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The California Spotted Owl, Strix occidentalis ssp. occidentalis is one of three subspecies of the Spotted Owl. While the other two subspecies (northern: caurina and Mexican: lucida) have federally endangered status, the California subspecies is not even listed as threatened (California spotted owls are considered a "species of special concern" by the U.S. Forest Service) although its populations are like the others, in decline.

Spotted owls are genetically similar to eastern Barred Owls but behaviorally quite distinct. Slightly larger than barred owls, spotted owls are apex predators in the complex, multi story canopy of Pacific Northwestern arboreal forests. In their natural environment, spotted owls easily out-compete barred owls. Their natural environment has unfortunately been irreparably disturbed. Intense logging over a century has eliminated most of their natural habitat and their primary food item, the Northern Flying Squirrel is federally endangered and in decline. The habitat that has been opened up by logging has allowed the eastern barred owls to move into the west (north of the rocky mountains) where they are now out-competing the endemic spotted owls in disturbed forests and because they hybridize with spotted owls, barred owls are "breeding spotted owls out of existence" even in the last remnant patches of old growth that remain in the northwest. Sadly, it seems that it is only a matter of time before the northern spotted owl becomes extinct.

I worked for the USDA Forest Service (Pacific Southwest Research Station) in Plumas National Forest during the first year of intensive surveying efforts to identify critical habitat for California Spotted Owls. My job was locate and map locations of spotted owl roost and nest sites in the forest, ascertain owls reproductive status, capture and band them.

While momentum and interest in preserving habitat seemed to be increasing in the 1990's, regulatory and research efforts were reduced and re-directed under eight years of the bush administration. We should all be thankful to have leadership that bases its environmental policy on science rather than commerce.


See the Owls