Scientists Study Endangered Mexican Spotted Owl
The Mexican spotted owl is a threatened species inhabiting canyons and forests in the Southwestern United States and Mexico and frequently occurs in older, thick forests with heavy fuels. Managers are charged with integrating the conservation of owl habitat with other objectives such as forest restoration, so they need information about the owl's habitat use and population characteristics.
From 2002 through 2011, Forest Service scientists studied Mexican spotted owl demography in the Sacramento Mountains in south-central New Mexico. This mountain range is host to numerous resident owls that occupy a contiguous mixed-conifer forest, which contains substantial amounts of private land and numerous dwellings. As a consequence, this area presents significant challenges to managers trying to conserve owl habitat while reducing fire risk in the extensive wildland-urban interface. The study documents vital rates (territory occupancy, reproduction, and survival) of resident owls, owl diet and habitat use, abundance of small mammals that comprise the main prey of Mexican spotted owls, and microclimatic conditions in the areas occupied by spotted owls.
Research findings help scientists estimate trends in owl abundance, territory occupancy, reproduction, and survival rates. It also allows them to evaluate the relative influences of weather, prey, and habitat on the owl. This study provides rigorous, science-based information that is useful to managers charged with conserving and restoring Mexican spotted owls and their habitat. It also allows managers to integrate conservation objectives with efforts to restore forests to sustainable conditions and manage fire risk in this area, especially in the wildland-urban interface.
Forest Service Partners