Northern spotted owl (Strix occidentalis caurina) recovery strategy

Official title: Recovery Strategy for the Northern Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis caurina) in British Columbia

Under the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk (1996), the federal, provincial, and territorial governments agreed to work together on legislation, programs, and policies to protect wildlife species at risk throughout Canada.

In the spirit of cooperation of the Accord, the Government of British Columbia has provided the Recovery Strategy for the Northern Spotted Owl in British Columbia to the Government of Canada. The Minister of Environment adopts this recovery strategy under Section 44 of the Species at Risk Act, with the exception of Section I.13 in the recovery strategy on Socio-economic Considerations, which is not required by the act. Further details on the adoption of this strategy by Environment Canada are provided in the Addendum to this document.

This recovery strategy is the recovery strategy of the Minister of the Environment of Canada for this species.

October 2006

Rod Davis
Ecosystems Branch
BC Ministry of Environment February 7th 2006

Dear Rod Davis:

RE: Amendments to the April 19, 2004 Draft Northern Spotted Owl Recovery Strategy

The purpose of this letter is to enable continued progress with recovery planning for the Spotted Owl in British Columbia (BC) by bringing to your attention a number of initiatives that CSORT, the Province, and other agencies have completed since the current (2nd) Draft Northern Spotted Owl Recovery Strategy was delivered to the British Columbia government by the Canadian Spotted Owl Recovery Team (CSORT) in April 2004. The draft Recovery Strategy provides a summary of scientific knowledge about the Spotted Owl, current to April 2004, and represents advice to the Province on recovery goals, approaches and objectives to protect and recover the species. The draft Recovery Strategy was endorsed by the CSORT, however, the environmental non-government organisation (ENGO) community declined to provide continued membership on the team and has not endorsed the draft Recovery Strategy.

The goals and recovery approaches identified in the draft Recovery Strategy are based on the best existing knowledge at the time of writing and are subject to modifications resulting from new findings and revised objectives. The CSORT acknowledges that during the review process for the draft Recovery Strategy some sections and proposed dates will require updating with new or revised information. The CSORT recognizes that any implementation activities arising from the draft Recovery Strategy will be subject to the appropriations, priorities, and budgetary constraints of the participating jurisdictions and organizations.

The CSORT understands that the Province has committed to providing a Spotted Owl Recovery Strategy to the federal government in the spring of 2006 in order to meet timelines set out under the Species at Risk Act. The CSORT suggests that completion of these recent initiatives significantly improves our understanding of threats to the Spotted Owl and what actions will be required to recover the species. These initiatives have addressed previous concerns raised in relation to specific issues contained in the draft Recovery Strategy. However, regardless of the availability and currency of information, some uncertainty will always exist and is a normal feature of scientific enquiry and management assessments. It should also be noted that most of these initiatives are addressed in the draft Recovery Action Plan that the CSORT continues to work on.

Initiatives completed since April 2004 include:


1. 2004 and 2005 population inventory surveys (completed by the Province)

In response to earlier concerns about the 2002 population assessment, an attempt was made to conduct more comprehensive surveys in the following years. The latest population data generated as a result of 2004-2005 surveys of the most suitable Spotted Owl habitat provide the best available minimum population estimate for Spotted Owls in BC. One hundred and fifty-five owl call-back transects were conducted in 2004 at 91 survey (study) areas, and 304 transects were conducted in 2005 at 164 survey (study) areas. Results of these surveys, along with findings in December 2005, indicate that at present 22 Spotted Owls are known to exist in BC, including at least 6 breeding pairs. No marked juveniles are known to have survived since 2002. Because it was not possible to survey all areas of suitable habitat, and because some owls may not have responded during the surveys, the data derived from surveys must be considered to represent the minimum number of owls remaining in the province; however, surveys have concentrated on the best areas of habitat and it is unlikely that many have been missed. Thus, the latest population data confirm the urgency of recovery planning and implementation of appropriate recovery actions for the Northern Spotted Owl.

• See (plus path to document)


2. Socio-Economic Baseline Analysis

In June 2004, a draft baseline socio-economic cost analysis was completed that will enable further analysis of the impacts of proposed recovery actions on a comprehensive set of stakeholders and interests within the range of the Spotted Owl. Potential benefits of recovery actions were not assessed in this baseline analysis but a summary outline is given in the Strategy, and benefits will be documented where feasible, as required by SARA, in future recovery planning efforts.

