
addressing forest health and the risk of wildfire in the Pacific 
Northwest. We acknowledge some of the conclusions of Baker (2012, p. 
21) and Williams and Baker (2012, p. 9) that portions of the dry 
forests of the Pacific Northwest experienced high-severity fires as 
well as mixed and low-severity fires. However, we also acknowledge the 
conclusions of many other researchers that large areas within the range 
of the owl that once burned frequently with low-moderate intensity 
regimes are currently outside of historical conditions (cited below). A 
variety of management measures (e.g., prescribed fire, mechanical 
treatment, etc.) can be considered in such areas where the goal is to 
influence wildfires to reduce adverse impacts of climate change, manage 
forest carbon levels, reduce fire severity and retain desirable forest 
conditions (i.e., conserve older trees), or protect high-value wildlife 
habitats (including northern spotted owls), riparian areas, and 
biodiversity (Davis et al. 2012, entire; Stephens et al. 2009, p.310-
318; Stephens et al. 2012a, p. 12; Stephens et al. 2012b, entire; 
Chmura et al. 2012, p. 1134; Syphard et al. 2011,

[[Page 72003]]

p. 381; Safford et al. 2012, pp. 26-27; Roloff et al. 2012, pp. 7-9, 
Roberts et al. 2011, p. 617, Messier et al. 2012, pp. 67-70; Franklin 
et al. 2008, p. 46; Ager et al. 2007, pp. 53-55).
    Such management considerations are completely consistent with the 
intent of the NWFP (Standards and Guidelines, p. C-12--C-13). We 
continue to recommend that land managers carefully distinguish and 
target areas that are high priority for ecological restoration (e.g., 
Franklin et al. 2008, p. 46; Schoennagel and Nelson 2011, entire; Ager 
et al. 2012, p. 280), and that they also minimize short-term impacts to 
northern spotted owls to the greatest possible extent. We suggest using 
a process such as provided by Spies et al. (2012, entire) to help 
prioritize actions and consider tradeoffs such as northern spotted owl 
conservation, restoration of ecological conditions, and other land 
management goals. Given the wide geographic area of this critical 
habitat designation and the variety of landscape conditions and fire 
regimes, more precise planning and implementation should be done at the 
appropriate landscape scales such as the National Forest scale, 
consistent with the goals of the Northwest Forest Plan.
    Comment (48): One reviewer and a public comment recommended that 
the Johnson and Franklin (2009) ecological forestry framework should 
not be used because it is based on the wrong reference framework.
    Our Response: While we recognize that there is some scientific 
disagreement about the specific ecological forestry practices 
recommended by Drs. Johnson and Franklin,we believe the commenters may 
have misinterpreted our references to this unpublished report. First, 
Johnson and Franklin (2009) is only referenced three times in the final 
critical habitat rule: Once as a general reference for ecological 
forestry, once in relation to how active management is generally not 
necessary to maintain old growth conditions in moist forests, and again 
to highlight that alteration of fuel loads in moist forest could have 
undesirable ecological consequences and thus should be discouraged. 
Second, we continue to encourage forest land managers to consider the 
application of ecological forestry principles to their commercial 
timber harvest (see response to peer review question 4a-c, above), and 
we believe that application of these principles in many instances may 
result in better long-term ecological conditions for northern spotted 
owls and other forest wildlife when compared to the application of 
traditional silviculture methods. The methods presented by Johnson and 
Franklin (2009) are one example of how ecological forestry can be 
applied. We recognize that there are a variety of approaches, and the 
best management practices for any area are highly dependent on site-
specific conditions.
    Comment (49): One reviewer recommended a zoning process for 
determining where active management would be appropriate. Such a zoning 
process would include identification of areas where management is not 
needed or should be avoided, areas where future habitat could be 
enhanced by treatment, and areas where management is needed to meet 
broader landscape goals. In addition, monitoring and reporting of 
progress towards desired goals is essential if this strategy is to be 
successful.
    Our Response: The Service supports the concept of land managers 
identifying areas where active management would be appropriate on the 
lands under their jurisdiction. However, it is not appropriate for this 
critical habitat rule to attempt to do this; it should be done by land 
managers consistent with their planning procedures. As the reviewer 
also suggested, these details will need to be worked out at regional 
scales and planning levels (see response to peer review comment 4, 
above). Several examples of strategies for prioritizing landscapes for 
management treatment in eastern Washington include Davis et al. (2012, 
entire) and Franklin et al. (2008, pg. 46).
    Comment (50): One reviewer encouraged the Service to recognize the 
highly transient nature of grand fir on the eastern Cascades.
    Our Response: We have recognized this in the rule. While we did not 
explicitly identify all forest types in all regions, we have recognized 
the patchy and transient nature of east Cascades forests.
    Comment (51): One reviewer asked that we identify which (specific) 
ecological processes will be enhanced by management and how management 
will be coordinated across large landscapes.
    Our Response: We agree that additional guidance and coordination 
among management agencies would be helpful to coordinate landscape-
level planning; however, such guidance and coordination is beyond the 
scope of this rulemaking. To the extent possible we have provided 
additional detail regarding restoration and management of ecological 
processes in revisions to the following sections of this rule: An 
Ecosystem-based Approach to the Conservation of the Northern Spotted 
Owl and Managing Its Critical Habitat, Special Management 
Considerations or Protections, and Determination of Adverse Effects and 
Application of the ``Adverse Modification'' Standard.
    Comment (52): There were a number of general comments about 
analysis of fire risk and ecological benefits of contemporary fire 
regimes in dry and mixed-severity forests.
    Our Response: The issue of forest health and fire risk in the 
Pacific Northwest is complex, and there is a wide variety of legitimate 
scientific viewpoints on forest management in the face of uncertainty. 
Although some scientists do not believe management intervention is 
appropriate and advocate a mostly passive (i.e., hands-off) approach to 
forest ecosystem management, many others believe science-based 
intervention is necessary to restore and maintain important ecological 
processes and components of biodiversity, including the northern 
spotted owl.
    We agree with the majority of scientists who suggest that forest 
ecosystems at global, national, and regional levels are undergoing 
significant changes due to climate change and past management 
activities (Collins et al. 2012, pp. 8-12; Miller et al., 2012, p. 201; 
Miller et al., 2009, p. 28; Moritz et al. 2012, entire; Westerling et 
al. 2011, p. S459; Marlon et al. 2012, p. E541). Impacts from wildfire, 
changes in precipitation, insect and invasive weed outbreaks, and 
forest disease appear to be increasing when compared to historic 
patterns and are putting some components of native biodiversity at risk 
(Perry et al. 2011, p. 712). Although some researchers disagree on the 
magnitude of these changes and what to do about them (e.g., Hanson et 
al. 2009, p. 5; Baker 2012, p. 21; Williams and Baker 2012, p. 9; 
Dillon et al. pp. 18-20), our review of the recent scientific 
literature found that most researchers believe that changes in wildfire 
frequency, severity, and total burned area are occurring or are 
expected to varying degrees in the Pacific Northwest. Most of these 
researchers recommend consideration of certain types of active 
management responses to achieve goals such as increasing forest 
resilience to climate change, conserving extant biodiversity, and 
reducing wildfire severity (e.g., Stephens et al. 2009, pp. 316-318; 
Safford et al. 2012, pp. 26-27; Messier et al. 2012, p. 69; Hessburg et 
al. 2007, entire; Chmura et al. 2012, p. 1134; Stephens et al. 2012b, 
pp. 557-558; Fule et al. 2012, p. 76; Halofsky et al., pp. 15-16; 
Reinhardt et al. 2008, pp. 2003-2004; Heyerdahl et

