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Conservation planning for species recovery under the Endangered Species Act: A case study with the Northern Spotted Owl


Jeffrey R. Dunk
Brian Woodbridge
Nathan Schumaker
Elizabeth M. Glenn
Brendan White
David W. LaPlante
Robert G. Anthony
Raymond J. Davis
Karl Halupka
Paul Henson
Michele Merola-Zwartjes
Barry R. Noon
Jody Caicco
Dan L. Hansen
Mary Jo Mazurek
James Thrailkill



Publication type:

Scientific Journal (JRNL)

Primary Station(s):

Pacific Northwest Research Station


PLOS ONE. 14(1): e0210643.


The northern spotted owl (Strix occidentalis caurina) was listed as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1990. We applied modern spatial conservation theory and models to evaluate several candidate critical habitat networks, and sought an efficient conservation solution that encompassed the highest value lands for spotted owl recovery rather than maximizing the total area of potential critical habitat. We created a map of relative habitat suitability, which served as input to the spatial conservation prioritization program Zonation. We used the spatially-explicit individual-based population model HexSim to estimate and compare simulated spotted owl population outcomes among a suite of candidate critical habitat networks that varied in size and spatial arrangement under alternative scenarios of future habitat suitability and barred owl (S. varia) effects. We evaluated simulated spotted owl population outcomes, including total population size, and extinction and quasi-extinction likelihoods for 108 combinations of candidate critical habitat networks by habitat change by barred owl scenarios, both range-wide and within 11 distinct portions of the owl’s range. Barred owl encounter rates and the amount and suitability of habitat had substantial effects on simulated spotted owl populations. When barred owl encounter rates were high, changes in the amount and suitability of habitat had minimal impacts on population performance. Under lowered barred owl encounter rates, candidate critical habitat networks that included most existing high suitability habitat supported a high likelihood of long-term population persistence. Barred owls are currently the primary driving force behind poor population performance of NSOs; however, our models demonstrated that a sufficient area of high suitability habitat remains essential for recovery when effects of barred owls can be reduced. The modeling approach we employed is sufficiently flexible to incorporate new information about spotted owls as it becomes available and could likely be applied to conservation planning for other species.


Dunk, Jeffrey R.; Woodbridge, Brian; Schumaker, Nathan; Glenn, Elizabeth M.; White, Brendan; LaPlante, David W.; Anthony, Robert G.; Davis, Raymond J.; Halupka, Karl; Henson, Paul; Marcot, Bruce G.; Merola-Zwartjes, Michele; Noon, Barry R.; Raphael, Martin G.; Caicco, Jody; Hansen, Dan L.; Mazurek, Mary Jo; Thrailkill, James. 2019. Conservation planning for species recovery under the Endangered Species Act: A case study with the Northern Spotted Owl. PLOS ONE. 14(1): e0210643.


Publication Notes

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  • This article was written and prepared by U.S. Government employees on official time, and is therefore in the public domain.