• See (plus path to document)


3. A Framework for Landscape Analysis of Habitat Supply and Effects on Populations of the Northern Spotted Owl in BC

Between 2003 and 2006 the Province, through the Forest Investment Account Forest Sciences Program, supported the development of a decision-support and modelling framework integrating current research and expert knowledge on Spotted Owl habitat and population dynamics in BC. The framework can provide information for making informed decisions about recovering Spotted Owl populations. One output of the modelling framework so far is a Strategic Analysis of the Impacts of the June 2004 Policy Alternatives on Timber Supply, Habitat Supply, and Potential Short-Term Northern Spotted Owl Population Trends. Model results are presented as tradeoffs between economic values (as indicated by timber supply) and ecological values (as indicated by owl habitat, territories and population trends).

• See (plus path to document) (should be peer reviewed report)


4. Scientific evaluation of the status of the Northern Spotted Owl, Courtney et al., Sustainable Ecosystems Institute, Portland Oregon, September 2004

This report provides a critical review and synthesis of recent information on the status of the Northern Spotted Owl, and was prepared to support the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s 5-year status review process. It provides new information since 1990 on threats to Spotted Owls, habitat associations and trends, demography, etc. This new information confirms and supports recovery recommendations for BC, both for habitat protection and management and for population enhancement.

• See


5. Feasibility of Recovery

In 2004, the Province requested clarification of the CSORT’s conclusion that it is ecologically and technically feasible to recover the Spotted Owl. In April 2005, the Government of Canada released additional policy guidance on assessing the feasibility of species recovery. This guidance provides a set of criteria for determining feasibility of recovery, and states that considerations such as aesthetic, economic, or other social values shall not be considered when making a determination on recovery feasibility. These other considerations will be taken into account later in the recovery process.

The CSORT has considered the 2005 federal criteria for determining feasibility of recovery and has concluded that recovery of the Northern Spotted Owl in BC (and Canada) continues to be ecologically and technically feasible based on the following rationale:

  • Breeding pairs are still present in Canada and have been known to breed over the past several of years.
  • Suitable habitat, including significant unoccupied areas, is currently available to support sustainable populations of Spotted Owls. This habitat is within protected areas and GVRD watershed lands, and in areas managed for both forestry and Spotted Owls under the Spotted Owl Management Plan.
  • Significant threats to the species and its habitat may be avoided or mitigated through recovery actions (e.g., opportunities for habitat protection/ recruitment and for owl translocations exist; the threat of Barred Owl competition can potentially be addressed through research and management actions).
  • Recovery techniques exist for protecting, managing, and/or recruiting habitat, and for population enhancement. Such actions have been demonstrated to have the potential to be effective (e.g., owl populations perform better in areas where sufficient suitable habitat has been protected; US facilities have recently bred Spotted Owls in captivity).

The CSORT acknowledges that, given the current minimum known population of 22 individuals (including 6 breeding pairs), the certainty of recovery is unknown. The CSORT recognizes that certain recovery measures (e.g., population enhancement measures) are not well tested, and the outcome of such actions is uncertain. The likelihood that the Spotted Owl will recover naturally (without human intervention) to numbers sufficient to down-list the species is considered to be extremely low, and therefore, active human intervention is recommended. Although the CSORT believes that recovery is biologically feasible, we recognize that the recovery of the Spotted Owl faces several significant logistical, societal and economic challenges, and that even if all these challenges are met, there is no guarantee that recovery will occur over the short term. Conversely, the realized or anticipated success of recovery actions for other raptor species in North America (California Condor, Bald Eagle, Peregrine Falcon) gives us reason to believe that recovery actions, if implemented without delay, could be successful in recovering this species in BC. In particular, population augmentation measures could have a major effect on the rate of recovery.

In summary, the draft Recovery Strategy and the actions listed above provide the best available scientific assessment of Spotted Owl population recovery in BC. Therefore, the CSORT respectfully encourages the Province to accept and release the draft Northern Spotted Owl Recovery Strategy as this will enable the CSORT to continue moving forward on Recovery Action Planning.


Michael J. Chutter, RPBio, Chair,
Canadian Spotted Owl Recovery Team



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