[[Page 72004]]

al. 2008, p. 47; Latta et al. 2010; Littell et al. 2009, pp. 1018-1019, 
Littell et al. 2010, p. 154; Spies et al. 2010, entire). Several of 
these studies identify the potential for degraded ecological conditions 
and increased fire risk to affect northern spotted owls (Buchanan 2009, 
pp. 114-115; Healey et al. 2008, pp. 1117-1118; Roloff et al. 2012, pp. 
8-9; Ager et al. 2007, pp. 53-55; Ager et al. 2012, pp. 279-282; 
Franklin et al. 2009, p. 46; Kennedy and Wimberly 2009, pp. 564-565). 
We recommend that these issues related to active management in dry 
forests be considered by Federal land managers as they follow the 
direction on pages C-12 and C-13 of the Northwest Forest Plan Standards 
and Guidelines.
    Comment (53): One reviewer recommended that the Service prepare a 
draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) under NEPA with regard to 
active management in northern spotted owl critical habitat.
    Our Response: This rule revises the critical habitat designation 
for the northern spotted owl by identifying those specific areas that 
meet the definition of critical habitat for the species. It does not 
take any action or adopt any policy, plan, or program related to active 
forest management. The only effect of critical habitat is that Federal 
agencies must consult with the Service on their activities that may 
affect designated northern spotted owl critical habitat, and our 
discussion of active forest management is not intended in any way to 
prescribe or mandate the types of activities Federal agencies must 
submit for consultation. It is provided only for Federal, State, local, 
and private land managers to consider as they make decisions on the 
management of forest land under their jurisdictions and through their 
normal processes.
    Comment (54): One reviewer criticized the proposed rule for 
promoting ecological forestry for economic and political reasons rather 
than basing recommendations on sound science.
    Our Response: We disagree. We have included a discussion of 
ecological forestry principles because, in many instances, it may 
represent a reasonable and solid scientific approach to managing forest 
ecosystems where multiple--and sometimes competing--management goals 
need to be reconciled or accommodated (see, e.g., Gustafsson et al. 
2012, entire; Franklin et al. 2007, entire; Kuuluvainen and Grenfell 
2012, entire; North and Keeton 2008, entire; Long 2009, entire; 
Lindenmayer et al. 2012, entire). Our primary goal in this critical 
habitat designation is to identify the specific areas that meet the 
definition of critical habitat for the northern spotted owl. In 
addition, we identify those types of measures that promote the 
conservation of critical habitat, identify special management measures 
that may be needed within critical habitat, and identify activities 
that may affect or adversely modify critical habitat. Our overall 
emphasis in this designation is clearly on the maintenance and 
restoration of northern spotted owl habitat, but we also provide 
general guidance for consideration by land managers on what types of 
activities may affect northern spotted owl habitat and how to minimize 
the adverse impacts of those activities. Reference to the principles of 
ecological forestry as a suggestion for land managers to consider is a 
scientifically appropriate way to help achieve this goal, and is 
consistent with the recommendations of the Revised Recovery Plan for 
the Northern Spotted Owl (USFWS 2011), as well as the Standards and 
Guidelines of the NWFP (e.g., USDA and USDI 1994, p. A-1, Standards and 
Guidelines, pp. C-12, C-13).
    Comment (55): A number of reviewers submitted line-specific edits 
and revisions.
    Our Response: These revisions have been made to the text, where 
appropriate.

Comments From Federal Agencies

    Comment (56): The USFS and several public commenters supported the 
inclusion of congressionally reserved areas including Wilderness Areas, 
National Parks, and similar lands for a variety of reasons, including 
accurately reflecting the area contributing toward recovery, 
highlighting the conservation value and role of this minimally managed 
habitat, and to encourage barred owl and other needed management 
activities.
    Our Response: National parks, wilderness areas, and similar lands 
provide large areas of high-quality habitat for the northern spotted 
owl. All congressionally reserved lands (e.g., wilderness areas, 
national parks) proposed for designation have been excluded in this 
final designation of critical habitat. We agree that such areas play an 
important role in the conservation of the northern spotted owl under 
their current management. However, their current conservation value is 
so great that we could not find any minimal benefits of including them 
in that outweighed the relatively minor administrative costs of 
including them in critical habitat, therefore the benefits of excluding 
them outweighed the benefits of including them. In addition, exclusion 
of these lands will have no negative conservation impact on their 
future management and they will continue to function as intended for 
spotted owl recovery.
    Comment (57): The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and several 
public commenters identified specific concerns with the proposed 
critical habitat maps, including revisions to land ownership or 
management on both public and private land, and questions regarding the 
mapping scale and resolution. Several commenters submitted revised or 
corrected maps for the Service to consider in developing the final 
rule.
    Our Response: We thank the commenters for the information provided. 
We have replaced the NWFP ownership designations used on the proposed 
critical habitat map with an updated BLM ownership map to correct many 
errors. In cases where mapping errors may have been made in our 
proposed critical habitat, such errors were corrected.
    Comment (58): The BLM requested we provide maximum clarity with 
regard to the Act's section 7 consultation process in an effort to 
reduce the cost and burden of the consultation process.
    Our Response: We have provided background and information to help 
the Federal action agencies assess whether their projects ``may 
affect'' proposed northern spotted owl critical habitat, the standard 
to determine whether consultation is required. If further clarification 
is needed, the Service is glad to provide action agencies with 
technical assistance to help determine whether or not their proposed 
action has the potential to affect critical habitat.
    Comment (59): The BLM requested additional clarification about how 
the proposed critical habitat sought to ``ensure sufficient spatial 
redundancy in Critical Habitat within each recovery unit,'' and the 
purpose and expectations for these inclusions.
    Our Response: In the development of habitat conservation networks, 
the intent of spatial redundancy is to increase the likelihood that the 
network and populations can sustain habitat losses by inclusion of 
multiple populations unlikely to be affected by a single disturbance 
event. This is essential to the conservation of the northern spotted 
owl because disturbance events such as fire can potentially remove 
large areas of habitat with negative consequences for northern spotted 
owls. Redundancy provides a type of ``emergency back-up'' system to 
sustain populations in the wake of such events. While the modeling and

[[Page 72005]]

evaluation process used by the Service did not formally analyze 
redundancy, we incorporated spatial redundancy at two scales: By (1) 
making critical habitat subunits large enough to support multiple 
groups of owl sites; and (2) distributing multiple critical habitat 
subunits within a single geographic region. This was particularly the 
case in the fire-prone Klamath and Eastern Cascades portions of the 
range.
    Comment (60): The BLM provided additional data and mapping layers 
as well as an alternative approach for designating critical habitat on 
public lands.
    Our Response: Through a series of meetings and work sessions, the 
Service has reviewed the materials provided by the BLM, and we 
evaluated and incorporated many of their suggested changes, where 
appropriate and consistent with our criteria for identifying critical 
habitat, in developing the final critical habitat designation. Based on 
BLM's suggestions, we removed relatively small areas of lower quality 
habitat that had been included in proposed critical habitat and added 
in relatively small areas of high-quality habitat that improved 
connectivity or created larger habitat blocks.

