The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) recently announced that it was opening a 30-day public comment period on updated information for the draft revised recovery plan for the threatened northern spotted owl (Strix occidentalis caurina). This announcement follows the completion of a new computerized modeling tool developed for assessing spotted owl habitat quality and population dynamics. It also predicts the effectiveness of different conservation measures.

The new modeling tool synthesizes more than 20 years of demographic data regarding the spotted owl, including information from regional experts throughout the spotted owl’s range in Washington, Oregon, and California. It uses this information to provide recovery partners with the most accurate rangewide picture of where spotted owls nest and roost and where they are likely to do so in the future. The result is that recovery partners can see what areas are most important to the spotted owl’s continued survival and recovery. The modeling tool will also allow recovery partners and land managers to evaluate the long-term implications of specific recovery actions.

The draft revised recovery plan was initially released in September 2010. The modeling tool was incomplete during the original 90-day comment period, which elicited great concern and criticism that the draft plan did not rely on the best available science. The original Appendix C on habitat modeling contained initial maps showing suitable spotted owl habitat at different levels of quality. While this information served as the underlying data allowing for evaluation of different conservation measures, the updated Appendix C includes more information no how the modeling tool allows the Service to compare potential spotted owl population responses to different habitat management scenarios and conservation measures.

The 30-day comment period on the new information ends on May 23, 2011. Pursuant to a federal court order resulting from previous litigation over the recovery plan, the Service must complete its final revised recovery plan by June 1, 2011. This has created concerns that the Service will not have adequate time to respond to any comments submitted during the review period.