FWS finalizes revised Northern spotted owl critical habitat rule
73 Fed. Reg. 47326 (Wednesday, August 13, 2008)(DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR; Fish and Wildlife Service; 50 CFR Part 17; WS-R1-ES-2008–0051; 92210-1117-0000-FY08-B4 RIN 1018-AU37; Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Revised Designation of Critical Habitat for the Northern Spotted Owl; Final rule).
The northern spotted owl inhabits most of the major types of coniferous forests across its geographic 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. In the northern portion of their range, northern spotted owls forage heavily in older forests that support northern flying squirrels, whereas 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. Photo by Shane Jeffries, FWS Pacific office
SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), are revising currently designated critical habitat for the northern spotted owl (Strix occidentalis caurina) under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act). In 1992, we designated critical habitat for the northern spotted owl on 6, 887, 000 acres (ac) (2, 787, 070 hectares (ha)) of Federal lands in California, Oregon, and Washington. In this document we finalize revised critical habitat for the northern spotted owl on a total of approximately 5, 312, 300 acres (ac) (2, 149, 800 hectares (ha)) of Federal lands in California, Oregon, and Washington. DATES: This rule becomes effective on September 12, 2008.
KEITHINKING: In a noteworthy portion of the rule at 73 Fed. Reg. 47358-47359, FWS explains which types of federal activities will (or will not) affect the NSO critical habitat to a degree that formal ESA Section 7 consultation is (or is not) required. Making an important statement related to the continued viability of timber harvest and other activites that may have some impacts on NSO habitat, FWS explains that "Some proposed Federal activities may have short-term adverse effects and long-term beneficial effects on the PCEs of spotted owl critical habitat. The 2008 final recovery plan for the northern spotted owl anticipates that the MOCAs (managed owl conservation areas) on the westside, upon which critical habitat is based, will be managed to produce the highest amount and quality of northern spotted owl habitat possible, even if there are short-term negative effects from those actions."
HISTORY & BACKGROUND: For more information on the northern spotted owl and critical habitat, please refer to the proposed rule published in the Federal Register on June 12, 2007 (72 FR 32450). Prior and subsequent to the listing of the northern spotted owl in 1990 (55 FR 26114), many committees, task forces,and work groups were formed to develop conservation strategies for the northern spotted owl. Information on these efforts can be found in the proposed critical habitat rule (72 FR 32450). We recently released the final Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl (USFWS 2008), which incorporates the best available scientific information regarding the conservation of the northern spotted owl. The final recovery plan recommends a the network of habitat blocks, or managed owl conservation areas (MOCAs), in the westside provinces in the range of the northern spotted owl, and a broader landscape-based habitat management approach (without MOCAs) for the dry forest eastside provinces in Washington and Oregon. See also ESA blawg (May 21, 2008)...
EXCERPT RE: RECOVERY PLAN: The final recovery plan identifies competition with the barred owl, ongoing loss of suitable habitat as a result of timber harvest and catastrophic fire, and loss of amount and distribution of suitable habitat as a result of past activities and disturbances as the most important rangewide threats to the northern spotted owl. The final recovery plan -- see links -- describes a variety of recovery actions to address these threats and recover the species, concentrating primarily on habitat conservation, habitat management, and barred owl control (USFWS 2008, p. 12), following a strategy designed for evaluation and adaptive management over the next 10 years
EXCERPT RE: MOCAs: The MOCA (managed owl conservation areas) network is a set of large habitat blocks, each capable of supporting 20 or more breeding pairs of owls (MOCA 1s), and smaller habitat blocks capable of supporting up to 19 breeding pairs of owls (MOCA 2s). The MOCA strategy is founded on the concepts and information first presented in ‘‘A Conservation Strategy for the Northern Spotted Owl, compiled by the Interagency Scientific Committee to Address the Conservation of the Northern Spotted Owl’’ (hereafter ‘‘ISC Report’’)... The landscape strategy of moving habitat patches recommended for the eastside provinces does not translate easily into critical habitat, which is defined by statute as ‘‘specific areas’’ and which, per our implementing regulations, must ‘‘be defined by specific limits using reference points and lines as found on standard topographic maps of the area’’ (16 U.S.C. 1532(5)(A) and 50 CFR 424.12(c)). Consequently, the areas identified for designation in the proposed critical habitat (72 FR 32450), which were based on the MOCAs identified for that region in the 2007 draft recovery plan, are finalized in this rule. These areas meet the criteria regarding contiguity, habitat quality, size, spacing, and distribution used to identify critical habitat within the range of the northern spotted owl, and represent the most current specific areas designed for the conservation of the northern spotted owl that also meet the delineation requirements for critical habitat... However, as the Service, land management agencies, and scientists work together to implement the landscape-based habitat management strategy described in the 2008 final recovery plan for the fire-prone provinces, we may consider adjustments to critical habitat to better reflect the results of that effort.
EXCERPT RE: BIOLOGICAL NEEDS AND PRIMARY CONSTITUENT ELEMENTS: As required by 50 CFR 424.12(b), we are to list the known PCEs with our description of critical habitat. The PCEs may include, but are not limited to, the following: roost sites, nesting grounds, spawning sites, feeding sites, seasonal wetland or dryland, water quality or quantity, host species or plant pollinator, geological formation, vegetation type, tide, and specific soil types. Space for Population Growth and for Normal Behavior. Northern spotted owls remain on their home range throughout the year; therefore this area must provide all the habitat components and prey needed to provide for the survival and successful reproduction of a territorial pair. Sites for Breeding, Reproduction, and Rearing of Offspring (Nesting). Nesting habitat provides structural features for nesting, protection from adverse weather conditions, and cover to reduce predation risks for adults and young. Nesting stands typically include a moderate to high canopy closure (60 to 80 percent); a multi-layered, multispecies canopy with large (greater than 30 inches (in) (76 centimeters (cm)) diameter at breast height (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. Cover or Shelter (Roosting). The primary functions of roosting habitat are to facilitate thermoregulation in summer and winter, shelter northern spotted owls from precipitation, and provide cover to reduce predation risk while resting or foraging... 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. Food or Other Nutritional or Physiological Requirements (Foraging). The primary function of foraging habitat is to provide a food supply for survival and reproduction. Foraging activity is positively associated with tree height diversity... canopy closure... snag volume... and density of snags...
EXCERPT RE: SPECIAL MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS: When designating critical habitat, we assess whether the areas determined to be occupied at the time of listing and containing the PCEs essential to conservation may require special management considerations or protection. In June 2006, a panel of spotted owl and wildfire ecology experts was assembled to help the spotted owl recovery team identify the most current threats facing the species... Northern spotted owls disproportionately use older forests that are typically characterized by largediameter trees, multiple canopy layers, high levels of standing and down woody material, and generally complex structure. All of these habitat components can be lost as a consequence of timber harvest; largescale, high intensity fire; or other stochastic events. (Other considerations included vegetation management, insects, disease, and barred owl control.)