Comments From State Agencies

    Comment (61): Washington DFW requested that the rule clarify the 
extent to which management actions with short-term negative impacts to 
northern spotted owl habitat is consistent with the recovery needs of 
the northern spotted owl, particularly in areas of Washington State 
where northern spotted owl populations are greatly depressed.
    Our Response: Each situation should be considered on a case-by-case 
basis, but, generally, actions that have short-term negative impacts 
may be consistent with the recovery needs of northern spotted owl when 
the intent of the action is (1) to improve long-term conditions for the 
species or (2) to improve the overall condition of the ecosystem. It 
could be argued either that where populations are greatly depressed 
there is more need for these actions or, conversely, that there is less 
flexibility to conduct these actions depending on the specifics of the 
action and the habitat needs of the owl in that area. These are issues 
that must be addressed in consultation and through the level one team 
process; assessing that level of detail is beyond the scope of this 
rulemaking. We have revised the rule (see section: An Ecosystem-based 
Approach to the Conservation of the Northern Spotted Owl and Managing 
Its Critical Habitat) to provide additional suggestions regarding what 
management actions may benefit northern spotted owls and what actions 
are unlikely to do so. Additional guidance is available in the Revised 
Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl (USFWS 2011).
    Comment (62): The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife 
supported a coordinated and strategic management plan for dry forest 
landscapes and expressed a need for the critical habitat rule to 
consider coordination to implement effective management, reduce 
conflict, and explore the possibility of Federal funding for landscape 
strategies.
    Our Response: The landscape assessment approach for the East 
Cascades provides the best basis for development of strategies to 
manage dry forest landscapes. Products of the landscape assessment can 
be used to describe the rationale for management actions. The Service 
is available to work with land managers to assist in the development 
and implementation of landscape assessments, but this rule does not 
mandate any specific management within the critical habitat network, 
which would be beyond the scope of this rulemaking.
    Comment (63): Several State and public commenters disagreed with 
the need to include private lands (and in some cases State lands) in 
the final rule for a variety of reasons. The commenters did not provide 
specific information on any particular lands, but provided general 
reasons that they thought the broad categories of private and State 
lands should be excluded from the final designation, including concerns 
of economic issues, uncertainty, private land stewardship, added 
regulatory burdens (including a disproportionate burden on small 
landowners), reduction in land value, State land overlays, consistency 
with existing laws and policy, potential disincentives for conservation 
or negative impacts to habitat, the need to maintain partnerships with 
landowners, the need to develop incentives for conservation 
partnerships, the need to compensate for lack of land use, the need to 
focus protections on public lands, the lack of notification of private 
landowners by the Service about the proposed rule, concern that 
designation penalizes landowners who have retained suitable habitat, 
and a lack of need for or benefits from additional protections. One 
commenter suggested that Congress intended the Federal agencies to 
acquire any private or State lands that are designated as critical 
habitat.
    Our Response: We recognize that the greatest benefit of critical 
habitat may be realized on actively-managed Federal lands, since the 
regulatory effect of critical habitat is the requirement that Federal 
agencies ensure that any actions that they carry out, fund, or 
authorize do not destroy or adversely modify designated critical 
habitat. In addition, Federal agencies have a mandate under section 
7(a)(1) of the Act to carry out programs for the conservation of 
endangered species and threatened species. For these reasons, we looked 
first to Federal lands for the critical habitat essential to the 
conservation of the northern spotted owl, as described in the section 
Criteria Used to Identify Critical Habitat and supporting methodology 
(Dunk et al. 2012b).
    Section 3(5)(A) of the Act states that critical habitat is defined 
as (1) the specific areas within the geographical area occupied by the 
species at the time it was listed that provide the physical or 
biological features essential to the conservation of the species and 
which may require special management considerations or protection; and 
(2) specific areas outside the geographical area occupied by the 
species at the time it was listed, upon a determination by the 
Secretary that such areas are essential for the conservation of the 
species. Further, section 4(b)(2) of the Act mandates that such 
determinations shall be made on the basis of the best scientific data 
available and after taking into consideration the economic impact, the 
impact on national security, and any other relevant impact, of 
specifying any particular area as critical habitat.
    The language of the Act does not restrict the designation of 
critical habitat to specific land ownership such as Federal lands; 
thus, lands of all ownerships are considered if they meet the 
definition of critical habitat. Areas may be excluded from the final 
designation if the Secretary finds that the benefits of exclusion 
outweigh the benefits of inclusion under section 4(b)(2) of the Act, or 
if we determine, based on public comment or other information received 
following the issuance of the proposed rule, that such areas do not 
meet the definition of critical habitat (for example, areas that were 
occupied at the time of listing but do not provide the essential 
physical or biological features, or areas that may not have been 
occupied at the time of listing and were proposed for designation, but 
are not essential to the conservation of the species).
    As described in the proposed rule (March 8, 2012; 77 FR 14076, p. 
14099), we evaluated critical habitat scenarios that prioritized 
Federal lands first as well as scenarios without regard to land 
ownership in determining what is

[[Page 72006]]

essential to the northern spotted owl. In all cases, if the scenarios 
under consideration provided equal contribution to recovery, we chose 
the scenario that prioritized publicly owned lands. State and private 
lands were included only if they were essential to the conservation of 
the species (i.e., were determined to have been occupied at the time of 
listing and contain the physical or biological features essential to 
northern spotted owl conservation or may have been unoccupied at the 
time of listing but are essential to the conservation of the owl). 
However, based on information received during the public comment 
period, in several cases we refined the critical habitat boundaries to 
remove areas of private lands that we determined do not meet the 
criteria and therefore do not meet the definition of critical habitat. 
In other instances, the Secretary has chosen to exert his discretion to 
exclude lands, including private lands, based on a careful weighing and 
balancing of the benefits of inclusion versus the benefits of 
exclusion, as provided in section 4(b)(2) of the Act, including 
consideration of conservation agreements, such as HCPs or SHAs, and the 
Service's desire to support existing and effective State conservation 
programs (see Exclusions). However, such exclusion does not indicate 
that these areas are not essential for the conservation of the species, 
only that the benefits of exclusion outweigh those of inclusion.
    We retained some State-owned lands in all three states included in 
this critical habitat designation. In general we retained these lands 
because we found they provided essential contributions to the 
conservation of spotted owls, especially in terms of complementing the 
distribution of habitat on Federal lands or filling gaps in Federal 
ownership. We also found that the benefits of inclusion associated with 
public education and raising State and local agency awareness of the 
conservation needs of spotted owls outweighed anticipated minor 
increases in regulatory requirements, when Federal involvement 
occurred. See Changes from the Proposed Rule for more information on 
State lands retained in the final critical habitat designation.
    The Service does not compensate private or State landowners for 
perceived limitations on land use associated with critical habitat 
designation. Designation of private or other non-Federal lands as 
critical habitat has no regulatory impact on the use of that land 
unless there is Federal involvement in proposed management activities. 
Identifying non-Federal lands that are essential to the conservation of 
a species alerts State and local government agencies and private 
landowners to the value of habitat on their lands, and may promote 
conservation partnerships. There is no indication that Congress 
intended the Service to acquire all private and State property that is 
essential to the conservation of listed species and designated as 
critical habitat.
    We provided advance public notice of the proposed rule to revise 
critical habitat for the northern spotted owl through several avenues. 
Notice was provided with publication of the proposed rule in the 
Federal Register on March 8, 2012 (77 FR 14062) as well as through 
numerous local press releases at that time. In addition, notice of 
public information meetings in each of the three States affected by the 
proposed rule, as well as a public hearing, was published in the 
Federal Register on May 8, 2012 (77 FR 27010) and again on June 1, 2012 
(77 FR 32483); the meetings and hearing were also announced in 
newspapers of local circulation in the affected areas.
    Comment (64): Numerous commenters (State and public) requested that 
the final rule exclude lands already covered by conservation 
agreements, such as habitat conservation plans and safe harbor 
agreements, for a variety of reasons, including concerns about 
additional or duplicative Federal overlays and regulatory burdens, a 
lack of need for inclusion, policy consistency, the potential for 
designation to jeopardize existing agreements or remove incentives for 
additional conservation, and a recognition of the past conservation 
benefits of these voluntary agreements. In addition, it is argued that 
there is no need for an additional Federal overlay on lands that 
already have conservation designations or governing regulations such as 
parks, wilderness areas, HCPs, SHAs, and State forest practices rules.
    Our Response: Please see our response to Comment (63), above. As 
described, we individually evaluated each conservation agreement in 
place within the proposed critical habitat designation, including State 
and private lands with HCPs, SHAs, conservation easements, or other 
established conservation partnerships. Following a careful weighing of 
the benefits of exclusion versus inclusion, the Secretary has chosen to 
exert his discretion to exclude lands covered by such agreements. In 
addition, the Secretary has chosen to exclude all congressionally-
reserved natural areas (wilderness areas, national parks), State parks, 
and private lands from the final designation. Please see the Exclusions 
section of this document for details of the analyses that led to the 
exclusion of these areas from the final designation.
    Comment (65): Numerous State commenters (CALFIRE, Oregon Department 
of Forestry, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Washington 
Department of Natural Resources), Federal (USFS, BLM), and public 
commenters disagreed with the need to include public lands including 
Federal lands (e.g., ``matrix'' land, adaptive management areas, 
experimental forests, O&C Lands, and congressionally reserved 
wilderness areas, national scenic areas, and national parks), State 
lands (e.g., State parks, State forests, State forest trust lands), and 
county lands in the final rule for a variety of reasons, including 
additional and redundant regulatory burdens and requirements, economic 
and social impacts, potential inconsistency with existing laws and 
policy, existing protections, a lack of additional conservation 
benefits, limits on research or needed management activities (e.g., 
fuel reduction, restoration, or insect control), mapping errors, 
insufficient justification supporting inclusion, and potential 
disincentives for preserving habitat.
    On the other hand, numerous commenters (both from other State 
agencies, as well as the public) supported the inclusion of public 
lands including Federal lands, State lands, tribal lands, and county 
lands for a variety of reasons, highlighting the conservation the value 
of this habitat, consistency with the best available science, the need 
for increased protections in some lands, and the realization there 
would be limited to no impacts to management.
    Our Response: The critical habitat designation includes those lands 
that meet the definition of critical habitat in the Act, and which the 
Service has determined are essential to provide for the conservation of 
the northern spotted owl. In designating these lands, we have further 
considered their ownership, management, contribution to northern 
spotted owl conservation, existing protections, economic impacts, and 
other relevant factors, and determined it is appropriate and necessary 
to include them in the final critical habitat network to best ensure 
successful northern spotted owl conservation.
    Where possible we prioritized the inclusion of Federal lands over 
other land ownerships, but where Federal lands were sparse or 
nonexistent we incorporated other ownerships in order

