Forest fire is often considered a primary threat to California spotted owls (Strix occidentalis occidentalis) because fire has the potential to rapidly alter owl habitat. We examined effects of fire on 7 radiomarked California spotted owls from 4 territories by quantifying use of habitat for nesting, roosting, and foraging according to severity of burn in and near a 610-km2 fire in the southern Sierra Nevada, California, USA, 4 years after fire. Three nests were located in mixed-conifer forests, 2 in areas of moderate-severity burn, and one in an area of low-severity burn, and one nest was located in an unburned area of mixed-conifer–hardwood forest. For roosting during the breeding season, spotted owls selected low-severity burned forest and avoided moderate- and high-severity burned areas; unburned forest was used in proportion with availability. Within 1 km of the center of their foraging areas, spotted owls selected all severities of burned forest and avoided unburned forest. Beyond 1.5 km, there were no discernable differences in use patterns among burn severities. Most owls foraged in high-severity burned forest more than in all other burn categories; high-severity burned forests had greater basal area of snags and higher shrub and herbaceous cover, parameters thought to be associated with increased abundance or accessibility of prey. We recommend that burned forests within 1.5 km of nests or roosts of California spotted owls not be salvage-logged until long-term effects of fire on spotted owls and their prey are understood more fully.
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Vol. 73 • No. 7