Associations between forest fire and Mexican spotted owls

Jeffrey S. Jenness, Paul Beier, Joseph L. Ganey

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


In 1993, the US Fish and Wildlife Service listed the Mexican spotted owl (Strix occidentalis lucida) as threatened, in part because of the rising threat to its habitat from stand-replacing wildfires. In 1997, we surveyed 33 owl sites that, in the previous four years, had burned at various levels ranging from light controlled burns to stand-replacing fires. We compared owl occupancy and reproduction in these burned sites to 31 unburned owl sites with similar habitat and topography. Although unburned sites showed higher proportions of both occupancy and reproduction, the negative relationship observed between recent fire occurrence and owl occupancy rank was statistically weak (Test for Marginal Homogeneity, P = 0.110). Owls tended not to be present where pure pine stands (Pinus spp.) comprised a large proportion (38-85%) of burned sites, but no other factors relating to habitat or fire severity had a significant, biologically interpretable influence on occupancy rank. We suspect that relatively low-intensity ground fires, including most prescribed fires, probably have little or no short-term impact on Mexican spotted owl presence or reproduction, but we have no data on long-term effects of fire. We recommend proactive fuels-management treatments in areas not currently occupied by owls as a means of reducing fire risk in areas occupied by owls. Within areas occupied by owls, judicious treatments may be appropriate after case-by-case evaluations of potential benefits and risks within those sites.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)765-772
Number of pages8
JournalForest Science
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2004


  • Occupancy
  • Prescribed burn
  • Reproduction
  • Stand-maintenance
  • Stand-replacement

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Forestry
  • Ecology
  • Ecological Modeling


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