[[Page 72007]]

to design and designate an effective critical habitat network. As noted 
in our response to Comment 64, in cases where our analysis of the 
benefits of exclusion outweighed those of inclusion, such as when 
conservation agreements and partnerships have been developed with the 
Service, we have excluded State or other public lands from the final 
designation (see Exclusions).
    Our proposed rule (77 FR 10462; March 8, 2012) identified several 
different possible outcomes of that proposed revision, depending on 
various areas considered for exclusion. Among the exclusions of public 
lands under consideration were all congressionally-reserved natural 
areas and all State lands. Of the congressionally-reserved natural 
areas under consideration, we have excluded all congressionally-
reserved natural areas and State Parks from this final designation (see 
Exclusions). In addition, private lands were also excluded, following a 
careful analysis of the benefits of inclusion versus exclusion. In 
other cases, lands were retained in the final designation for a variety 
of reasons; for lands that were considered or proposed for exclusion, 
but not excluded in this final designation, those decisions are 
described in the section Changes from the Proposed Rule.
    We recognize the concern over the inclusion of certain Federal 
lands in the designation of critical habitat for the northern spotted 
owl, and particularly of lands in the matrix land use allocation or the 
O&C lands. As described in the section Criteria Used to Identify 
Critical Habitat and elsewhere in this rule, we looked to Federal lands 
first for the conservation of the northern spotted owl, in part because 
Federal agencies have a statutory mandate to contribute to the 
conservation of listed species. Secondly, because the protections of 
critical habitat are triggered only in the case of a Federal nexus, 
those protections are always in place on Federal lands; thus the 
benefit of including Federal lands in critical habitat can potentially 
be significant. Finally, we only included lands in the designation if 
they meet the definition of critical habitat; that is, if they play a 
truly essential role in the conservation of the species. In some areas, 
for example the O&C lands, our modeling results indicated that those 
Federal lands make a significant contribution toward meeting the 
conservation objectives for the northern spotted owl in that region, 
and that we cannot attain recovery without them. Likewise, in addition 
to our modeling results, peer review of both the Revised Recovery Plan 
for the Northern Spotted Owl (USFWS 2011) as well as our proposed rule 
to revise critical habitat, suggested that retention of high quality 
habitat in the matrix is essential for the conservation of the species. 
Population performance based on reserves under the NWFP, for example, 
fared very poorly compared to this final designation of critical 
habitat. As described in the section Changes from the Proposed Rule, we 
tested possible habitat networks without many of these matrix lands, 
which resulted in a significant increase in the risk of extinction for 
the northern spotted owl.
    Similarly, for the reasons outlined above, we have retained 
experimental forests on Forest Service lands in critical habitat. This 
designation includes areas within seven Forest Service experimental 
forests: H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest, Pringle Falls Experimental 
Forest, South Umpqua Experimental Forest, and Cascade Head Experimental 
Forest in Oregon; Wind River Experimental Forest and Entiat 
Experimental Forest in Washington; and Yurok Redwood Experimental 
Forest in California. Three of these seven experimental forests are 
already included in the 2008 critical habitat designation. Our 
evaluation of these seven experimental forests demonstrates that these 
areas contain high value occupied habitat for northern spotted owls 
within their borders. In many cases, the habitat in these experimental 
forests represents essentially an island of high value habitat in a 
larger landscape of relatively low value habitat; this is especially 
true in the Coast Range, a region where peer reviewers particularly 
noted a need for greater connectivity and preservation of any remaining 
high quality habitat. These considerations, in conjunction with the 
inherent benefits of critical habitat on Federal lands, described 
above, lead us to conclude that there are significant benefits to the 
inclusion of these experimental forests in critical habitat. As 
discussed earlier in this document, we recognize the valuable role of 
these experimental forests, and we encourage continued research and 
adaptive management on these forests. All of these forests are occupied 
by the northern spotted owl and we are already consulting with the 
Forest Service in these areas under the jeopardy standard. The 
incremental impact of critical habitat is therefore limited to the cost 
of consultation for the additional adverse modification analysis and 
any potential project modifications to avoid adverse modification or 
destruction, if needed; we did not consider the benefit of avoiding 
these costs through exclusion to outweigh the benefits of inclusion for 
these areas. As noted in this document, we fully support the research 
activities in these experimental forests and intend to continue working 
cooperatively with the Forest Service to ensure the successful 
continuation of their scientific mission in these areas.
    In sum, the best scientific information available indicates that 
the Federal lands we have included in this final designation are 
essential to the conservation of the species, and we have retained such 
areas in the final designation.
    Comment (66): Several State and public commenters noted that the 
northern spotted owl critical habitat designation includes areas of 
younger forest that may not include the PCEs, and questioned whether 
this was an artifact of the modeling process or an intentional 
inclusion of lands for the future development of PCEs and expansion of 
the northern spotted owl population, as stated in the rule.
    Our Response: The essential conservation goal of the critical 
habitat network is to provide for a stable or increasing northern 
spotted owl population trend, which we determine will result from, in 
part, the retention of existing high-value habitat and the development 
of additional habitat to support more northern spotted owls than 
currently exist. Some areas of younger forest that do not currently 
contain all of the PCEs are essential for this purpose. In such cases, 
we evaluated these areas as if they were unoccupied at the time of 
listing, and included them in the designation only if we determined 
that they are essential to the conservation of the species.
    Comment (67): Several commenters (State and public) identified 
specific concerns with the proposed critical habitat maps, including 
revisions to land ownership or management on both public and private 
land, noting the inadvertent inclusion of some lands that did not meet 
the definition of critical habitat and questions regarding the mapping 
scale and resolution. Several commenters submitted revised or corrected 
maps for the Service to consider in developing the final rule.
    Our Response: We thank the commenters for the information provided. 
Numerous edits and changes were made to the maps in the final rule, 
where appropriate, including assessment of specific lands identified to 
determine whether they met the definition of critical habitat. For 
example, in the State of Washington, we determined that many small 
woodlot

[[Page 72008]]

owners possess lands that do not provide the PCEs for the northern 
spotted owl, or that the lands initially identified in the proposed 
rule are too fragmented or isolated to be essential to the conservation 
of the species (see Comment (107)); such lands were removed from the 
final designation because they do not meet the definition of critical 
habitat. In several cases, landowners contacted us and asked for the 
exclusion of their lands, but we determined that those landowners were 
not included in the proposed critical habitat. In some cases, changes 
have been addressed narratively (e.g., the clarification that no 
private lands in Oregon met the definition of critical habitat and, 
therefore, were not included in the proposed rule and are not included 
in the final designation). In cases where mapping errors may have been 
made in our proposed critical habitat, such errors were corrected.
    Comment (68): Several State, Federal (USFS and BLM), and public 
commenters requested clarification on the implementation of, or 
modification of, the 500-ac (200-ha) circle we recommended for 
assessing the effects of an action to critical habitat.
    Our Response: Based on both public and agency comment and requests 
for clarification, the final rule does not identify the 500-acre (200-
ha) circle as a recommended scale for determining the effects of an 
action, but does reference it as a potentially useful scale that could 
be used in the section 7consultation process. How to best apply it, or 
other potential scales, will be determined during the consultation 
process initiated by Federal action agencies proposing projects that 
may affect areas designated as critical habitat by this rule.
    Comment (69): Several State and public commenters questioned the 
relationship of the impact of barred owl competition on the northern 
spotted owls, and amount of habitat needed in the critical habitat 
designation and whether recovery can be achieved without addressing the 
impacts of the barred owl. Some of these commenters believe barred owl 
management should occur prior to designation of additional critical 
habitat areas.
    Our Response: The survival of northern spotted owls depends in 
large part on the protection of habitat. This protection remains 
crucial to the recovery of the northern spotted owl regardless of 
whether barred owls are present or not. However, given that barred owls 
and northern spotted owls are now occupying similar habitats, it is 
essential to maintain sufficient habitat that meets the needs of 
northern spotted owls. The extent to which northern spotted owls 
persist (sometimes undetected) on areas with high barred owl densities 
is unclear; however, with a second species competing for similar 
habitat, providing more of that habitat is predicted to increase the 
ability for northern spotted owls to persist in the presence of barred 
owls. We identified critical habitat for the northern spotted owl with 
this essential need in mind. The potential management of barred owls is 
beyond the scope of this rulemaking, which is limited to the 
identification of critical habitat for the northern spotted owl. If 
management of barred owls is implemented and assessed, as is currently 
occurring under a separate process, the Service may reconsider this 
critical habitat designation and revise as appropriate.
    Comment (70): Two comments suggested the definition of northern 
spotted owl habitat and patterns of habitat use were inadequate.
    Our Response: Northern Spotted owls require areas that are 
primarily closed canopy with sufficient roost sites and small mammal 
populations to provide prey. Descriptions of these habitats vary across 
the range of the species, beyond the simple categories of moist and dry 
forest, making a specific definition at the landscape scale 
problematic. In developing the final critical habitat designation for 
the species, we have provided what we believe are the most specific and 
useful descriptions of the PCEs for northern spotted owls possible, 
based on the best scientific information available at this time. We 
have and will continue to seek new, more detailed information on 
habitat use over time.
    Comment (71): A number of comments (State and public) encouraged an 
ecosystem approach to land management.
    Our Response: The designation of critical habitat for the northern 
spotted owl is consistent with the NWFP and the Revised Recovery Plan 
for the Northern Spotted Owl (USFWS 2011), both of which take an 
ecosystem approach to management and recovery actions. The requirement 
of any such management approach, however, is beyond the scope of this 
rulemaking, which is limited to the identification of critical habitat 
for the northern spotted owl.
    Comment (72): Several comments (State and public) suggested 
approaches that provide incentives for landowners to conserve habitat.
    Our Response: The Service administers several programs promoting 
incentive-based conservation efforts on non-Federal land (e.g., Safe 
Harbor Agreements, Habitat Conservation Plans, and Partners for Fish 
and Wildlife agreements). We highly encourage landowners to explore 
opportunities to participate in these and other conservation programs.
    Comment (73): The Washington Department of Natural Resources 
suggested the Service better align designated critical habitat with the 
agency's management objectives, to more efficiently manage for northern 
spotted owl conservation.
    Our Response: California, Oregon, and Washington have their own 
natural resource management paradigms; we intend to work with each 
State within the context of their management objectives to protect 
northern spotted owl critical habitat and work together toward the 
recovery of the species.

