Forest Investment Account (FIA) - Forest Science Program
FIA Project Y082019

    Identification of Critical Habitat Requirements for Interior Western Screech-owls
 
Project lead: Weir, Richard (Artemis Wildlife Consultants)
Subject: Forest Investment Account (FIA), British Columbia
Series: Forest Investment Account (FIA) - Forest Science Program
Description:
The macfarlanei subspecies of the western screech-owl (Megascops kennicottii macfarlanei) is a federally endangered owl that occurs in the dry southern Interior of British Columbia. It is believed that fewer than 200 individuals occur in Canada (Chaundy-Smart 2002). Interior western screech-owls are listed on Schedule 1 of the Species-At-Risk Act, as endangered by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife In Canada, and are provincially red-listed. Western screech-owls are also an Identified Wildlife species and its habitat requirements are listed in Section 7 notices for the Arrow Boundary, Cascades, Kamloops, and Okanagan Shuswap Forest Districts. It is believed that riparian forests are important to this species (Cannings 2004) but critical habitat requirements are largely unknown because no research on this subspecies has been conducted in British Columbia. Thus, very little is known about this species within its range in the Southern Interior region. This considerable knowledge gap handicaps the ability of forest licensees to effectively integrate habitat considerations for screech-owls into their forest stewardship plans. The purpose of this project is to collect information on the ecology of this species, including critical habitat requirements, so that the twin goals of sustainable forest management and population recovery can be attained. Although screech-owls are often associated with riparian areas, recent surveys in the Okanagan Shuswap Forest District suggest that these birds may be more closely associated with adjacent upland forested habitats than originally thought (Davis and Weir 2005). Modification of critical habitats in these areas may affect survivorship of the owls. Furthermore, western screech-owls may be negatively affected by an invasive species, the barred owl (Strix varia), much like spotted owls (S. occidentalis; Dunbar et al. 1991). This invasive species can tolerate forest harvesting more so than other forest owls (Dark et al. 1998). Barred owls have been reported to prey on screech-owls (Davis and Weir 2005, Cannings and Angell 2001, J. Hobbs, personal communication), and thus forest harvesting may indirectly result in decreased survival and persistence on this sensitive species. Because of these factors, forest stewardship plans that affect critical habitat for screech-owls or promote invasion by barred owls may be detrimental to the recovery of screech-owl populations and may compromise the ability of forest licensees to meet the objectives of Section 7 of the Forest Planning and Practices Regulation (FPPR). Knowledge gaps exist in the information needed to determine the amount, distribution, and attributes of areas to be included in Section 7 results and strategies for western screech-owls. Specifically, the attributes of habitats required for the survival of western screech-owls are not well-known. Current notices identify key elements with which the results and strategies must be consistent; however, these elements are based on very limited data from the South Okanagan that is likely not representative of many of the ecosections in which western screech-owls occur. Our research will provide the information needed by regulators and forest licensees to ensure that Section 7 results and strategies for western screech-owls in the Southern Interior region will be measurable or verifiable. Because the current Identified Wildlife account and Section 7 notices for western screech-owls are based on very little data, the results of our research program will form the basis of revisions to the existing IWMS account, procedures, and Section 7 notices for the species. This project will enable science-based sustainable forest management by: 1) providing regulatory agencies with better data upon which to update Section 7 notices for western screech-owls, and 2) helping licensees effectively address the requirements for Section 7 results and strategies for this species under FPPR. This project represents good value for investment, as it will produce several deliverables that will help reach the ultimate goals. This multi-year program (currently in year 2 of 3) has 4 major components, each of which builds on the other. Inventory information is needed to ensure that conservation efforts are focused in areas that support screech-owls and their habitat. Research involving radio-tagged owls is being used to identify the link between western screech-owls and cottonwood riparian forests and determine which structural features of these forests are needed for nesting, foraging, and roosting. The extension component will then use this information to develop specific mitigation and enhancement techniques that will help licensees address critical habitat requirements in their sustainable forest management plans. This component will engage regulators and forest licensees in stewardship of important habitats and provide them with tools to conserve, enhance, and restore habitats to increase the productivity of screech-owls. The final component of the program will assess changes in behaviour and perceptions of the target audience, the effectiveness of the conservation techniques developed, and feedback from end-users to increase program effectiveness. This project is well underway and has produced results that are already proving to be useful in conservation of this endangered species. One minor change has occurred from the original work plan. During habitat assessments conducted during 2006, it became apparent that coarse woody debris is not a common occurrence in the forests used by screech-owls. Thus, to increase efficiencies during data collection, the collection of CWD data was discontinued.
Related projects:  FSP_Y071019

    Deliverables:

Executive Summary (27Kb)
Shuswap Stewardship Manual (2.7Mb)

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Updated August 16, 2010 

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