Real versus perceived conflicts between restoration of ponderosa pine forests and conservation of the Mexican spotted owl

John W. Prather, Reed F. Noss, Thomas D. Sisk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Progress in implementing ecosystem approaches to conservation and restoration is slowed by legitimate concerns about the effects of such approaches on individual imperiled species. The perceived conflict between the restoration of fire-excluded forests and concomitant reduction of dense fuels and high-severity wildfire, versus the recovery of endangered species, has led to a policy ambiguity that has slowed on-the-ground action at a time when active management is urgently needed, both for ecosystem restoration and species conservation. The Mexican spotted owl (Strix occidentalis lucida) in the southwestern U.S.A. is emblematic of this perceived conflict, with numerous appeals and lawsuits focused on the species and vast acres of forest managed with habitat quality for this species in mind. We use spatial analysis across large landscapes in Arizona to examine potential conflicts between the desire to reduce the likelihood of uncharacteristically severe wildfire and restore native fire regimes, and the concurrent desire and legal mandate to manage forests for the recovery of the owl. Our spatially explicit analysis indicates that real conflicts between these management objectives exist, but that locations where conflicts might inhibit active forest management represent less than 1/3 of the 811,000 ha study region. Furthermore, within the areas where conflicts might be expected, the majority of the forest could be managed in ways that would reduce fire hazard without eliminating owl habitat. Finally, management treatments that emphasize ecosystem restoration might improve the suitability of large areas of forest habitat in the southwest that is currently unsuitable for owls. These results demonstrate that even where policy conflicts exist, their magnitude has been overstated. Active restoration of dry forests from which fire has been excluded is compatible in many areas with conservation and recovery of the owl. Identifying and prioritizing areas to meet the dual goals of ecosystem restoration and imperiled species conservation require a broad spatial approach that is analytically feasible but currently underutilized. Working together, conservation biologists, restoration ecologists, and forest managers can employ landscape-level spatial analysis to identify appropriate areas for management attention, identify suitable management practices, and explore the predicted consequences of alternative management scenarios on forests, fire ecology, and the fate of sensitive species of conservation concern.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)140-150
Number of pages11
JournalForest Policy and Economics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jan 2008


  • Environmental policy
  • Forest management
  • Imperiled species
  • Restoration ecology
  • Spatial analysis
  • Strix occidentalis lucida

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Forestry
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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