County Comments

    Comment (74): Jefferson County, Washington, requested that we apply 
critical habitat protections to a considerable amount of owl habitat, 
and suggested considering additional habitat designations between the 
Olympics and the Cascade Mountains, in order to increase connectivity 
and ensure owl recovery.
    Our Response: In our process of identifying areas that meet the 
definition of critical habitat for the northern spotted owl, we 
identified a critical habitat network that provides the essential life-
history functions for the northern spotted owl, including demographic 
support and connectivity between populations. Our modeling results 
indicate the spatial extent of the critical habitat designation 
throughout the range, including between the Olympic Peninsula and the 
Western Cascades in Washington is sufficient to meet essential recovery 
requirements. Other areas outside the designation, such as those 
suggested by the county, do not meet the definition of critical habitat 
because they are not essential to the conservation of the species, even 
though we agree with the county that these lands are important and will 
increase connectivity.
    Comment (75): Wasco County, Oregon, commented that it was in the 
interest of the community to minimize regulatory burdens from 
designated critical habitat.
    Our Response: We recognize that the designation of critical habitat 
is often perceived as a potential regulatory burden. However, we wish 
to reiterate that the regulatory effect of critical habitat is the 
requirement for Federal agencies to consult with the Service on actions 
they carry out, fund, or authorize that may affect the designated 
critical habitat of threatened species or

[[Page 72009]]

endangered species. Critical habitat does not directly impose 
regulatory restrictions on State land managers or on private landowners 
where there is no such Federal nexus. We do not believe the designation 
of critical habitat will result in a significant regulatory burden on 
Federal land activities because of (1) the cooperative nature of our 
consultation process under the Act with the Forest Service and BLM, and 
(2) because of the existing requirement that these agencies have to 
consult on the effects of proposed actions on northern spotted owls. 
Our approach was to design a critical habitat network that provides for 
essential northern spotted owl recovery needs but designate as small an 
area as possible, and to rely primarily on public lands. We have 
excluded all congressionally-reserved natural areas (wilderness areas, 
national parks), State parks, and private lands from this final 
designation of critical habitat.
    Comment (76): Del Norte County, California, expressed concern that 
the proposed critical habitat designation will create a regulatory 
hurdle that will impede the construction of vital infrastructure 
projects (roads, bridges, power lines, and other utilities).
    Our Response: Chapter 7 of the DEA discusses the potential economic 
impacts to road and bridge construction and maintenance, and 
installation and maintenance of power transmission lines and other 
utility pipelines. The analysis concludes that all potential 
conservation efforts associated with linear projects are expected to 
result from the presence of the northern spotted owl, not the 
designation of critical habitat, and are thus considered baseline 
impacts (see paragraphs 315 through 320 of the DEA). Incremental costs 
attributable to critical habitat are limited to the administrative 
costs of additional staff time spent by Federal agency staff and the 
Service to include critical habitat effects analyses in the section 7 
consultation on these projects. Therefore, we do not believe that the 
designation of critical habitat for the northern spotted owl will 
result in significant regulatory burden to these projects.
    Comment (77): Del Norte County, California; Wasco County, Oregon; 
and Klickitat and Skamania Counties, Washington, requested exclusion of 
all lands including Federal, State, and private lands within these 
counties in the final rule. They expressed concern regarding economic 
issues, a lack of appropriate northern spotted owl habitat within the 
counties, a lack of evidence that including these lands would actually 
help the species recover or avoid extinction, and a lack of need for or 
benefits from additional protections due to existing standards and 
guidelines.
    Our Response: The critical habitat designation includes those lands 
the Service determined are essential to provide for the conservation of 
the northern spotted owl through a state-of-the-art modeling process 
that incorporated the latest expert knowledge on the habitat needs of 
northern spotted owls. In designating these lands we have considered 
their ownership, management, contribution to northern spotted owl 
conservation, existing protections, economic impacts, etc., and 
determined it is appropriate and necessary to include them in the final 
critical habitat network to best ensure successful northern spotted owl 
conservation. Each of these counties contains habitat that supports 
northern spotted owl populations that are essential to the conservation 
of the species.
    We recognize that the greatest benefit of critical habitat is 
realized on Federal lands since the regulatory effect of critical 
habitat is the requirement that Federal agencies ensure that any 
actions that they carry out, fund, or authorize do not destroy or 
adversely affect designated critical habitat. In addition, Federal 
agencies have a mandate under section 7(a)(1) of the Act to carry out 
programs for the conservation of endangered species and threatened 
species. For these reasons, we looked first to Federal lands for the 
critical habitat essential to the conservation of the northern spotted 
owl, as described in Criteria Used to Identify Critical Habitat, above, 
and supporting methodology (Dunk et al. 2012b).
    Section 3(5)(A) of the Act states that critical habitat is defined 
as (1) the specific areas within the geographical area occupied by the 
species at the time it was listed that contain the physical or 
biological features essential to the conservation of the species and 
which may require special management considerations or protection; and 
(2) specific areas outside the geographical area occupied by the 
species at the time it was listed, upon a determination by the 
Secretary that such areas are essential for the conservation of the 
species. Further, section 4(b)(2) of the Act mandates that such 
determinations shall be made on the basis of the best scientific data 
available and after taking into consideration the economic impact, the 
impact on national security, and any other relevant impact of 
specifying any particular area as critical habitat.
    The language of the Act does not restrict the designation of 
critical habitat to specific land ownership such as Federal lands; 
thus, lands of all ownerships are considered if they satisfy the 
scientific criteria indicating that they meet the definition of 
critical habitat for the specific species. Areas may be removed from 
the final designation should the Secretary exercise his discretion to 
exclude such areas subsequent to a weighing of the benefits of 
exclusion versus inclusion under section 4(b)(2), or if we should 
determine, based on public comment or other information received 
following the issuance of the proposed rule, that such areas do not 
meet the definition of critical habitat (for example, areas that were 
occupied at the time of listing but do not provide the essential 
physical or biological features, or areas that may not have been 
occupied at the time of listing and were proposed for designation, but 
are not essential to the conservation of the species).
    As described in the proposed rule (March 8, 2012; 77 FR 14076, p. 
14099), we evaluated critical habitat scenarios that prioritized 
Federal lands first as well as scenarios without regard to 
landownership. In all cases, if the scenarios under consideration 
provided equal contribution to recovery, we chose the scenario that 
prioritized publicly owned lands. State and private lands were included 
only if they were essential to achieve conservation of the species 
after considering the contribution of Federal lands. Based on 
information received during the public comment period, in several cases 
we refined the critical habitat boundaries to remove areas of private 
lands that do not meet our criteria for critical habitat (for example, 
new information indicating that the areas in question lack the PCEs, 
due to recent timber harvest, stand-replacing fires, or other such 
events). In others, the Secretary has chosen to exclude lands from the 
designation. In such cases, exclusion does not signal a determination 
that these areas are not essential to the conservation of the species, 
but only that the Secretary has determined that the benefits of 
exclusion outweigh those of inclusion. All congressionally-reserved 
natural areas (wilderness areas, national parks), State parks, and 
private lands have been excluded from this final designation of 
critical habitat for the northern spotted owl (see Exclusions).
    We reduced critical habitat in all four of these counties across 
all ownerships as we refined our proposal. In response to comments, we 
used additional information sources to very carefully identify and 
retain areas that were best suited to meeting the unique

