Northern spotted owl (Strix occidentalis caurina) recovery strategy: chapter 12

9. Anticipated Conflicts or Challenges

Spotted Owls in North America face a number of daunting challenges to recovery. Populations continue to decline on both sides of the border despite efforts to conserve habitat.

Loss and fragmentation of habitat; predation; competition; low reproductive output, juvenile survival and dispersal success; and stochastic environmental, demographic, and genetic events threaten the persistence of the species in British Columbia. These threats are exacerbated by its current small population size and isolation from the larger populations to the south in the United States.

The primary short-term challenge is to stop the population decline and prevent extirpation. Difficulties and obstacles include the current rapid population decline of the owls, the time needed for recruitment of suitable habitat for connectivity, and uncertainties around competitors and the genetic viability of the population.

Recovery will continue to face challenges because the removal of some threats (section 5) and improvements in biologically limiting factors (section 4) may be extremely difficult.

Many of the solutions require further research and, in addition to those mentioned above, there are additional challenges to implementing research programs on Spotted Owls in British Columbia. These include logistics of investigating a nocturnal animal capable of flying long distances over inaccessible terrain, high between-year variation in biological processes, large time lag in owl population responses to some habitat management, and inherent ethical constraints associated with working intensively with an endangered species (Kurz and Greenough 1996). In addition, finding ways to fund these initiatives is a major ongoing problem.

Due to its dependence on commercially valuable old forests, a long-term challenge is to reconcile the habitat needs of the Spotted Owl with the economic impacts of recovery actions. For example, the cessation or slowing of forest harvesting of suitable habitat within the range of the Spotted Owl would have immediate economic impacts to companies, communities, and individuals dependent on the resource. Timber harvesting is the primary generator of jobs and revenue within some parts of the range of the Spotted Owl in British Columbia. On the other hand, a failure to recover the species could cause possible trade sanctions on wood products by the United States (e.g., use of the Pelly Amendment) and international boycotts of wood products led by environmental groups who are concerned about the declining status of Spotted Owls in British Columbia. Such actions could have longer term economic impacts in the province.

The conservation of the Spotted Owl involves many challenges because it is not simply a biological issue, but a more complex one involving myriad biological, political, social, and economic factors. The impacts of potential recovery actions may range from the costs of intensive population management to constraints on resource extraction in specific areas. Delaying recovery actions will reduce recovery options and push the species closer to extirpation, which will likely increase the costs of recovery. A more detailed account of potential socio-economic considerations is given in section 13. 

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