Scientists Push Back on Misleading Forest Service-funded Study on Spotted Owls and the King Fire

kingfirelongrangephoto                                               Long range photo looking into King Fire Burn Area, March 2015. Photo Credit Chad Hanson 

A recent study funded and housed by the Forest Service claimed that the 2014 King fire resulted in a substantial decline of California spotted owls, and used this claim to advocate for the Forest Service’s commercial logging program on National Forest lands, ostensibly to save owls from wildfire.  However, as three independent ecologists explained in a letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, this study skewed the data by:
a) excluding from their results owl territories that were occupied after the King fire;
b) falsely reporting lost occupancy in owl territories that continued to be occupied after the King fire;
c) reporting that the King fire caused the “extinction” of numerous owl territories when in fact those territories were not occupied before to the fire burned;
d) claiming that post-fire (salvage) logging comprised only 2% of territories, whereas in reality several territories that did lose occupancy had far, far higher levels of post-fire logging than this;
e) claiming that the owls avoided high-intensity fire patches for foraging, but the areas the owls were actually avoiding were pre-fire and post-fire clearcuts, while they were actively using snag forest habitat created by high-intensity fire patches occurring in mature conifer forest; and
f) hiding the fact that, overall in the King fire area, spotted owl occupancy increased slightly at one year post-fire relative to pre-fire occupancy levels.