[[Page 72010]]

conservation needs for northern spotted owl conservation that are 
associated with the geographic location of these counties.
    The Columbia River, which forms the southern boundaries of Skamania 
and Klickitat counties, presents a formidable obstacle to dispersal of 
northern spotted owls. Maintaining demographic exchange between 
northern spotted owl populations in Washington and Oregon requires both 
maintenance of a robust population of potentially dispersing owls, and 
quality habitat as near to the Columbia River as possible to increase 
the likelihood of dispersing owls successfully crossing the river. 
Critical habitat in Skamania and Klickitat counties plays a key role in 
preventing the demographic isolation of Washington spotted owls, and 
preventing isolation is widely recognized as an essential feature of 
sustaining wildlife populations. The designated lands in Wasco County, 
Oregon, contribute to this cross-Columbia River connection, as well as 
providing sites for northern spotted owl reproduction. In Del Norte 
County, California, designated lands contribute to demographic support 
to the overall northern spotted owl population, but also function for 
connectivity across the landscape and for habitat that can be colonized 
by young owls. In short, the designated lands in all these counties are 
part of a network that supports northern spotted owl sites for 
reproduction, habitat available for colonization by young, and habitat 
that connects populations across the range of the species, all of which 
are, in concert, essential to provide for the conservation of the 
species.
    Our economic analysis indicated that Del Norte and Skamania 
counties may be more sensitive to future changes in timber harvests, 
industry employment, and Federal land payments, due to recent 
socioeconomic trends. Timber harvest changes related to critical 
habitat designation are one potential aspect of this sensitivity. 
Between 1989 and 2009, timber industry employment declined by 70 
percent or more in Del Norte and Skamania counties. These counties also 
experienced the greatest declines in timber harvests and timber 
industry employment. Skamania County is also highly reliant on Federal 
payments to counties, with these payments representing between 26 and 
50 percent of total revenues. We considered all these factors while 
evaluating comments from these counties.
    The potential impact of the designation of critical habitat on 
timber harvest levels, and whether that change will be positive or 
negative, is uncertain. Therefore, how critical habitat designation may 
impact the timber industry in terms of future harvest levels, 
employment, and revenue-sharing payments to counties is also uncertain. 
As outlined in the economic analysis timber harvest may increase, 
decrease or stay substantially the same as recent timber harvest levels 
depending on how the Forest Service and BLM decide to manage their 
lands within the designation. Furthermore, timber industry employment 
is affected not only by harvest trends but also by fluctuations in 
national and international markets; changes in land ownership; and 
increasing mechanization and productivity in the industry. Our economic 
analysis also indicated the potential for beneficial economic and 
ancillary effects of spotted owl conservation due to critical habitat 
designation, but monetizing effects such as improved water quality and 
aesthetic improvements remains challenging. Finally, our analysis of 
the incremental impacts of critical habitat designation suggested that 
the annual administrative costs associated with designation were likely 
to be relatively low.
    Our weighing of the relative benefits of inclusion in critical 
habitat integrated (1) the relative sensitivity of counties to economic 
impacts associated with critical habitat designation, (2) uncertainty 
regarding potential economic effects, (3) our expectation that 
incremental administrative costs may be minor, and (4) modeling results 
that indicated essential conservation functions of habitat in these 
counties. Based on these factors the Secretary has chosen not to exert 
his discretion to exclude these lands from critical habitat.
    Comment (78): Del Norte County, California, requested that the 
Service exclude all congressionally reserved areas from critical 
habitat.
    Our Response: All congressionally reserved natural areas have been 
excluded from this final designation of critical habitat, as described 
in the Exclusions section of this document.
    Comment (79): One commenter stated that the O&C Act limits the 
authority of the Service in designating critical habitat.
    Our Response: The O&C Act (pertaining to lands in Oregon and 
California) does not limit the Service's authority to designate 
critical habitat for the northern spotted owl. The designation of 
critical habitat is not a land use allocation and does not impose 
management prescriptions. Under section 7(a)(2) of the Act, each 
Federal agency must insure that any action authorized, funded, or 
carried out by the agency is not likely to jeopardize the continued 
existence of any endangered or threatened species or result in the 
destruction or adverse modification of the designated ``critical 
habitat'' of the species. 16 U.S.C. 1536(a)(2). To help action agencies 
comply with this provision, section 7 of the Act and the implementing 
regulations set out a detailed consultation process for determining the 
impacts of a proposed activity on species listed as threatened or 
endangered, or its designated ``critical habitat.'' 16 U.S.C. 1536; 50 
CFR part 402. In Seattle Audubon Society v. Lyons (``Lyons''), 871 F. 
Supp. 1291 (W.D. Wash. 1994), the district court held that ``the O&[C 
Act] does not allow the BLM to avoid its conservation duties under NEPA 
or the Act * * *'' Id. at 1314. The critical habitat designation does 
not preclude the sustained-yield timber management of O&C lands 
consistent with the above requirements of the Act.
    Comment (80): One commenter stated that the Service failed to 
explain why revising the designation of critical habitat for the 
northern spotted owl is ``exempt'' under sections 2 and 3 of the 
Executive Order 13132 on Federalism.
    Our Response: We have complied with E.O. 13132 by explaining why 
the rule does not have federalism implications, impose substantial 
direct compliance costs on State and local governments, or preempt 
State law so that a federalism summary impact statement pursuant to 
section 6 of the executive order is not required. The designation of 
critical habitat directly affects only the responsibilities of Federal 
agencies through section 7(a)(2) of the Act. The Act does not directly 
impose other duties with respect to critical habitat on either States 
or local governments and as a result does not have substantial direct 
effects on the States and local governments, the relationship between 
the national government and the States, or the distribution of powers 
and responsibilities among the various levels of government. Sections 2 
and 3 of E.O. 13132 set out Fundamental Federalism Principles and 
Federalism Policymaking Criteria, respectively. Within the framework of 
the Act, which requires the Service to designate critical habitat to 
the maximum extent prudent and determinable, we have adhered to the 
concepts discussed in these sections. For example, even though the rule 
does not have federalism implications, we strongly urged the States and 
county governments to provide comments to us and provided

[[Page 72011]]

them an additional period for comment to ensure they had an opportunity 
for thorough review. Our economic analysis examined potential indirect 
impacts of the rule on all who may participate in section 7 
consultations, and that was available for comment by the States and 
counties as well. In addition, we have also taken into account State 
law protections for northern spotted owl critical habitat in our 
decisions whether to exclude areas under section 4(b)(2) of the Act.
    Comment (81): Several counties, including Del Norte County, 
California, and Wasco County, Oregon, expressed concerns about the 
impact of barred owls on the northern spotted owl, and questioned 
whether recovery can be achieved without addressing the impacts of the 
barred owl. Some of these commenters believe barred owl management 
should occur prior to designation of additional critical habitat areas.
    Our Response: The survival of northern spotted owls depends in 
large part on the protection of habitat--this protection remains 
crucial to the recovery of the northern spotted owl regardless of 
whether barred owls are present or not. Given that barred owls and 
northern spotted owls are now occupying similar habitats, it is 
essential to maintain sufficient habitat that meets the needs of 
northern spotted owls. The extent to which northern spotted owls 
persist (sometimes undetected) on areas with high barred owl densities 
is unclear. With a second species competing for similar habitat, 
providing more of that habitat may increase the ability for northern 
spotted owls to persist in the presence of barred owls. If management 
of barred owls is implemented and assessed, the Service may reconsider 
this critical habitat designation and revise as appropriate.
    In our separate actions investigating possible barred owl 
management, we can, and are, modeling some approaches with and without 
barred owl competition effects on the northern spotted owl, and will 
continue to do so as new information becomes available. Recent research 
(Wiens 2012) indicates that population performance of both northern 
spotted owls and barred owls is greatest when high-quality habitat is 
most abundant, and most peer reviewers supported the approach of 
conserving more habitat to help offset the impact of the barred owl on 
the northern spotted owl.

