Influence of fire and salvage logging on site occupancy of spotted owls in the San Bernardino and San Jacinto Mountains of Southern California

Authors


E-mail: derek@wildnatureinstitute.org

ABSTRACT

Fire over the past decade has affected forests in the San Bernardino Mountains of southern California, providing an excellent opportunity to examine how this disturbance, and subsequent post-fire salvage logging, influenced California spotted owl (Strix occidentalis occidentalis) breeding-season site occupancy dynamics there and in the nearby San Jacinto Mountains. Using occupancy survey data from 2003 to 2011 for all-detections and pairs-only data, we estimated annual extinction and colonization probabilities at 71 burned and 97 unburned breeding-season sites before and after fire, while controlling for confounding effects of non-fire-related temporal variation and among-site differences in habitat characteristics. We found no statistically significant effects of fire or salvage logging on occupancy dynamics of spotted owls of southern California. However, we found some evidence that fire and logging effects could be biologically meaningful. For pairs data, the model-averaged mean of fire-related effects on colonization and extinction probabilities resulted in a 0.062 lesser site-occupancy probability in burned sites 1-year post-fire relative to unburned sites. Post-fire salvage logging reduced occupancy an additional 0.046 relative to sites that only burned. We documented a threshold-type relationship between extinction and colonization probabilities and the amount of forested habitat (conifer or hardwood tree cover types) that burned at high severity within a 203-ha core area around spotted owl nests and roost centroids. Sites where approximately 0–50 ha of forested habitat within the core area burned at high severity had extinction probabilities similar to unburned sites, but where more than approximately 50 ha of forested habitat burned severely, extinction probability increased approximately 0.003 for every additional hectare severely burned. The majority (75%) of sites burned below this threshold. Sites where high-severity fire affected >50 ha of forested habitat could still support spotted owls, so all burned sites should be monitored for occupancy before management actions such as salvage logging are undertaken that could be detrimental to the subspecies. We also recommend that managers strive to reduce human-caused ignitions along the wildland–urban interface, particularly at lower elevations where owl sites are at higher risk of extinction from fire. © 2013 The Wildlife Society.

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