County Comments on Active Management and Fire Management

    Comment (82): Several counties including Wasco County, Oregon, and 
Del Norte County, California, requested that the Service promote active 
management activities within critical habitat to reduce fire risk and 
reduce fuels, and raised the concern that critical habitat designation 
could reduce or delay the ability of land managers to manage fuels and 
thus increase risks from wildfire.
    Our Response: This rule does not establish management prescriptions 
for lands designated as critical habitat. However, the Service has made 
considerable effort to discuss, for the benefit of land managers, 
potential approaches to active forest management in dry forests, 
including actions that manage fuels and restore ecosystem health. We 
encourage land managers to consider active management of their forests 
that balances short-term impacts with long-term beneficial effects that 
ultimately support long-term conservation of the northern spotted owl. 
In dry forests, this could include using a landscape assessment 
approach to improve the estimation of effects of management actions on 
northern spotted owl habitat and to better identify and prioritize 
areas for treatments. The assessment may be used to provide support and 
rationale for treatment, especially in areas where active forest 
management actions appear to be in conflict with the conservation of 
high-value northern spotted owl habitat.
    The draft economic analysis (DEA) addressed the potential impacts 
of critical habitat on fire management in Chapters 4 and 8. In Chapter 
4, the DEA discussed the fact that ecological fire salvage activities 
could result in incremental economic effects. Due to data limitations 
and fire location uncertainty, however, these effects were not 
quantified. In the benefits discussion in Chapter 8, the DEA recognized 
that it is possible that the designation could result in increased 
resiliency of timber stands associated with improved timber management 
practices, such as thinning, partial cutting, and active adaptive 
forest management and monitoring. These efforts may reduce the threat 
of catastrophic events such as wildfire, drought, and insect damage. 
This in turn may generate benefits in the form of reduced property 
damage.
    Comment (83): Jefferson County, Washington, encouraged the Service 
to determine adverse modification at a finer scale, such as the owl's 
home range.
    Our Response: The final rule establishes that the scale of the 
adverse modification determination will be ``the entire designated 
critical habitat, as described below, with consideration given to the 
need to conserve viable populations within each of the physiographic 
provinces identified in the Revised Recovery Plan (USFWS 2011, Recovery 
Criterion 2).'' The Service believes the entire designated critical 
habitat is the appropriate scale for this analysis because our 
determination is whether implementation of the Federal action would 
preclude the critical habitat from serving its intended conservation 
function or purpose. That conservation role of critical habitat is to 
conserve the listed species throughout its range, which is closely 
aligned with the entire critical habitat designation. Therefore, the 
entire designation is the most appropriate scale for the adverse 
modification determination. However, a proposed action that compromises 
the capability of a subunit or unit to fulfill its intended 
conservation function or purpose (e.g., demographic, genetic, or 
distributional support for spotted owl recovery) could represent an 
appreciable reduction in the conservation value of the entire 
designated critical habitat.
    Comment (84): Wasco County, Oregon, requested that the Service do 
an Environmental Impact Statement to ensure a full analysis of the 
effects of the critical habitat designation has been done, including a 
fuller picture of potential economic and social impacts.
    Our Response: The critical habitat proposal was fully compliant 
with NEPA. Economic and social effects are not intended by themselves 
to require preparation of an environmental impact statement. 40 CFR 
1508.14. We have determined, for the reasons contained in our Finding 
of No Significance, that an environmental impact statement is not 
necessary.
    Comment (85): Klickitat County, Washington, asserts that the 
Service has not adequately considered ``forest vulnerabilities'' and 
potential economic impacts to local communities, and is inconsistent 
with the Presidential Memorandum to the Secretary of the Interior dated 
February 28, 2012.
    Our Response: We disagree with the assertion that the Service has 
not adequately considered ``forest vulnerabilities'' in this 
designation of critical habitat. If we correctly understand ``forest 
vulnerabilities'' to include all those natural and human induced 
disturbance processes that have the potential to change the structure 
and function of forests, these factors played a prominent role in our 
entire approach to this designation. We believe this rule, along with 
the Revised Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl, provides

[[Page 72012]]

a thorough explanation of how past management and future disturbance 
can affect habitat quality for spotted owls, and especially how 
ecological forestry might be used to manage these effects.
    The purpose of the economic analysis is to provide the Secretary of 
the Interior with information to consider potential economic impacts 
and analyze whether the benefits of excluding a particular area may 
outweigh the benefits of including that particular area as critical 
habitat based on potential disproportionate economic impacts. Chapter 6 
of the FEA provides a detailed socioeconomic profile of each of the 23 
counties (including Klickitat County, Washington) containing proposed 
critical habitat subunits. The analysis presents data on the percent 
change in timber production between 1990 and 2010 for each county, and 
on the percent growth of annual industry employment between 1989 and 
2009 for each county. In addition, the analysis presents data on 
Federal land payments to each of the 23 counties as a percent of the 
total local government revenue in FY 2009, demonstrating the relative 
importance of these funds to each County's budget. We find the 
information provides sufficient context for understanding relative 
economic circumstances and the potential incremental impacts of the 
designation to local communities across the designation.
    The section ``Consistency with Presidential Directive'' in our 
Executive Summary describes how we have addressed the points raised in 
President Obama's Memorandum of February 28, 2012.
    Comment (86): Jefferson County, Washington, encouraged the Service 
to consider the effects of critical habitat designation on ecosystem 
services, such as drinking water, hunting and fishing, carbon storage, 
and erosion and flood control.
    Our Response: The Service recognizes that much attention has been 
paid nationally and globally to valuing ecosystem services provided by 
landscapes. Published, peer-reviewed studies provide information on 
values of multiple categories of ecosystem services (e.g., agricultural 
production, water quality regulation, carbon storage and sequestration, 
recreation, aesthetic values, etc.) across a variety of land use types 
(e.g., wetlands, forests, etc.). Over the past 20 years, multiple 
studies have relied on this literature to develop large-scale benefits 
transfer analyses in order to estimate a total value of a parcel of 
land, a watershed, a State, or even the planet (e.g., Costanza 1997, as 
described in the comment letter). We believe that improving native 
ecosystems is a benefit to the species that rely on them, is consistent 
with the goal of the Act and will improve all these ecosystem 
functions.

Public Comments

Active Forest Management

    Comment (87): One commenter agreed that the Service is not able to 
predict the outcome of section 7 consultations, but expressed concern 
that land management decisions would be made, using the critical 
habitat rule for justification of these outcomes. A suggestion was made 
to eliminate or modify portions of the critical habitat rule that 
encourage active management within critical habitat.
    Our Response: The Revised Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted 
Owl (USFWS 2011) and the NWFP recommends certain types of active forest 
management within the range of the northern spotted owl to meet various 
management goals. Our critical habitat rule refers to these 
recommendations. The Revised Recovery Plan encourages careful 
consideration and incorporation of specific and appropriate information 
when deciding which actions, if any, are appropriate for active forest 
management within critical habitat. However, we are not able to predict 
where or what types of actions will be proposed within northern spotted 
owl critical habitat, nor is it within the authority of this rulemaking 
to prescribe where or what types of actions will take place. The actual 
management activities that may take place within critical habitat will 
depend on future management decisions by the land managing agencies 
consistent with their land use plans and the legal authorities under 
which they operate, and in consultation with us under section 7 of the 
Act for those activities involving a Federal nexus.
    Comment (88): Several commenters raised concern over the creation 
of early-seral habitats. The points raised a concern over the removal 
of current habitat to create early-seral habitat, expressed a need to 
make use of natural disturbances to achieve early-seral habitat, and 
questioned the appropriateness of creating early-seral habitat inside 
critical habitat.
    Our Response: Recent research has informed land managers on the 
biological value of complex early-seral habitats. The Revised Recovery 
Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl (USFWS 2011) suggests that management 
of early-seral habitats be considered where they are underrepresented 
and would improve landscape and biological diversity. Within that 
context, thinning and targeted variable-retention harvest in moist 
forests could be considered, where the conservation of complex early-
seral forest habitat is a management goal. This approach provides a 
contrast to traditional clear-cutting that does not mimic natural 
disturbance or create viable early-seral communities that grow into 
high-quality habitat (Dodson et al. 2012, p. 353; Franklin et al. 2002, 
p. 419; Swanson et al. 2011, p. 123; Kane et al. 2011, pp. 2289-2290; 
Betts et al. 2010, p. 2127, Hagar 2007, pp. 117-118). Swanson (2012, 
entire) provides a good overview and some management considerations. 
The Revised Recovery Plan does not suggest that high-quality owl 
habitat or areas currently on a trajectory to become high-quality owl 
habitat be removed to create early-seral conditions. The Revised 
Recovery Plan recommends such treatments, if considered by the land 
management agencies, be applied in matrix areas consistent with the 
Standards and Guidelines of the NWFP.
    Comment (89): One commenter asked how the Service and managers will 
evaluate forest management strategies without information on the 
potential effects of these strategies to determine whether they are 
positive, neutral, or negative.
    Our Response: Commercial thinning has been shown to negatively 
affect northern spotted owls and their prey, and we have included a 
more detailed discussion of this issue in the final rule. In areas 
where active management may be appropriate for consideration, the goal 
is to conserve and restore ecological function; however, we recognize 
that management agencies may have multiple management goals. In areas 
where actions such as commercial thinning may be considered (e.g., the 
matrix land use allocation), we are not encouraging them in areas of 
high-quality owl habitat.
    Comment (90): One commenter requested consideration of the forest 
thinning direction contained in Ecologically Appropriate Restoration 
Thinning in the Northwest Forest Plan Area (Kerr 2012) as an option for 
future critical habitat management.
    Our Response: We appreciate this suggestion and have integrated the 
information in this reference into our discussions of forest thinning.
    Comment (91): One commenter requested that special management 
considerations for the East Cascades emphasize management for well-
distributed, large, contiguous blocks habitat across the landscape.

[[Page 72013]]

    Our Response: Special Management Considerations for the East 
Cascades are identified that management may be required to address the 
threats to the essential physical or biological features in this region 
from past activities. Widespread management of large, fully contiguous 
blocks of habitat east of the Cascades is not ecologically sustainable 
in many places, due to the dynamic ecological processes and fire 
regimes that shape the distribution of forested habitats in this region 
(Williams 2012, entire). We do, however, recommend land managers 
consider the conservation of larger blocks of current habitat on areas 
of landscapes where it is more likely to be resistant or resilient to 
fire and other natural disturbance. We encourage the use of landscape 
assessments to identify areas important for ecological process 
restoration and areas that are valuable for northern spotted owl 
conservation and recovery (see, e.g., NWFP Standards and Guidelines p. 
C-13).
    Comment (92): One commenter noted that the Service should emphasize 
protection of mid-seral forests so that they may develop into high-
quality habitat.
    Our Response: We recommend that habitats with high value to the 
conservation of the northern spotted owl be conserved. High-value 
habitat includes mid-seral forests as one component. Mid-seral forests 
that are generally not occupied by northern spotted owls, however, may 
be appropriate areas for land management agencies to consider for 
active forest management that may increase their rate of development 
into high-quality habitats.
    Comment (93): One commenter noted that past active management 
resulted in excessive logging and road building, which led to the 
threatened and endangered status of species in the Pacific Northwest. 
Included in this comment are concerns over active management harming 
water quality, diminishing recreational activities, and increasing fire 
risk if followup actions (e.g., removal of slash, removal of burn 
piles, prescribed fire) are not carried out.
    Our Response: We have identified the major threats to owl recovery 
in this rule, including traditional timber harvest that resulted in the 
removal of large areas of old forest. Active management, in general, 
may affect water quality and recreational opportunities, but it may 
also restore habitat conditions or reduce fire risk if implemented 
properly. We encourage land managers to be mindful of these concerns 
and to protect important areas from long-term adverse impacts wherever 
possible.
    Comment (94): Several commenters expressed concern that logging in 
critical habitat and LSRs would increase the risk of extinction of the 
northern spotted owl, degrade owl habitat, increase the risk of fire, 
damage forest health, and damage watershed health. Commenters expressed 
concern about specific logging prescriptions that appear to remove 
trees or degrade areas that could function as habitat for northern 
spotted owl, such as mistletoe removal, post-fire logging, or disease 
management activities. In addition, several thousand commenters 
submitted similar comments in general support of protections against 
logging the mature and old-growth forests of the Pacific Northwest and 
Northwest California due to economic and environmental benefits.
    Our Response: The critical habitat rule identifies habitats with 
high value to the recovery of the northern spotted owl that are 
essential and will receive regulatory protections under section 7 of 
the Act where a Federal nexus exists. We emphasize that careful 
consideration should be given to any forest management activities 
occurring within northern spotted owl critical habitat. The Revised 
Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl (USFWS 2011) indicates that 
active forest management, when applied at appropriate scales and 
locations, could be a valuable tool in the recovery of the species and 
conservation of forest ecosystems. Further, we recommend that the focus 
of these treatments be outside of high-value habitat for northern 
spotted owls wherever possible and that high-quality habitats be 
conserved and recruited. Work inside of LSRs should be in accordance 
with the NWFP Standards and Guidelines. We again note that, although we 
encourage land management agencies to follow the recommendations for 
the Revised Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl, it is beyond 
the authority of this rulemaking to mandate specific management 
activities within critical habitat. The actual management activities 
that may take place within critical habitat will depend on future 
management decisions by the land managing agencies consistent with 
their land use plans and the legal authorities under which they 
operate.
    Comment (95): One commenter suggested our treatment of the effects 
of forest thinning on owls and of fire was incomplete and biased 
towards supporting thinning treatments in critical habitat.
    Our Response: We recognize that more research would be helpful to 
better understand how northern spotted owls respond to various 
vegetation management treatments, especially those implemented to 
address long-term forest health and increasing risk of wildfire. 
Thinning and other vegetation management may have either negative or 
beneficial impacts to northern spotted owl habitat depending on how, 
when, and where the treatments are implemented.
    The existing information about the tradeoffs associated with active 
and passive management in dry forests indicates that strategic 
application of active management may offer a higher likelihood of 
achieving conservation objectives than no management. Although passive 
management can be viewed as more precautionary, this view is rooted in 
a perspective that considers risks to northern spotted owl habitat from 
natural disturbance to be relatively low. However, we believe that the 
weight of evidence from both tracking of habitat removal due to natural 
disturbance and results from modeled simulations of fire dynamics 
suggest that risks of habitat loss due to natural disturbance is high 
enough to warrant consideration of strategic active management within 
critical habitat by land managers, especially in forested plant 
associations that typically have frequent or mixed-severity fire 
regimes (Buchanan 2009, pp. 114-115; Healey et al. 2008, pp. 1117-1118; 
Roloff et al. 2012, pp. 8-9; Ager et al. 2007, pp. 53-55; Ager et al. 
2012, pp. 279-282; Franklin et al. 2009, p. 46; Kennedy and Wimberly 
2009, pp. 564-565). In the final rule, we have refined and expanded our 
discussion of ways land managers might implement active management to 
minimize potential risks to northern spotted owls and their habitat, 
and provide appropriate safeguards in the face of scientific 
uncertainties surrounding disturbance dynamics in dry forests and 
northern spotted owl responses to management. In addition, active 
adaptive forest management may prove to be an essential tool for 
reducing uncertainties and increasing the conservation effectiveness of 
active management for northern spotted owl habitat.
    Comment (96): Several commenters expressed concern over the 
justification of projects that encourage timber harvest in suitable 
northern spotted owl habitat, including the pilot projects guided by 
Drs. Johnson and Franklin that are occurring in BLM's pilot projects 
out of the Roseburg and Coos Bay BLM offices.
    Our Response: The Service is working with land managers and 
scientists to

[[Page 72014]]

minimize impacts to northern spotted owl's essential habitat, and owl 
conservation as a consequence of timber harvest and other vegetation 
management projects. We worked closely with Dr. Norm Johnson, Dr. Jerry 
Franklin, and the Roseburg and Coos Bay BLM offices to evaluate these 
pilot projects, which are not in LSRs and are consistent with 
requirements of the NWFP. The Revised Recovery Plan for the Northern 
Spotted Owl (USFWS 2011) recommends applying ecological forestry 
techniques as a way of reducing impacts to northern spotted owl habitat 
in areas proposed for timber harvest. In general, northern spotted owl 
habitat in moist forests that is on a trajectory for development into 
late-successional conditions is not in need of active management to 
enhance its development. The Service recommends that land managers 
consider t